I have been a fiscally conservative Republican since I was a young man because President Ronald Reagan's unshakable optimism in the goodness of America and his message of personal responsibility and the dignity of work resonated strongly with me. And that's why as a business owner, I'll be voting for Amendment 70 to gradually raise Colorado's minimum wage from $8.31 to $12 by 2020.
Amendment 70 will reward work, encourage self-reliance, and strengthen the free market by expecting businesses to compete fairly and not count on taxpayers to subsidize them. At a minimum wage of $8.31 per hour, an employee working full time year-round is actually making a subminimum wage because it does not add up to cover the basics.
There is no such thing as a free lunch — one way or another, someone pays. The question is: Who pays for a worker to support themselves and their family? The business who is benefiting from their work, day in and day out? Or the taxpayer who funds the government assistance that saves thousands of Coloradans from going homeless, hungry or sick because they — or their parents — are paid too little to live on? When someone works a full-time job, they should not have to ask for welfare assistance to get by. That's not fair to the worker or the taxpayer or the many businesses that pay livable wages.
Imagine if a foreign corporation came to Colorado and said the only way for their business to be viable is to allow them to pay Coloradans poverty wages and expect the state of Colorado to subsidize them with welfare benefits for their workers? I hope we would have enough common sense to send that foreign corporation packing.
Labor costs are a basic cost of doing business. Amendment 70 will help assure a more level playing field — where businesses don't offload their costs onto other businesses and taxpayers.
Unlike many other cost increases, raising the minimum wage has a return on investment. When the minimum wage goes up, consumer spending goes up. Increasing the minimum wage is one of the most efficient ways to boost the local economy because low-income people have the greatest need to spend additional earnings. They don't put them in offshore tax havens or speculate irresponsibly on Wall Street like those who brought us the Great Recession. This common-sense understanding is supported by the University of Denver's study that estimates Amendment 70 will expand Colorado's gross domestic product by $400 million.
Raising entry wages has another important return on investment: lower employee turnover. With lower turnover, businesses save time and money on hiring and training costs. We benefit from increased productivity and improved customer service.
These returns on investment explain why many businesses that have workers earning less than the new minimum wage don't have to raise prices when the minimum wage goes up. And why, when a business does increase prices, it is generally modest and in no way cancels out the positive impact of the minimum wage increase to workers, families, communities and our economy.
To take a well-known example: Costco and Wal-Mart both have affordable prices, but Costco has a fair-wage/low-turnover approach, while Wal-Mart has long had a low-wage/high-turnover model, leaving many of its workers relying on public assistance. The minimum wage should reinforce the former, not the latter business model.
Amendment 70 opponents would have you believe that passage means many small businesses will close and many workers will lose their jobs. The TV ads make it sound like the coming apocalypse. They predicted this the last time minimum wage was on the ballot in 2006. They were wrong then. They are wrong now.
In fact, researchers at the Bell Policy Center and the Colorado Center for Law and Policy found that 71,000 jobs were added in the two years following the last ballot measure, in rural as well as suburban and urban areas — including in the restaurant industry.
The reality is that most businesses have many more customers than they have employees. When customers have more money to spend, it's good for everyone.
Raising the minimum wage is good business and good government.
Edwin Zoe is the owner of Zoe Ma Ma restaurants in Boulder and Denver and a member of Colorado Business for a Fair Minimum Wage