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National Restaurant Association - Albuquerque voters could face minimum-wage ballot question

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Albuquerque voters could face minimum-wage ballot question

A minimum-wage increase may be headed for November's ballot in Albuquerque, N.M.

If the proposal clears several final steps, Albuquerque voters will weigh in Nov. 6 on whether to increase the minimum wage for businesses in the city to $8.50 an hour (up from $7.50 today), raise the minimum cash wage for tipped employees (currently $2.13 an hour) to 60 percent of the minimum wage, and automatically tie future increases in both the minimum wage and the cash wage for tipped employees to the rate of inflation.

The city clerk certified Aug. 24 that unions and other activists gathered more than 12,200 valid signatures this summer, enough to add the question to the ballot. The measure is now with the Albuquerque City Council, which is expected to make final decisions by mid-September that will affect if, and how, the measure appears on the ballot.

Alarmed by the prospect of steep cost increases for struggling small businesses, the New Mexico Restaurant Association has helped organize a broad "Safeguard Albuquerque's Fragile Economy" coalition of small, locally owned businesses opposed to the increase. The coalition includes business organizations representing thousands of small businesses ranging from grocers to retailers, gas stations, hoteliers and innkeepers.

Anticipating that the measure will go on the ballot, the SAFE coalition is ramping up efforts to get the word to voters about the unintended consequences of a wage increase, including job loss, price increases and disincentives for businesses to locate in Albuquerque.

"Local minimum wage laws create an economic island that would effectively declare Albuquerque 'off-limits' to future economic development," says Carol Wight, NMRA president and CEO. "Teenagers have the highest unemployment rates they've had in the last two decades. Doing anything to hurt starting-wage jobs will further hurt job prospects for these and other employees."

Albuquerque City Council Chair Trudy Jones told a local TV station Aug. 23 that she has qualms about the hike. "We are teetering on a very bad economy again, and I think that it's not something that we want to throw out there and cause more problems [for businesses]," Jones said.

Albuquerque voters rejected a minimum wage increase at the ballot in 2005. Neighboring Santa Fe has the nation's highest minimum wage, at $10.29 an hour. Santa Fe ties its minimum wage to annual inflation.

A minimum-wage hike has already been certified for the ballot in San Jose, Calif. Missouri is considering whether to add a measure to its ballot. 

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