- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The (Boulder) Daily Camera, Oct. 29, on raising the minimum wage:

The enduring battle over the minimum wage and where, exactly, it should fall, is not the purely ideological war that many on the left would like to believe. It’s true that many conservatives oppose it in principle, but so do some famous liberals. Warren Buffett, one of the world’s great investors and an outspoken Hillary Clinton supporter, calls it “a form of price-fixing.” He prefers expanding the earned income tax credit to put more money into the pockets of the working poor.

Those who believe in free markets, as Buffett does, argue that setting an arbitrary minimum wage doesn’t change the market value of labor in any given industry. If the minimum wage is above that value, it simply means those jobs won’t exist in the jurisdiction where that minimum applies.

Writ large, of course, this simple arithmetic helps to explain much of the momentum behind globalization and automation of what used to be American jobs. If laborers in Asia can be paid a fraction of the U.S. minimum wage to put together iPhones, that’s where iPhones will be made. If a fully automated fast-food restaurant kitchen pays for itself in two years and drastically reduces labor costs, low-skill kitchen jobs will disappear.

What these comfortable economic truisms leave out is the growing number of service-sector jobs that pay poverty-level wages even though they still - and for the foreseeable future - must be filled by humans on-site. These include home health aides, hotel and motel clerks, retail sales people, cashiers, personal care aides, recreation workers, janitors, maids, housekeepers and hairdressers, among others. For these folks, not to mention the thousands still employed in the food-service and transportation industries who may one day be replaced by machines, the 21st century has been one long, slow descent into financial desperation.

According to the Colorado Fiscal Institute, 26.2 percent of Colorado workers - more than 600,000 people - fall below the federal poverty line for a family of four, which was $23,850 a year in 2014, or about $12 an hour. This just happens to be the fourth and final step called for by Amendment 70, the ballot issue that would raise Colorado’s minimum wage in four steps from $8.31 today to $12 on Jan. 1, 2020.

Occupations in which at least half of all workers earn incomes below that federal poverty line are disproportionately filled by women (48 percent to 37 percent of working men) and minorities (54 percent of black workers, 51 percent of Latino workers), according to the CFI.

The traditional rebuttal of conservatives is that most of these low-wage jobs are filled by kids, many of them working part-time for spending money while they go to school. The CFI reports that in fact only 15 percent of low-wage workers in Colorado are under age 20. Thirty-five percent are between 21 and 30, which helps to explain why so many millennials live with their parents. The next most represented group? People aged 50 and over make up 23 percent of low-wage workers.

The trends for these hundreds of thousands of Colorado workers are not promising. The inflation-adjusted median wage for personal care aides was $10.21 in 2001. Twelve years later, it had slipped to $9.81. Similarly, the median wage of home health aides has dropped from $12.98 to $11.16 since the turn of the century.

This trend has contributed to the widening chasm between haves and have-nots that fuels the rising tide of American populism. The highest-paid 10 percent of Colorado workers saw their incomes rise by an average of 16.5 percent in the first 13 years of this century. Those in the top 20 percent saw an average 11.8 percent increase. By contrast, the bottom 10 percent saw incomes drop by 8.2 percent; the bottom 20 percent dropped 7.9 percent, according to the CFI.

Taxpayers end up subsidizing these low-wage workers through Medicaid, the federal public health insurance program for the poor. In 2014, an estimated $304 million of Colorado’s strapped general fund went to Medicaid coverage for low-wage workers and their children.

We look forward to the day when free-market advocates come up with a workable plan not based on magical thinking to reverse this trend of growing income inequality. Until then, requiring employers to pay a living wage is both an economic and moral imperative. Amendment 70 will give one in five Colorado workers a raise, according to Colorado Families for a Fair Wage, including 263,000 women, or 22 percent of Colorado’s female workforce.

Claims that raising the minimum wage will cost jobs are not borne out by the data. Since Colorado last raised the minimum wage (other than inflation adjustments), by 33 percent, to $6.85 in 2006, the state has added 73,000 jobs. A University of Denver study projects that a $12 minimum wage in 2020 will increase incomes for 20 percent of Colorado families and grow the state’s GDP by $400 million.

The minimum wage is an imperfect tool with which to attack the rising inequality that leaves an increasing number of Americans financially vulnerable and politically alienated. But it’s the one we have. We agree that it would be better to tailor such minimums to the local cost of living, so that Boulder’s would be higher and rural Colorado’s lower. Unfortunately, that option is not available. We would cheer a move to make it possible for local jurisdictions to set their own minimums, but Colorado law does not now permit it.

Raising the minimum wage is the tool before us to lift hundreds of thousands of Colorado workers out of poverty. Talk won’t get it done. We endorse passage of Amendment 70.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2eUd2f2

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The Durango Herald, Oct. 30, on making voting more fair and inclusive:

Voting is underway in Colorado, where nearly all ballots will be submitted by mail for the first time in a presidential election. Colorado’s county clerks have experience at this: Two years ago voters participated in an off-year election predominantly by mail.

In other states, voting has or has not begun. Absentee voting prior to the election is easier in some, as anecdotally some clerks are setting a lower bar than in the past. Where it used to require a significant argument to be allowed to vote prior to Election Day - Election Day was hallowed - now pretty much every reason to be absent might be accepted. To some extent, that is because the magic of the single day has been diminished.

In some states in the Southeast, those in political power continue to try to make it difficult to vote. Possession of a photo ID and a utility bill, perhaps, are being required. Those who cannot easily produce those documents are the voters those in power want to keep away from polling places.

Those convicted of a felony have generally not been able to vote, even after they have completed their sentence. But in some states that is changing, with the appealing argument being that those who have completed their sentence not only deserve to be able to fully reconnect with society, but that it is healthy to do so.

There are also claims that voting on a single day, a work day, is disenfranchising. Travelling between a neighborhood polling place and a distant workplace within the hours required may be very difficult or impossible for some.

Some argue for multiple voting days, perhaps including a weekend day.

For those overseas, such as in the military or in the Peace Corps, it may be uncertain whether their completed ballots will arrive by the end of the Election Day. In a mail-in election, in which clerks make ballots available three weeks prior, or ballots are sent out electronically, they should have adequate time. But to allow for delays which are not of distant voters’ making, ballots from those voters can still be counted several days after Election Day. That is awkward.

Here in Southwest Colorado, where the regular mail from towns is sorted elsewhere and delivery time extended, voters rightly feel uncertain as to just when their completed ballot should go into the mail. That is not helpful.

The mail-in ballot, which is in its infancy but looks to be very successful, may do away with any national push to expand voting in person to two or more days.

Given the various disparate decisions states have made in regard to how votes can recorded, and by whom, is there an argument to create national requirements and procedures for all states and territories as to who can vote and how? Voting in November every two years, after all, determines who will play national roles as members of the House and the Senate as well as president and vice president. If it was possible to implement voting requirements to apply to just those offices, that would be the solution; let states do what they wish for their own elected offices. But, two sets of requirements and procedures would not be workable.

In the coming months and years, we expect there to be continued conversations about how to best extend democracy in the fairest and most inclusive ways possible for all Americans. National voting standards should be a part of that conversation.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2fgQ8Os

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The (Loveland) Reporter-Herald, Oct. 30, on ballot selfies:

On its face, Colorado’s law banning people from taking photos of themselves with their election ballots seems pretty silly.

But 17 other states have the same kind of law. Even pop star Justin Timberlake got caught up in the controversy after he posted one after voting in Tennessee.

So why does the government want to infringe on what seems like a natural right to share our excitement about exercising our right to vote?

The fact that 18 states have banned people from sharing photos of their ballots should make people question why that is.

It turns out it’s not simply a case of the law not keeping up with new technology.

Such laws went into effect - Colorado’s in 1891 although some are more recent - to prevent vote-buying. A photo of a filled-out ballot could be used to prove how a person voted in exchange for payment.

In the past, husbands sometimes demanded their wives vote the same way they did. Though that may be less likely to happen today, laws to keep votes private could help allow people to vote for their own preferences if a spouse or family member is pressuring them to vote otherwise.

Nineteen states do allow ballot selfies, including New Hampshire, where a 1st Circuit Court of Appeals decision last month upheld a decision that a ban in that state was unconstitutional, citing the First Amendment.

Other challenges to ballot selfie laws have been filed, and future court decisions could offer direction for the rest of the country, and perhaps one day Coloradans will have the right to share photos of their ballots without fear of running afoul of the law, a law that some already are suing to overturn.

In the meantime, people can find other ways to share their excitement about voting on social media. Take a photo of your “I Voted” sticker or proclaim on Facebook who you’ve voted for - that’s allowed.

But though one day it could be an individual’s choice whether to share a ballot selfie, like so much of what goes on online, we should all think twice about giving up our privacy during the election process.

Anyone who can see your Facebook page can see whatever you’ve posted about the election. So, unless you have the self-control to keep your views to yourself, that information already is out there.

And once you’ve registered to vote, some information about you goes public. Campaigns can buy lists of registered voters with party affiliation and addresses.

On its website, the Electronic Frontier Foundation explores how campaigns can target people based on what they’ve clicked on online, and based on other information that has been gathered about them and offered for sale.

The organization offers some tips people can use to keep their political preferences more private, including having a special email address just for election purposes, giving less than $200 in campaign donations to remain under the threshold at which their names would become public, and using anti-tracking extensions when browsing election websites.

It advises people not to use their social media login to register for campaign sites or apps because they may be sharing their friends’ information in addition to their own, and to be wary of giving up information to telephone pollsters.

The group also advises to be wary of political canvassers using tablet devices because they could be tailoring their message to match your online profile and documenting your interaction for future reference.

In an era where everything people do online is recorded and often sold and used to target more messages or sales pitches to them, we’ve given up much of our privacy already, often getting barraged by messages that reinforce what we’ve already heard, never challenging our beliefs the way they should be before important decisions.

Perhaps one day Coloradans can share their ballot selfies with no fear of reprisal. But perhaps they should think about whether they would prefer to preserve their privacy.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2ecYG85

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The Denver Post, Oct. 28, on Denver’s request for more money:

The Denver City Council’s big request for more money in next year’s budget seems more than a little awkward, and we hope reasonable minds step in and bring a little fiscal discipline to the group.

While the council members’ request for $1.3 million in new money to spend is a relatively tiny figure compared to the city’s proposed total budget of $1.9 billion, it represents a nearly 30 percent increase from existing council spending - and follows members’ recent 10.3 percent pay raise. (Council members now make $91,915 a year. Their president pulls in almost $103,000.)

That’s pretty bold, considering the council recently approved an affordable housing program that will raise property taxes across the city. Given that many residents are struggling to pay soaring rental and housing costs, and criticism that the affordable housing program should look for other funding sources, we wonder whether the $1.3 million a year wouldn’t be better spent toward those goals.

Yes, Denver is growing quickly, and council members can argue that they need more staff to help their constituents. But members, who are expected to work full time, already have budgets sufficient to staff a pair of aides, and already are served by legislative experts at City Hall that can help them do the job. Also, Denver is a strong-mayor city. For the most part, the members serve to advance the administration’s agenda. How much more do they really need?

And Mayor Michael Hancock isn’t making a big request. The mayor seeks only 1.3 percent more for his offices. The total budget for this rapidly growing and ambitious city is worlds more modest at just under 5 percent.

The council’s request is also odd, as a handful of the members in interviews with The Denver Post’s Jon Murray suggested they didn’t need more staff to begin with. Several said they would direct the money to other programs in their districts.

Wayne New, who represents central Denver, opposed the request and said he didn’t need more staff than the single aide he employs presently.

Councilman Kevin Flynn, who represents southwest Denver - also with a single aide - told Murray, “I don’t need this money, to tell you the truth. . I just thought it was unnecessary and I actually asked the mayor’s office to turn it down.”

Meanwhile, city officials are gearing up to ask residents next year to approve another big bond issuance to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for building projects.

Council members should be exhibiting leadership now in preparation for that request. City officials across departments need to see that fiscal restraint is not just a stated goal, but a lived practice. Voters ought to be shown that respect as well.

Asking for more when the need seems dubious sends the wrong message. And for those Denver residents struggling with difficult budget realities day in and day out, we would hope they demand better.

Editorial: https://dpo.st/2e1n4ON

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