PHOENIX — Leading in the polls and with lots of money to spend, the group pushing to increase the minimum wage has now turned its sights to defeating political foes.
Arizonans for Fair Wages and Healthy Families has put more than $62,000 into efforts to affect a handful of legislative races, financial disclosure reports show.
The mailers target Republican incumbents and candidates who Bill Scheel, campaign manager for Proposition 206, said are the kind of lawmakers who would vote to undermine the minimum-wage initiative if it passes.
Scheel said these particular races were chosen because they are competitive and represent opportunities for Democrats to add some seats to the House and Senate.
The move is being criticized by Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, a foe of the minimum-wage hike. She contends it is illegal for a committee that was organized to raise money to persuade voters to approve a ballot measure to now use some of those dollars to affect candidate races.
Lesko, in her complaint to the secretary of state, does not contend the people who donated to Proposition 206 are forbidden from influencing individual races. But she said they have to form a separate committee, with separate reports.
Garrick Taylor of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which has found itself being outmaneuvered — and outspent — by initiative proponents, has his own take on the issue. He argues that the groups that are supporting Proposition 206, particularly national unions, have an alternate agenda.
“It’s now become apparent that Proposition 206 is just one element of a bigger play by labor in Arizona to make this state more hostile to job creators,” Taylor said.
Scheel, however, said the expenditures to oust GOP incumbents and prevent others from getting elected is all part of the same campaign.
He pointed out that Republicans were involved in efforts to undermine the original 2006 initiative that first established a state minimum wage. That includes a 2013 law that sought to preclude cities, towns and counties from adopting their own minimum wages higher than what the state mandates.
It took Attorney General Mark Brnovich to rule that legislation was illegal because the 2006 law specifically permits that local option. And, having been approved by voters, lawmakers were powerless to alter it.
“We think it’s important that voters know which legislative candidates are supportive of Prop. 206 and which legislators are likely to attempt to undermine the will of the voters and undercut Prop. 206 after it’s enacted,” Scheel said.
The original 2006 initiative established a state minimum wage of $6.75 an hour at a time when employers in Arizona were subject only to the federal minimum of $5.15. The ballot measure also requires annual inflation adjustments that have pushed the state figure up to $8.05; it will go to $8.15 automatically on Jan. 1.
Proposition 206 proposes to boost the minimum wage to $10 an hour in January, rising to $12 by 2020. It also includes a requirement for a certain number of days of paid personal leave.
The most recent financial disclosure statements show the pro-206 effort has collected more than $3 million. While some of that was spent gathering signatures, Scheel said there has been enough to have TV commercials running for three weeks already on both English and Spanish-speaking media along with radio commercials and direct mailers.
Major contributors include Living United for Change in Arizona, which put up close to $1 million, $500,000 from CPD Action, a national group that is involved in living wage issues, and $350,000 each from the Citizen Participation Action Fund and the National Education Association.
By contrast, the anti-206 effort is virtually nonexistent, with the state chamber putting in less than $26,000.