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The Goldwater Institute is suing Phoenix over a prevailing wage ordinance. It says Tucson is next

The Goldwater Institute has notified officials in Tucson it intends to sue if a prevailing wage ordinance passed by city leaders earlier this month remains in place. These ordinances require contractors hired for public projects to pay workers the prevailing norm for similar work, like that in the private sector.

Both Tucson and Phoenix have ordinances in place now. John Thorpe with the Goldwater Institute says they violate state law. 

"It also violates the Arizona Constitution’s due process protections in its enforcement procedures and penalties it imposes on contractors and subcontractors," he said. 

An Arizona statute from 1984 prohibits cities from issuing their own prevailing wage requirements for public projects. But Phoenix and Tucson argue their ordinances are protected by a recent opinion issued by Attorney General Kris Mayes, who says the old law is superseded by Proposition 106, another law approved by voters in 2016 that lets cities set their own minimum wage. 

Tucson leaders unanimously approved the new prevailing wage ordinance during a mayor and City Council meeting on Jan. 9. They say the new mandate will improve the local economy and ensure workers are not being underpaid. 

In a letter sent to city leaders by Goldwater, Thorpe says Tucson's ordinance is illegal for the same reasons and Phoenix's. He argues the 2016 law should not overrule the 1984 law because the terms "minimum wage" and "prevailing wage" are distinct under Arizona law.

Goldwater is already suing Phoenix, and Thorpe says it intends to do the same in Tucson.

Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.