By Todd G. DicksonLas Cruces Bulletin
A group seeking to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2017 has enough signatures on its voter initiative petition to put it on the ballot Nov. 4, should the Las Cruces City Council not adopt the higher pay rate.
Comunidades en Acción y de Fé (CAFé) had collected more than 6,000 signatures on its petition, but the Las Cruces City Clerk’s Office needed only to validate2,257 of the signatures to allow it to become an ordinance for consideration by the City Council or by voters.
The CAFé proposal will likely go before voters as the City Council in June passed a more modest wage increase to $8.50 an hour by 2016. The current minimum wage is $7.50 an hour.
On Monday, Aug. 4, the City Council gets to affirm the clerk’s determination. Assuming that happens, CAFé’s proposed
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ordinance should go before the council for consideration Aug. 18 in a first reading and on Sept. 1 the council could approve it and make it law, avoiding the need for putting it before voters.
“Anticipating that our ordinance to improve wages will be voted down, the best possible scenario for taxpayers is a concurrent and combined election with the city and the county during the Nov, 4th general election,” said Sarah Nolan, executive director of CAFé. “To do anything else would risk disenfranchising voters who clearly want to participate in the democratic process. I trust that city and county officials will reciprocate our good faith efforts and streamline the process in the best interests of voters.”
“It is time for Las Cruces to hold their city government accountable, allowing residents to exercise their right to vote in the most efficient manner possible, and since this is the firsttime a ballot initiative has been utilized by the citizens of our community to participate in the future of our community, I urge our city officials to be on the right side of history,” said Angelica Rubio, CAFé minimum wage campaign manager.
The minimum wage has not been raised since 2009 and CAFé organizers say this has hurt low-wage workers. A number of local businesses support the more modest increase because owners say raising the minimum wage more than $1 an hour will result in higher prices, less hiring of new workers and some say they may not be able to stay in business.
CAFé recently sent a memo to city officials that said the cost of living in Las Cruces is 1.9 percent lower than that of Albuquerque, but the salary for workers in Albuquerque is more than 15 percent higher. Albuquerque’s minimum wage is currently $8.60 an hour.
The CAFé cites U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) statistics that estimates almost 98 percent of Doña Ana County’s population spends more than 45 percent of their income on housing and transportation. CAFé supporters assert that raising the minimum wage would give workersmore expendable income and improve the local economy.
The CAFé proposal would raise the minimum wage within the city to $8.40 per hour in 2015, $9.20 in 2016 and $10.10 in 2017. The City Council ordinance will raise the minimum wage to $8 per hour July 2015 and $8.50 January 2016. Both approaches would have future increases set by a cost-of-living index.
In a news release, CAFé gave examples of people living on low wages, such as Barbra Hayes, 68, who makes $8.57 at an assisted living center in Las Cruces where she has worked for more than four years and Leslie Belt, 59, who makes minimum wage at a call center.
Todd G. Dickson may be contacted at 680-1983 or todd@ lascrucesbulletin.com.