(March 30) – The House gave voice-vote approval today to two measures taking different paths toward increasing the minimum wage and bringing more Coloradans into the middle class.

HB15-1300, sponsored by Assistant Majority Leader Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, and Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, would allow county and municipal governments to choose a minimum wage that’s higher than the state minimum, which is currently $8.23 an hour. The two legislators are also sponsoring HCR15-1001, which would submit a statewide minimum wage increase to the voters on the November 2016 ballot. Under the proposal, the minimum wage would go to $9.50 in 2017, $10.50 in 2018, $11.50 in 2019 and $12.50 in 2020, adjusting thereafter for inflation.

“We’re giving you two bites at the apple to support low-wage workers,” Rep. Moreno told the House this morning. “This is about making sure that everyone in Colorado makes a living wage. Six hundred thousand Coloradans make less than $12 an hour. Can you imagine the economic stimulus that would come from them having more money in their pockets and being able to inject that money into the economy?”

Minimum wage is falling further behind a living wage. At Colorado’s current minimum wage, an employee who works 40 hours a week and never takes time off will make only $17,118 a year. That’s nearly $3,000 below the federal poverty line for a family of three. In other words, a family with a single parent and two children cannot survive on minimum wage in Colorado.

“No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country,” Rep. Melton said, quoting Franklin Roosevelt, who led the fight for the first federal minimum wage law.

A recent survey found that two thirds of Coloradans would vote to raise the minimum wage.

Republicans argued that the measures would cause job losses, despite the demonstrated example of other states, including neighboring Nebraska, where a minimum wage increase has spurred the economy, increasing job creation and worker retention and decreasing taxpayer-supported social services.

“If this was a partisan issue you wouldn’t see red states passing it,” Rep. Melton said. “Poverty affects more than just Democrats. Poverty affects people in all communities. Listen to your constituents.”

Instead, Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, mocked the Coloradans the measures would help by introducing an amendment to raise the minimum wage to $1,000 an hour, adding this twist to the Marie Antoinette argument: it would let the poor eat lobster instead of ramen.

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