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State Chamber of Commerce faces ‘uphill climb’ in opposing minimum wage measure

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Three weeks before Arizonans start voting, a statewide business group has finally launched a campaign to kill Proposition 206.

Glenn Hamer, president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, acknowledged Monday it will take a “seven-digit” investment to convince voters to reject the proposal to hike the state’s minimum wage immediately to $10 an hour, going to $12 an hour by 2020. The same measure would require businesses to provide at least three days of paid leave a year.

“We’re going to raise as much as we can,” he said, declining to specify a number.

But his organization is starting not only late but also from behind: A recent poll showed the measure with a 2-1 margin of support. And early voting starts Oct. 12.

“I’ll be the first to say this is an uphill climb,” Hamer conceded to Capitol Media Services. And he noted that when voters elsewhere have been presented with similar questions “the passing rates are high.”

But Hamer said he thinks there’s still time to change some minds.

That didn’t happen a decade ago when voters first approved a minimum wage of $6.75 an hour. At the time Arizona employers were subject only to federal laws and the $5.15-an-hour mandate.

The measure also contains an automatic cost-of-living adjustment clause which has put the current figure at $8.05; in January, that will go to $8.15

Businesses didn’t really run much of a campaign against the 2006 measure. It’s a mistake that Hamer said they won’t repeat this time.

The key, he said, is recrafting how voters see the issue.

On the ballot, voters will see the title of “The Fair Wages and Healthy Families Act.”

“We prefer to call it “The Opportunity Destruction Act,” said Hamer.

“Jacking up the minimum wage in this state by 50 percent is dramatic,” he said. “And adding in a paid time off component is also, in our view, harmful to job creation.”

Pollster Earl de Berge of the Behavior Research Center, who did not conduct the earlier survey, said the results are not surprising. He said there is “widespread awareness that (the) minimum wage is pathetic in today’s economy.”

Hamer is not necessarily disputing that. What he hopes will dissuade voters is the size of the increase.

“We believe the proponents of this have overshot,” he said. “Going up 50 percent, going to $12 an hour, particularly in rural Arizona, is way too much.”

So, then, what does his organization think might be more appropriate?

“Well, the discussion on the federal level until recently has been $10.10,” Hamer said.

“That’s a number that President Obama has used,” he said, referring to the president’s 2015 State of the Union address urging Congress to adopt that number. “People like Gov. (Mitt) Romney have used similar figures,” Hamer continued, referring to the 2012 unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate.

Since that time, however, Democrats have become more aggressive, pushing for a $15 figure. Hamer blamed that on a “bidding war” among candidates.

“The Democratic Party has been pulled leftward by a socialist who came pretty close to winning the nomination,” he said.

But the business community never offered a $10.10 alternative here. About the closest they came was a proposal earlier this year by the Arizona Restaurant Association to ask voters to instead set the minimum wage at $8.41 an hour this coming year, going to $9.50 by 2020.

That also would have eliminated future inflation-indexed increases and had no mandate for paid sick leave.

The measure cleared the Senate with Republican support but died in the House.

Hamer declined to say whether a more generous offer might have provided a more realistic alternative for voters.

“We’re not going to cry over spilled milk,” he said.

Proponents of Proposition 206 had raised more than $1.4 million as of the middle of August, the most recent campaign finance report available. But $900,000 of that went to hire paid circulators.

With other expenses, that report showed the committee had about $127,000 on hand.

No matter how much each side spends, de Berge said it may not be enough.

“Even a million dollars may get lost in the candidate combat that is expected this year in Arizona,” he said, with not just the presidential race but also a high-profile contest for the U.S. Senate, and some hot-button congressional races.

That has not escaped Bill Scheel, campaign manager for Proposition 206,

“It definitely takes millions of dollars to break through that din,” he said. Scheel declined to say how much is in the pro-206 budget but said he expects to have enough to conduct a full-scale campaign including television, newspaper and direct mail.

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