Alibi V.14 No.24 • June 16-22, 2005 

Council Watch

Steppin' in It

At the June 6 meeting, councilors passed a 30-day ban on fireworks in the Bosque as well as open burning throughout the city. Gas and charcoal grills are allowed.

Other bills that passed unanimously include Councilor Martin Heinrich's bill supporting the state's effort to set up a technology master plan, Councilor Miguel Gómez's bill allocating money to match a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, and Councilor Eric Griego's bill to improve pedestrian safety at the sports facilities near University and Avenida Cesar Chavez.

Councilor Michael Cadigan's bill waiving impact fees for technological development near Double Eagle II airport passed 8-1, Councilor Debbie O'Malley opposed. Questioning the city's millions in subsidies to Eclipse Aviation and related businesses, O'Malley said, "I hope it doesn't become the biggest boondoggle ever."

Two election bills—Griego's call for public campaign financing and Councilor Sally Mayer's bill requiring photo voter ID—were both postponed for a second hearing.

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IssueCouncil's TakeReporter's Take
Don't Confuse Me With Facts At a previous meeting, citizens clocked four hours of public comment on putting Heinrich's Fair Wage Initiative on the October ballot. The bill calls for increasing the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.15 per hour, with businesses given credit for any benefits offered and exempted if they employ fewer than 10 people. The Council limited June 6 comments to five minutes each for bill opponent Jacqueline DuBose Christensen from the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, and supporter Carter Bundy of AFSCME. Christensen ceded the microphone to her Chamber colleague, board member Jim O'Neill. O'Neill said a $2 increase isn't really a living wage. He seemed to prefer Santa Fe's Living Wage ordinance, which "made the negatives immediately apparent." O'Neill criticized the city for sending a message that it was willing to interfere with the internal, private affairs of business. He said that if a small business "tops nine employees," it would have to pay everybody more. Bundy said he wanted to take the partisanship out of the bill, citing a wage raise that passed in Republican-leaning New York state on a 51-7 vote. He said small, locally owned businesses wanted to pay their employees more, but they were "creamed by the competition" of huge chain stores that pay lower wages in a "race to the bottom." He said that going from $10,000 a year to $14,000 made a huge difference, and the Council's decision was simply whether to let voters have their say.Councilor Griego asked O'Neill to cite a study showing that minimum wage raises caused "a shedding of employees." O'Neill said it was accepted economic theory. Griego asked again if O'Neill could name one single study supporting that view. After a whispered consultation, Christensen said the Employment Policies Institute out of Washington, D.C., showed a downward trend in employment. Griego called the Institute an "industry sponsored faux think tank," and said reputable economists found the Institute's studies lacking credibility. Griego said the Institute's head, Richard Berman, was known for his lobbying efforts supporting tobacco companies and opposing Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Councilor O'Malley asked how the Chamber planned to help people at the bottom of the economic ladder. O'Neill said the Chamber supported better education and training and was involved in health issues. Councilor Craig Loy said $2 an hour wasn't going to help people and would make prices rise. Councilor Cadigan questioned whether the bill violated the New Mexico constitution's ban against a municipality making laws affecting civil relationships and criticized several provisions. City Attorney Bob White said the bill appeared to be constitutional. Heinrich asked Cadigan how the pending Appeals Court decision on Santa Fe's living wage law would affect his vote. Cadigan said if the New Mexico Supreme Court upheld the law, it was time to revisit the issue. The bill failed 5-4, with Heinrich, Gomez, O'Malley and Griego supporting. Griego barely scratched the surface of Berman's résumé. Formerly the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's senior lawyer for labor issues, Berman claimed statistics about the pesticide Alar supplied by its manufacturer, Uniroyal, were actually from the EPA. He opposed the Americans with Disabilities Act, claiming it would force restaurants to hire food workers with AIDS. His Center for Consumer Freedom is a lobbying organization for the alcohol, tobacco and agribusiness industries. While there's nothing wrong with lobbying for business, as the saying goes, you're allowed to make up your own mind, but not your own facts. Not that Berman has neglected minimum wage issues. He said a congressional bill to raise the minimum wage would cost restaurateurs millions of dollars and force them to eliminate thousands of jobs. That was in 1987, when Berman was blasting an effort to raise the minimum wage above $3.35 an hour. Cadigan's legal arguments had more substance, but hey, when have most Albuquerque pols worried about the constitutionality of a bill when they wanted to look tough on crime? And if O'Neill and Loy oppose the raise because it wasn't big enough to help people, does this mean they'll support the petition now circulating to put an even higher raise for the minimum wage on the October ballot?