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Forum speakers paint starkly opposing views of proposed minimum wage increase

September 10, 2016 Updated: September 10, 2016 at 10:57 pm
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photo - Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images 

Grand Junction - Colorado voters are at the mercy of proponents and opponents of a proposed minimum wage increase who have such vastly different forecasts for the impact a bump to $12 an hour in four years might have on the state's businesses, economy and quality of life for low-wage workers that it's impossible to figure out who is right.

Squaring off in a debate at the Club 20 political forum in Grand Junction on Saturday afternoon, the two sides clashed.

Campaign manager Patty Kupfer for the PAC supporting the amendment said it would help Colorado's consumer-based economy.

"Raising the wage isn't just good for workers - it also makes good economic sense," she told a crowd eating lunch at the Two Rivers Convention Center in downtown Grand Junction. "Consumer spending is the No. 1 driver of the economy. For every dollar increase in the minimum wage, there are $2 in spending put back in the economy."

Tyler Sandberg, campaign manager for the opposition group, painted a bleak picture of the economy with a higher minimum wage, estimating the state would lose 90,000 jobs.

"These are businesses that you are going to bankrupt, they are going to go from minimum wage to no wage," Sandberg said. "Unskilled workers (will be) losing their chance to work up and get skills."

He said a minimum wage increase in Seattle resulted in the hours being cut for part-time workers who he said ultimately saw a reduction in income rather than an increase.

Kupfer countered that Sandberg's interpretation of studies in Seattle were "flatly untrue."

She said that the study Sandberg cited actually tried to account for the booming economy in Seattle and that if you included increases due to wage growth beyond the minimum wage, the city workers came out ahead.

The two disagreed on how the increase would impact restaurant owners.

Kupfer said that in 2016 Colorado restaurants reported sales of $10 billion, which represents 8 percent growth. She said she spoke before the event to a server in downtown Grand Junction who can't afford to fix her car, get her cavities filled or get her hair done regularly.

Sandberg said there is no doubt that raising the minimum wage would close small restaurants in rural Colorado.

"These are small businesses that are operating on very, very small profits," Sandberg said.

He said that in Washington, D.C., 1,400 restaurant jobs were lost after the minimum wage was increased.

The two were at odds on almost every fact they presented to the crowd.

Amendment 70 will appear on the ballot in November.

If approved, it will raise the current minimum wage of $8.31 immediately to $9.30. It will then increase by 90 cents a year until it reaches $12 an hour in 2020.

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