It turns out social conservatives aren’t the only group seeking to use state ballot issues to boost voter turnout for like-minded candidates. Last week, a coalition of labor unions led by the AFL-CIO submitted more than 209,000 petition signatures for an initiative to establish Arizona’s first state minimum wage at $6.75 an hour and tie future increases to inflation.
The coalition needs 112,612 valid signatures, so the measure should qualify for the November general election.
Congress last raised the federal minimum in 1997 to $5.15, which brings in $10,000 a year for a full-time worker. Political polling in Arizona and recent successes in other states indicate most voters agree the minimum wage needs to be higher, making the initiative’s passage a good bet.
That has prompted the unions to consider how the minimum wage measure could affect other ballot races.
“This could be an issue-defining campaign,” said Rebekah Friend, president of Arizona AFL-CIO and chairwoman of the minimum wage coalition. “I think people will want to vote for candidates who support this.”
Democrats such as Gov. Janet Napolitano have to be thrilled the minimum wage proposal will be there as a counterweight to other ballot measures designed to attract Republican voters such as constitutional amendments on marriage protection and English-only government actions.
The real value of a state minimum wage in the short run is highly debatable. Researchers for the state Department of Economic Security estimate 90 percent of Arizona workers already make at least $6.99 an hour. But Friend said research from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute indicates at least 167,000 people would receive an immediate raise if the initiative becomes law.
The state Legislature has refused to consider a minimum wage because many lawmakers believe strongly in the economic theory that government-mandated wages force business costs higher, which in turn causes layoffs. There are some studies to support this point, including one released in June by the right-leaning Employment Policies Institute.
Minimum-wage supporters can cite other studies that indicate there are no job losses, and they include Wisconsin and Alaska where recent changes haven’t caused any immediate negative fallout.
But none of this research has focused on the situation in Arizona, where a sudden hike of the minimum wage by $1.60 an hour might prompt more employers to risk hiring illegal immigrants and paying them under the table.
“I can only assume all employers will act honorably,” Friend said.
We aren’t so naive, and the voters shouldn’t be either when they consider the minimum wage initiative in November