Arizona high court to decide on minimum wage increase

PHOENIX (AP) — The state Supreme Court is set to decide whether hundreds of thousands of Arizona workers see a boost in their pay starting Jan. 1 under the terms of a voter-approved measure boosting minimum wages.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry is leading a coalition of business groups urging the high court to block the increase. They argue that even though Proposition 206 exempts state employees from the raise, Arizona will be forced to boost pay for health care and social services contractors to enforce the new law. They say backers of the measure failed to include a new funding source as required under the state Constitution.

The Chamber also argues the measure illegally includes a second part requiring employers to include sick time, violating rules that say initiatives can only address one subject.

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and state legislative leaders have added pressure on the Supreme Court by filing amicus briefs on Wednesday urging it to block the measure. Maricopa County also filed a brief Wednesday.

A trial judge rejected both arguments last week in a ruling now being appealed by the Chamber.

"If allowed to stand, the trial court's decision allows drafters of ballot initiatives to spend unlimited amounts from the state's general fund without implicating the Arizona Constitution's revenue source rule, provided their initiatives are cleverly crafted carefully enough to avoid explicit mention of such expenditures," the Chamber's attorneys wrote in court papers. "Proponents will also be allowed to logroll disparate policy matters into a single initiative, so long as those policies touch the same general area of life."

Attorney General Mark Brnovich's office is defending the law along with proponents of Proposition 206. In his response filed Wednesday afternoon, Brnovich said blocking Proposition 206, which is set to take effect on Sunday, would violate strong public policy that favors democracy through initiatives. The AG's office has also argued that there is no mandatory state spending triggered by the new law. He said instead that the increased costs are an indirect cost, not a mandatory one.

But Proposition 206 backers' response filed at mid-day said the judge was right when he rejected the single-subject argument and found that the measure didn't trigger mandatory state spending. Even if it did, blocking the entire law isn't warranted, because the state isn't obligated to spend any additional cash.

"Finally, most of the (Chamber's) allegations against Proposition 206 are, in fact, policy arguments — including increased costs that will result in increased spending by government entities — that were fully aired before the November general election," they wrote. "The proposition has now passed with 58 percent of the vote, and public policy supports denying the request to delay implementing their will."

The measure raises the minimum wage from $8.05 an hour to $10 on Jan. 1 and to $12 in 2020. By the time the wages hit $12 an hour, an estimated 30 percent of the Arizona workforce will see an increase in pay, according to an analysis by the Grand Canyon Institute. That's more than 700,000 workers.

The high court is expected to decide whether to temporarily block the law — and workers' raises — by the end of the week. It will be the first test of Republican Gov. Doug Ducey's expanded 7-member Supreme Court. Two news justices appointed by Ducey took their seats earlier this month. Ducey opposed the measure.

The court will consider whether to take up the business groups' broader challenge at its February conference.

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