There are a couple things in store for this New Year that I’d like to take a moment to address. As many of you know, the minimum wage went up with the beginning of the year across Arizona to $10.50, and in Flagstaff, it climbed to $11. This is a result of voters here in town passing Proposition 414 at the same time as statewide voters passed Proposition 206. Last January, the Council took steps to reconcile the two minimum wage bills in a way that respected the will of the voters who clearly voiced a will to raise minimum wage but did so in a reasonable timeline. However, there are still issues with the local ordinance and it will be returning to the ballot in 2018.
I did not support 414 in 2016, and I won’t be defending it in 2018. That said, there are some parts of it that I do think are worth keeping, such as the increased protection for workers and resources at the city that exploited workers can access. I also agree that wages should be higher. My disagreements are about the method of raising them.
First, I think raising wages without adjusting federal poverty guidelines is dangerous. The intent behind raising the minimum wage is to make life better for workers who need help the most. However, many of those workers also access social services for basic needs such as food, shelter, child care and healthcare. A 50-cent raise does little for someone who loses his or her rent voucher.
Secondly, the higher local minimum wage is making it harder for folks with disabilities to live in Flagstaff. Service providers for this community are largely funded by Medicaid dollars at reimbursement rates that are set by the state. Even before Prop 414, the delivery of services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities was only funded at 75 percent. Years of corporate tax cuts have drained the funding for everything, including resources for the most vulnerable in Arizona. I can say with complete confidence that Governor Ducey and the state legislature are not going to give more money to service providers in Flagstaff because of our higher minimum wage. Already, we have seen eight group homes leave Flagstaff, 26 individuals with disabilities have been relocated to Phoenix. I want to make it easier for people to stay in Flagstaff, not force people out.
I’m also concerned about what Prop 414 will mean for FUSD. Will administrators be able to afford increased wages for classroom aides, janitors and other staff? Education is funded (or not, as the case may be) by the state. The governor and the legislature have made it clear that fully funded public schools are not on their priority list.
To be sure, the cost of living is the largest problem we face. Low wages are a part of that, but only one small piece of the equation. While I appreciate the thought and intent of Proposition 414, I cannot support its method of execution, it is simply not practical and it inadvertently punishes those who most need our protection. FBN
By Coral Evans
Coral Evans is the mayor of the City of Flagstaff.