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In the state of Colorado, there are various small "home rule municipalities" which supposedly exercise a certain amount of self-governance.

In a home rule municipality, can an employer legally pay employees less than the state-level minimum wage?


Below, we see an excerpt taken from the Constitution of the State of Colorado.

Home rule for cities and towns. The people of each city or town of this state, having a population of two thousand inhabitants as determined by the last preceding census taken under the authority of the United States, the state of Colorado or said city or town, are hereby vested with, and they shall always have, power to make, amend, add to or replace the charter of said city or town, which shall be its organic law and extend to all its local and municipal matters.

Such charter and the ordinances made pursuant thereto in such matters shall supersede within the territorial limits and other jurisdiction of said city or town any law of the state in conflict therewith.

Proposals for charter conventions shall be submitted by the city council or board of trustees, or other body in which the legislative powers of the city or town shall then be vested, at special elections, or at general, state or municipal elections, upon petition filed by qualified electors, all in reasonable conformity with section 5 of this article, and all proceedings thereon or thereafter shall be in reasonable conformity with sections 4 and 5 of this article.

From and after the certifying to and filing with the secretary of state of a charter framed and approved in reasonable conformity with the provisions of this article, such city or town, and the citizens thereof, shall have the powers set out in sections 1, 4 and 5 of this article, and all other powers necessary, requisite or proper for the government and administration of its local and municipal matters, including power to legislate upon, provide, regulate, conduct and control:

a. The creation and terms of municipal officers, agencies and employments; the definition, regulation and alteration of the powers, duties, qualifications and terms or tenure of all municipal officers, agents and employees;

b. The creation of police courts; the definition and regulation of the jurisdiction, powers and duties thereof, and the election or appointment of police magistrates therefor;

c. The creation of municipal courts; the definition and regulation of the jurisdiction, powers and duties thereof, and the election or appointment of the officers thereof;

d. All matters pertaining to municipal elections in such city or town, and to electoral votes therein on measures submitted under the charter or ordinances thereof, including the calling or notice and the date of such election or vote, the registration of voters, nominations, nomination and election systems, judges and clerks of election, the form of ballots, balloting, challenging, canvassing, certifying the result, securing the purity of elections, guarding against abuses of the elective franchise, and tending to make such elections or electoral votes non-partisan in character;

e. The issuance, refunding and liquidation of all kinds of municipal obligations, including bonds and other obligations of park, water and local improvement districts;

f. The consolidation and management of park or water districts in such cities or towns or within the jurisdiction thereof; but no such consolidation shall be effective until approved by the vote of a majority, in each district to be consolidated, of the qualified electors voting therein upon the question;

g. The assessment of property in such city or town for municipal taxation and the levy and collection of taxes thereon for municipal purposes and special assessments for local improvements; such assessments, levy and collection of taxes and special assessments to be made by municipal officials or by the county or state officials as may be provided by the charter;

h. The imposition, enforcement and collection of fines and penalties for the violation of any of the provisions of the charter, or of any ordinance adopted in pursuance of the charter.

It is the intention of this article to grant and confirm to the people of all municipalities coming within its provisions the full right of self-government in both local and municipal matters and the enumeration herein of certain powers shall not be construed to deny such cities and towns, and to the people thereof, any right or power essential or proper to the full exercise of such right.

The statutes of the state of Colorado, so far as applicable, shall continue to apply to such cities and towns, except insofar as superseded by the charters of such cities and towns or by ordinance passed pursuant to such charters.

All provisions of the charters of the city and county of Denver and the cities of Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Grand Junction, as heretofore certified to and filed with the secretary of state, and of the charter of any other city heretofore approved by a majority of those voting thereon and certified to and filed with the secretary of state, which provisions are not in conflict with this article, and all elections and electoral votes heretofore had under and pursuant thereto, are hereby ratified, affirmed and validated as of their date.

Any act in violation of the provisions of such charter or of any ordinance thereunder shall be criminal and punishable as such when so provided by any statute now or hereafter in force.

The provisions of this section 6 shall apply to the city and county of Denver.

This article shall be in all respects self-executing.

Colorado Const. Art. 20, § 6.

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  • "having a population of two thousand inhabitants" The quoted wording seems to imply that towns with populations of 2,001 or more would not be able to exercise home rule...
    – TripeHound
    Feb 6 at 0:02
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    Does the municipality actually have a law to the effect of "the minimum wage shall be $X/hr." which is less than the state? The home rule provision only provides that local law controls when they conflict, it doesn't mean that state law ceases to function altogether.
    – Cadence
    Feb 6 at 4:18

1 Answer 1

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In a home rule municipality, can an employer legally pay employees less than the state-level minimum wage?

No.

The state constitutional language that states:

The statutes of the state of Colorado, so far as applicable, shall continue to apply to such cities and towns, except insofar as superseded by the charters of such cities and towns or by ordinance passed pursuant to such charters.

does not give home rule cities the authority to disregard (or override in their territory) generally applicable state law. This really only refers to state statutes related to the internal operations of home rule municipalities.

Home rule cities cannot deviate from state law on matters of statewide concern. See Berger v. City of Boulder, 195 P.3d 1138 (Colo. App. 2008) (state liquor laws). See also Davis v. City and County of Denver, 342 P.2d 674, 140 Colo. 30 (1959). 

Note that, to be clear, a locality in Colorado can impose a minimum wage higher than the state minimum wage, just not one lower than state minimum wage. This happens, for example, in Denver, which has a higher minimum wage than the state minimum wage. This is allowed because the state law and the local law don't conflict with each other. Both can be complied with at the same time.

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  • If you go with the comply at the same time argument than a locality could also impose a lower minimum wage than the state minimum wage and they would both apply. This could happen with a local minimum that initially is higher than the state minimum but then the state minimum is adjusted and the local one is not.
    – quarague
    Feb 7 at 9:44
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    @quarague It could. But the question asked is "In a home rule municipality, can an employer legally pay employees less than the state-level minimum wage?" The answer to that question is "no".
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 7 at 18:35

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