DENVER – A “get real” debate erupted Thursday in the Colorado House when Democrats rammed through a resolution imploring Congress to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour.
The measure passed after nearly five hours of heated debate on a vote of 38 to 24, with Rep. Jared Wright (R-Fruita) voting with Democrats. The resolution will be introduced in the Senate next week.
Republicans argued that the resolution would rock the recovering economy, hurt small businesses and put a half million Americans out of work. Small businesses are also struggling financially with the cost of the federally mandated Obamacare.
Democratic lawmakers insisted that setting a higher minimum wage would stimulate the economy, lift millions of people out of poverty and decrease dependency on welfare programs such as housing vouchers and food stamps.
“Raising minimum wage isn’t going to hurt at all,” said Rep. Joe Salazar (D-Thornton).
“Small business owners, they know that paying a higher wage, (workers) stick around,” Salazar said. “It reduces turnover. It increases employee productivity, commitment and loyalty.”
Rep. Mark Waller (R-Colorado Springs) said that small businesses are the engine that is driving economic recovery – and that would stall if government inflicts another mandate.
“Leave the small businesses free to run their businesses,” said Waller.
Colorado’s minimum wage is currently $8. In 2006, voters approved a statewide ballot initiative that raised the hourly wage and tied it to inflation.
Republicans offered 10 amendments to the resolution, including a warning that increasing minimum wage would force businesses to lay off workers and a motion to send the resolution to the House Business, Labor, Economic and Workforce Development Committee for a public hearing.
“No economist of his or her salt, liberal or conservative, will look you in the eye and say that some jobs will not be lost,” said Rep. Bob Gardner (R-Colorado Springs). “People will be put out of work.”
Gardner and several Republican lawmakers cited the Congressional Budget Office report issued in February that setting minimum wage at $10.10 could boost the earnings of roughly 16.5 million workers, but it would also cause the loss of roughly 500,000 jobs.
“We all know it’s a contentious debate,” said Rep. Spencer Swalm (R-Centennial), who complained that there was no advance notice or opportunity for constituents to participate in the marathon debate.
Yet, it appeared that some folks had advance notice. The gallery was packed with small business owners, service industry workers and labor union representatives.
“Unions tie their wages to the minimum wage – if it goes up, union wages go up in the same proportion,” said Swalm, citing a Wall Street Journal story. “That’s why unions are so strongly supportive of a higher minimum wage.”
The union workers, Swalm said, “are not people in poverty. We’re talking about people in good jobs.”