Could Amherst voters decide fate of $15/hour Minimum Wage hike?
UPDATE (Friday morning):
The Town Clerk just confirmed that even if the Select Board set the referendum election for September 9, the date of the State Primary, it would only result in "minimal savings." The cost for the Special Town Election would still be around $10,000 vs a normal stand alone election cost of $12,000.
Separate ballots would still have to be printed and the number of check in and check out workers at every precinct would need to double.
#####After reading this morning's article Matthew Cunningham-Cook, the optimistic architect of the $15/hr minimum wage hike for all Amherst laborers, wished to add an interesting point:
If Town Meeting should reject his article at the March 19 Special Town Meeting he will "referendum" that decision by collecting 880 signatures within five business days and bring it directly to the voters of Amherst in a Special Election that will cost taxpayers $12,000.
Since he's already collected 200 signatures to force the $15/hour minimum wage warrant article on a Special Town Meeting, his threat is not to be ignored.
And when I mentioned how difficult it can be he responded, "That's true. We're a big group and five business days afterwards would be the 26th. Collecting signatures on election day(3/25) is pretty easy."
The Town Clerk confirms his deadline analysis and agrees she can't stop folks from collecting signatures near a voting precinct unless they are interfering with voters.
The rule stating no electioneering within 100 feet of a voting precinct on election day would not apply since this issue has nothing to do with what's on the election ballot.
Since 1998 only twice has a Town Meeting action been referendumed by collecting the signatures of 5% of active voters: The Parking Garage in town center and the Soccer Fields on Potwine Lane.
Both capital items had Town Meeting approval, and the referendum was an attempt to overturn that approval.
Both referendums failed. In fact, in order to pass at least 18% of registered voters have to vote "yes," otherwise it automatically fails. And Amherst only turns out over 18% at a local election if there's a (much needed) change in government question on the ballot or a Proposition 2.5 Override Question.
The really interesting thing happens if Town Meeting fails to muster a quorum on March 19. Obviously the lone article is then pocket vetoed, but there would be nothing to referendum.
And unlike the scene in "House of Cards," you can't send out police to drag Town Meeting members to the Amherst Regional Middle School to attain a quorum.
The Town Clerk has asked the Town Manager to ask the Town Attorney for guidance, since there's nothing in state law at the moment to address this quirk. In other words, how long does the Moderator wait before he announces there's no quorum, and hence no meeting?
Perhaps the safest route would be for Town Meeting to approve the article (only requires a simple majority), thereby avoiding a $12,000 Special Town Election, thus sending it on to the State Legislature where it will be Dead On Arrival.