Colorado Editorial Roundup
Boulder Daily Camera, June 1, on local control of minimum wage:
A law Gov. Jared Polis signed last week grants city of Boulder officials a form of authority they have been asking for: local control of the minimum wage.
Boulder’s cost of living is notoriously high, and the current state minimum wage of $11.10 an hour doesn’t begin to cover typical expenses for city residents. Now that Boulder officials can establish a minimum wage that is specific to the city, they should start a conversation about whether doing so is right for the community.
The new law says that beginning in January 2020 local governments, including counties and municipalities, can establish a local minimum wage that is higher than the state minimum wage. The rise in a local minimum wage would be achieved through gradual increases of up to 15% or $1.75, whichever is higher, that occur concurrently with a scheduled increase in the state minimum wage.
Local governments in Colorado had their minimum wage-setting rights unfairly stripped from them in 1999. Denver had attempted to raise its minimum wage, and the Legislature responded by adopting a law barring such action by local governments. Amendment 70, which took effect in January 2017, boosted the state minimum wage by mandating 90-cent-a-year increases until it reached, in January 2020, $12 an hour. Future annual increases will be tied to a cost-of-living standard.
Economic circumstances and living costs vary widely among communities in different parts of Colorado. Getting by in Boulder looks much different than it does in, say, Sterling or Cortez. That’s why it made sense for the city of Boulder earlier this year to call for local control of the minimum wage. City officials declared that the state minimum wage in many parts of Colorado was “inadequate for families to meet their basic needs.” Boulder County has also lobbied to reclaim minimum wage authority.
San Francisco and Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2003 became early adopters of the local minimum wage. Today 44 American cities and counties have a local minimum wage, according to the University of California Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education. The vast majority of those jurisdictions are in California, but they include Chicago (increasing to $13 an hour in July), Minneapolis (increasing to $15 an hour for large businesses in 2022), Seattle (increasing to $15.75 an hour for small businesses next year, the highest in the country) and Washington, D.C. (increasing to $15 an hour in July 2010). Some municipalities — such as Birmingham, Alabama, and St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri — have enacted a minimum wage only to later abolish it.
Opponents of minimum wages warn that increased labor costs are borne by consumers, and greater expenses can harm businesses or even shut them down. Real-world experience suggests critics’ worst fears are unfounded, but there are grounds for caution. A patchwork of wage minimums can strain businesses that operate across jurisdictions. A minimum wage can diminish profits, and the promise of higher pay doesn’t always reach the intended beneficiaries.
It’s impossible to know how many minimum wage jobs exist in Boulder — the state doesn’t track it — but it appears they’re relatively few. Brad Segal, president of P.U.M.A., a Denver consulting firm that last year completed a retail study of downtown Boulder, said it’s difficult for Boulder’s service-industry employers, for example, to attract job candidates due to the city’s high cost of living, and this leads many of them to offer above-minimum-wage pay. However, some local businesses, especially those that employ young or seasonal workers, certainly have minimum-wage positions and operate on narrow margins, and they would struggle to absorb even modest wage increases.
A local minimum wage designed to limit impacts on business owners while meaningfully boosting staff pay could help, even in a small way, to make Boulder more livable for its workforce. Boulder’s overall economy, as well as other facets of the community, such as transportation, could also benefit. The Boulder Chamber was said to be the only business group in Colorado that supported Amendment 70, and Chamber president John Tayer said at the time that the group’s endorsement stemmed from members’ focus on addressing income inequality, which they saw as a threat to the very stability of the local economy.
The new state law addresses a primary criticism of local minimum wages — that a patchwork of wage standards can lead to administrative costs for businesses and lure companies to jurisdictions with lower minimums. The law permits one or more contiguous counties and any municipality within each county to strike an agreement on a common minimum wage. Such an IGA, and the jurisdictions that ought to be included, should be a top topic of any discussion about a Boulder minimum wage. It would make sense for the entire area of metro Denver to have a common minimum wage, according to Segal. He’s probably right, because workers live and work throughout that area. But it would be politically difficult to get that many governments to agree on a single minimum. A northwest-metro minimum might be a more feasible goal.
Any discussion about a local minimum wage will inevitably touch on another feature of the new law: The state enforces compliance with the Colorado minimum wage, but a local minimum would require local enforcement, and that new government function will squeeze the local budget.
The Boulder City Council is heading into a fall election with six of its nine seats up for grabs. Given the many issues the Council already is trying to tackle, the minimum wage matter is unlikely to appear on the agenda before November. But if the current Council doesn’t take it up the new one should, and voters should press candidates on whether they support a local minimum wage.
But city officials would be wise not to delay too long — the new law is eligible only to the first 10% of Colorado’s local governments who take advantage of it. After that, the Colorado Legislature must amend the law to allow for more to join the club. Boulder, at a minimum, should not be left behind.
The Daily Sentinel, May 31, on the Bureau of Land Management charging camping fees along a section of the Colorado River:
It’s easy to look at the Bureau of Land Management’s updated business plan for the Ruby-Horsethief section of the Colorado River and cynically conclude that the agency has a keen eye for spotting revenue opportunities.
That might be true if its new camping fee schedule for that stretch of river were implemented year-round with no corresponding increase in river patrols. But that’s not the case. The agency is simply applying demand-management principles.
As the Sentinel’s Dennis Webb reported on Monday, big growth in shoulder-season camping on this stretch of the river prompted the BLM to extend its season for charging camping fees there.
Money collected from the fees is used to hire a seasonal river ranger, to improve and clean campsites and for restoration projects.
Those fees are reasonable, too — anywhere from $3.30 to $8.33 a head depending on the size of the group. Before the change, rafters had to pay to camp between May 1 and Sept. 30. Fees will now be required from April 1 to Oct. 31 beginning this fall. Permits continue to be required year-round.
“We were seeing huge increases in use in April and October, and we need to be able to respond with ranger patrols and improvements to facilities,” Collin Ewing of the BLM said in a news release.
It’s never fun to pay for something that had previously been free, but the agency makes a clear case that growth in visitors requires more manpower to protect important resources.
The Durango Herald, May 31, on a passenger train between Fort Collins and Trinidad:
If the people of the Front Range want to tax themselves to study and build passenger rail, we will wave fondly up to them and wish them luck.
Down here, this is a win-win proposition.
The Colorado Department of Transportation announced Tuesday that it is soliciting bids for a passenger train route from Fort Collins to Trinidad, roughly along the Interstate 25 corridor. “To meet the growing needs of our state, Colorado needs a robust, energy efficient, sustainable transportation system that incorporates different modes of travel and provides more choices for the movement of people and goods,” said CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew in a prepared statement.
I-25 is routinely bottle-necked between Colorado Springs and Denver, filling all four lanes. The state, under pressure from lawmakers and commuters, which are not exclusive groups, has floated numerous costly proposals to widen the highway, even though many engineers say it could end up making traffic worse owing to induced demand. Money for it has been included in transportation tax questions, which we have supported in part because there was money for roads in the Southwest as well.
A rail alternative of that length would be a boon for many, but it, too, would be a massive, costly undertaking, as Colorado Public Radio noted. Yet what keeps us from saying, “Look at what just happened with high-speed rail in California!” is that it is practically none of our business.
CDOT will present rail plans to the Legislature early in the next session, hoping lawmakers will refer funding to the 2020 ballot.
Wait — what funding?
This is the beauty: The question will only go to voters in a new Front Range tax district.
We can imagine how frustrating it is to sit in unmoving traffic twice a day, watching plants grow and being passed by pedestrians, which is one of the reasons we live here. If they want to tax themselves to build a train on the Front Range, they should give it a go. We assume they will have more details before taking a plunge.