by Cole Lauterbach
A county judge says Arizona cannot extract the additional cost of doing state business in a city that increased its minimum wage, making it more expensive to operate there.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge James Smith sided with the city of Flagstaff about whether a provision in the 2019 Arizona budget allowed the state to fine the city for the difference in doing state business at a higher minimum wage compared with the state minimum hourly rate.
The state is affected by the minimum wage difference because it employs contract workers in the city who would be subject to the higher wage law, which reached $15 an hour this year.
The state minimum wage is $12.15 an hour. In an assessment, the state said the difference is more than $1.1 million the city owes.
In the Monday ruling, Smith didn’t bite on the city’s claim the fine was unconstitutional by violating the Voter Protection Act of 1998. Instead, Smith ruled that Arizona officials missed the July 31 deadline to issue the fine because the nonemergency legislation didn’t take effect until late September.
However, Smith did hint that siding with the state could require the court to essentially change the law regarding the assessment, not notification, of a potential fine for such an offense.
“If the Legislature meant to write ‘notify,’ then it presumably would have done so,” Smith wrote.
Flagstaff City Hall would not comment on the ruling. A spokesperson for Gov. Doug Ducey’s office refrained from offering a comment because the litigation is still ongoing.
The case is set to continue in a trial at an undecided date.
Should the state ultimately lose the challenge, it would have consequences outside of Flagstaff. Tucson voters will decide next month on whether to approve Proposition 206, which would increase the city’s minimum wage to $15 by Jan.1, 2025. It would increase annually based on inflation.
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Cole Lauterbach is a regional editor for The Center Square covering Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington. For more than a decade, Cole has produced award-winning content on both radio and television.
Photo “Maricopa County Superior Court” by Zeb Micelli.