Workers rally for a minimum-wage raise in Tempe in 2015.
Workers rally for a minimum-wage raise in Tempe in 2015.
Elizabeth Stuart

Goldwater Institute Pits Low-Income Workers Against People With Disabilities

The Goldwater Institute really hates Proposition 206, the ballot initiative that upped Arizona's minimum wage to $10 an hour last year and is designed to ensure that it continues to increase incrementally to keep pace with the cost of living.

First, the institute tried to block the initiative in court — which failed. Now, it's trying to convince people that Prop 206 is actually bad because it will hurt people with developmental disabilities.

A report that the conservative think tank released earlier this month focuses on the Arizona Department of Economic Security's Division of Developmental Disabilities, which provides behavioral health services, job training, residential placements, and other forms of assistance to more than 35,000 people in the state. All those services are outsourced, meaning that the people who come to your door aren't DES workers — they're an employee of a private company that contracts with the state. 

And according to the Goldwater Institute's study, the minimum wage increase means that taxpayers are going to be paying at least $44 million during the 2018 fiscal year in order to keep the department at its current staffing level.

Goldwater also warns that while workers who'd been earning minimum wage will see their salaries go up, those who had already been earning more than minimum wage likely won't. That means that experienced, higher-paid workers will end up leaving, it predicts:

Without a partial upward adjustment in pay to the staff that had been earning above the minimum wage due to tenure and experience, the DDD program will experience higher levels of turnover and program quality will decline. While this is indeed a budgetary option, policymakers must acknowledge that a deliberate decision is being made to reduce the DDD program’s quality under this approach.

Jon Meyers, the executive director of Arc of Arizona, a nonprofit organization that advocates for people with disabilities, calls that "a gross oversimplification of what is likely to happen."

In an ideal world, he said, people who were already earning slightly more than the minimum wage would also receive a salary bump. But he questions whether the absence of one will actually lead to high turnover and drive people into other professions.

Besides, he argued, any staffing issues that the Division of Development Disabilities faces are the result of the legislature's unwillingness to adequately fund social services.

"This is a system that has been under fire since 2009," Meyers said. "This crisis was created by the state of Arizona cutting funds for disability services, and putting service providers in a position where they’re barely scraping by."

Meyers pointed out that the number of people who use the DDD's services has been increasing every year — meaning that there's a growing need for workers who do tough, often physically demanding jobs. If those jobs only pay minimum wage, then there's a very real risk that there will be a shortage of people willing to do them.

"Much of the crisis we’re facing is the fact that the demand is high and the pay is low and the respect given to those positions is not what it should be," he said. "It is tough, demanding work, and it deserves to be compensated better than $8.50 an hour."

He added: "There’s no question that this was not a problem brought up by Proposition 206. It’s a problem that Proposition 206 is intended to address."

Whether the predictions outlined in the study turn out to be true, the concern-trolling on behalf of the disability community is gross. Since when does the Goldwater Institute advocate on behalf of people with developmental disabilities? A quick Google search shows that it didn’t until Proposition 206 came along. The report even admits that Goldwater is neutral on the question of whether the state should be funding disability services at all. 

We've contacted the Goldwater Institute to ask why the Division of Developmental Disabilities was chosen as the report's focus. We haven't yet received a response, but will update this story when we do.

In the meantime, Meyers has a theory:

"It’s a convenient target," he said. "It enables Goldwater to latch onto a population that it does not ordinarily appear to have a lot of sympathy for, and create this fear in the public’s mind that it’s going to throw the system into disarray — when, in reality, any disarray was caused by six consecutive years of rate cuts to agencies "

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