Allow next phase of city minimum wage hike as scheduled

Sun-News Editorial Board, Las Cruces Sun-News
Dec. 7, 2018

It was a case of déjà vu all over again Monday when local business owners showed up at the City Council meeting to complain about a scheduled increase in the minimum wage that they have known about since 2014.

When asked by Mayor Ken Miyagishima why they did not attend a city meeting this past summer devoted to the issue, many said they weren’t aware of the meeting. Those supporting the wage increase were aware and in attendance.

That was pretty much the case in 2014 when the wage increase was originally passed. Leaders and volunteers of the faith-based advocacy group CAFé worked diligently to collect enough signatures to force a reluctant City Council to take up the issue. Business owners were far less involved and were late in opposing the measure. After it passed, they spent their money on an ill-fated recall effort.

Instead of passing the wage increase phased in over three years as called for by CAFé, the City Council spread out the increases over five years, giving businesses an extra year to prepare for each increase.

Now, with the final increase taking the wage to $10.10 an hour set to go into effect in less than a month, business owners are trying to make a last-ditch effort to rescind the increase. The minimum wage issue wasn’t on the agenda Monday, but they took advantage of the public comment section to raise their concerns.

Four of the 10 business owners who attended the meeting own daycare centers. All said they couldn’t afford to pay their workers more, because their customers can not afford to pay them more. They noted that their child care subsidies would not increase to help cover the wage hike.

That’s the problem. The average childcare provider in New Mexico only earns about $17,400 a year, according to a 2015 study from the Center for Education Policy and Research at the University of New Mexico. The issue pits low-income workers against low-income parents, explained Sharon Kayne of New Mexico Voices for Children.

“The minimum wage is not the culprit,” she said. “The culprit is that the state does not reimburse childcare providers what it actually costs to care for children.”

When Las Cruces passed its minimum wage hike four years ago, joining Albuquerque and Santa Fe, we assumed that the state would act to increase its wage before the final step of the local raise took place. Several bills have been introduced to do just that, but the governor and Legislature could not agree on any of them.

The federal minimum wage of $7.25 has not increased since 2009. Because of inflation, it has lost about 9.6 percent of its buying power in that time.

With the federal government paralyzed by partisanship, it is not surprising that states and municipalities have taken it upon themselves to ensure that those on the bottom of the wage scale are earning enough to sustain themselves.

We’re not certain what the correct number for the minimum wage should be, but it can’t be the same now as it was in 2009.

It’s now time for the city to keep its commitment to workers and let the third phase of the increase take place as scheduled.

Copyright 2018, Las Cruces Sun-News (https://www.lcsun-news.com/story/opinion/editorial/2018/12/07/allow-next-phase-city-minimum-wage-hike-scheduled/2238583002/)