Gov. Hickenlooper is 'sympathetic' to proposed minimum wage hike; study says it will benefit Colo.

DENVER – Colorado’s governor says he remains “sympathetic” to a ballot measure that would increase the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020 on the same day a report from a consortium of state colleges and universities noted the measure would benefit most of the state’s minimum wage workers.

The report from the University of Denver and Colorado Women’s College, in collaboration with The Women’s Foundation of Colorado, says the state’s gross domestic product (GDP) would increase by $400 million and 20 percent of Coloradans would see household income increases.

Amendment 70 would raise Colorado’s minimum wage to $9.30 per hour as of Jan. 1 and increase the wage $0.90 an hour until it reaches $12 and hour in 2020.

Tipped workers would see their hourly wage grow to $8.98 per hour, plus tips, by that same year. A 2006 state amendment set the state’s minimum wage for tipped workers at $3.02 an hour less than wage workers.

And the tip credit remains important to Hickenlooper’s decision of whether or not to support the measure on November’s ballot, he said Tuesday.

“I am very sympathetic to it because right now, I’ve talked to a bunch of restaurant people…You can’t find a dishwasher for even $11,” he told Denver7. “If you want to keep a good dishwasher, you give the, $11.50, $12. Well that’s what they’re talking about getting by 2020…almost everyone in the restaurant business is already making a minimum wage.”

The study released Tuesday, which looked at economic and social factors in the state, find around 290,000 women would see their income rise, as would 200,000 households with children.

The Women's Foundation of Colorado wanted to know how raising the minimum wage could impact women and children in Colorado, so University of Denver assistant professor Jennifer Greenfield studied the issue to find out.

“One of the things about the minimum wage increase is that it increases economic activity in the state and we believe it would spur job growth,” said Greenfield.

“Contrary to other reports, our research shows that the proposed increase to the Colorado minimum wage will increase consumer spending, thereby strengthening the economy and likely driving job growth, not job loss,” said one of the co-authors of the report, Jack Straus, the Chair of Applied Economics at DU’s business school.

But Gov. Hickenlooper pointed to concerns over implementing a blanket minimum wage statewide and how it could affect farmers and ranchers.

“Right now, commodity prices are really at record lows,” he said. “This would be a very difficult time for them to have to raise the cost of bringing in their crops.”

Other states that have raised their minimum wages in recent years, including Washington and California, have exempted certain areas of their state from the minimum wage hike based of cost-of-living and other economic factors. A Pew Research study released in April noted Colorado had the 12th-highest disparity in the nation between the state’s lowest and highest costs of living.

Denver Public Schools raised the minimum wage for district workers to $12 an hour last school year.

A geographic exemption to the rule is something Hickenlooper said he would support, though he didn’t rule out supporting the amendment as-is Tuesday.

“I’m still thinking it through and processing it, but I remain very sympathetic,” he said. “I mean look at the cost of housing…the government doesn’t have the resources to build enough affordable housing for all the people being priced out of the market.”

Opponents of the measure have argued it would cripple small businesses with high overhead in wage payments. But with housing costs in Denver still rising and forcing people elsewhere or in some cases to the streets, the governor said he was still scrutinizing the proposed amendment.

“The only way I can think that we begin to resolve that is to find ways to pay people closer to a living wage,” he said.

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