Minimum-wage efforts begin moving through NM House

by Dan McKay, Albuquerque Journal
January 25, 2017

SANTA FE — Democrats in the Roundhouse renewed their push Wednesday to boost New Mexico’s minimum wage — with the first of three competing proposals moving through a House committee.

And two longtime opponents of an increased minimum — Gov. Susana Martinez and the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce — indicated they’re willing to consider a small increase this year, under certain circumstances.

Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, narrowly won a recommendation of approval on Wednesday for his proposal to boost the minimum wage about 35 percent over a three-year period, from $7.50 an hour now to $10.10 in 2020. The wage would climb after that to match inflation, as long as it’s 4 percent or less a year.

His proposal now heads to the House business and industry committee — the last hearing it needs before going to the House floor.

“This is a moral and ethical obligation,” said Allen Sánchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops.

He joined other religious leaders and anti-poverty groups in favor of the bill. They argued that it isn’t fair for a full-time worker with a child — a single parent — to remain in poverty, and putting extra money in people’s pockets will result in new spending that boosts the economy.

On the other side, business groups said a significant increase in the minimum wage would result in job losses because employers couldn’t afford as many workers.

And other opponents said eliminating poverty isn’t as easy as just raising the minimum wage — because of unintended consequences, such as increased prices that dampen the buying power of the new wage.

Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, said her group is open to a wage increase of some kind.

But $10.10 is “too high,” she said. “It’s just going to have such a horrible effect not only on the manufacturing community but also on small businesses.”

Political clash?

Increasing New Mexico’s minimum wage is a priority of Democrats this session — they hold majorities in the House and Senate — but the idea would also need approval from Republican Gov. Martinez.

Four years ago, she vetoed a proposal for $8.50 an hour.

Martinez said Wednesday that she is open to a small increase, but only if New Mexico remains competitive with neighboring states and the proposal doesn’t hurt small businesses. She also accused Democrats of refusing “to accept a bipartisan compromise that would have raised the minimum wage” already.

Arizona and Colorado are each set to raise their minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. Texas has the federally mandated $7.25 hourly minimum.

Three ideas

Garcia’s proposal for a $10.10 minimum wage, House Bill 67, is one of at least three proposals working through the Roundhouse.

The most dramatic bill calls for a $15 hourly minimum in 2018. It’s sponsored by Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque. That proposal, House Bill 27, has been referred to two committees.

A more modest bill is pending in the Senate. Sen. William Soules, D-Las Cruces, has proposed an increase to $8.45, to take effect in July. His proposal, Senate Bill 36, has been referred to two committees.

It has an exception from the minimum for small businesses.

The Soules and Garcia bills don’t prevent cities and counties from establishing higher minimum wages.

Albuquerque’s minimum wage is $8.80, for example, and Santa Fe’s is $11.08 an hour.

The Soules and Garcia bills also each set a lower minimum for tipped employees. Roybal Caballero’s proposal doesn’t.

Garcia said he settled on the $10.10 figure because it’s mentioned in a federal executive order for contractors. And he said the higher wages already established in Albuquerque and Santa Fe show it won’t damage the economy.

“There is no compelling case to be made that raising the minimum wage will trigger job losses,” he said in Wednesday’s hearing.

But Rep. Gail Armstrong, R-Magdalena, said the bill would hit rural New Mexico particularly hard.

“This would devastate any mom-and-pop restaurants that are hanging on by a thread,” she said.

At least half the workers covered under the proposal are 40 years old or older, and about half have at least some college education, according to Gerry Bradley, an economist for New Mexico Voices for Children, an advocacy group.

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