The minimum wage in Arizona is $11 per hour, and thanks to a new law spearheaded by Republicans, it will now be harder than ever for cities to raise their local minimum wage above that rate.
HB 2756, which goes into effect on Aug 27, will give the state the ability to force local governments to cover any additional costs the state experiences as a result of cities and counties raising their minimum wage above the statewide rate.
The Arizona Republic reports that supporters of the bill say it’s a necessary response after Flagstaff voters approved an increase in the city’s minimum wage above the state’s rate in 2016, forcing government contractors to raise pay for some low-wage workers.
Critics of the bill argue that it’s an effort by the Republican-led legislature to scare local governments’ out of raising the minimum wage in their cities or counties. “The message is: Other cities, you do this at your own peril,” state Rep. Randall Friese (D-Tucson) told the Arizona Republic.
Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Regina Cobb (R-Kingman) said the idea for the bill came after the state received a request to increase funding for organizations that provide services to people with developmental disabilities. The state pays for those services, but the employees who provide care to the disabled are frequently paid low wages.
When Flagstaff voters raised the minimum wage in 2016, they raised the pay of those workers, thus forcing the state to cover the additional cost.
The city’s minimum wage is currently $12 per hour, will rise to $15.50 in 2022 and must be $2 above the state minimum wage in the future if Arizona increases its rate again.
HB 2756 means that the city could be on the hook for any additional costs that come as a result of its minimum wage hikes. It remains to be seen just how much Flagstaff’s higher minimum wage will affect costs for government contractors, and that information is unlikely to be available until the spring of 2020, according to the Arizona Republic.
Should the additional costs be substantial, the legislature will have the ability to collect that money from revenue the state splits with cities, without any ability for cities to appeal Arizona’s calculations.
Minimum wage advocates worry that if the state opts to collect on those funds, it could discourage other cities from raising the minimum wage in the future.
This measure is just the latest attempt by Republican lawmakers to override the wishes of voters who elected to raise Arizona’s minimum wage from $8.05 per hour in 2016 to the $11 it is in 2019, and eventually $12 per hour in 2020.
Earlier this year, Rep. Travis Grantham (R-Scottsdale) tried to push through a Goldwater Institute-backed bill that would have exempted many young Arizonans from earning the $11 minimum wage. HB 2523 would have allowed businesses to pay workers under the age of 22 less than the state minimum wage, so long as they were full-time students and worked fewer than 20 hours a week.
Grantham’s bill, which would have dropped the minimum wage for those workers to $7.25 an hour, passed the House with only Republican votes in February, but was met with significant backlash after being criticized as an end-run around the will of Arizona voters.
The Arizona Attorney General’s Office and attorneys for both the state Senate and House also said that the bill was likely unconstitutional and would need a three-quarters vote in each chamber to “pass constitutional muster,” the Arizona Mirror reported.
HB 2523 died in the Senate, but HB 2756 did not, and the battle over the minimum wage in Arizona is likely to resume when the legislature reconvenes in 2020.