by Andrew Oxford, Santa Fe New Mexican
February 27, 2017

A proposal to raise the hourly minimum wage in New Mexico to $9 won the backing Monday of a Senate committee as well as business and labor groups.

But with several bills floating around the Capitol this year to give at least a slight boost to the earnings of New Mexico’s lowest-paid workers, agreement still seems elusive on how high the state’s minimum wage should go and what strings should be attached.

In a 5-3 vote, the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee approved Senate Bill 386, which would raise the hourly minimum wage from $7.50 to $9 but allow employers to pay new hires a training wage of $8 per hour for up to two months. The bill would also raise the minimum wage for tipped employees, such as waitresses and baristas, from $2.13 to $2.63.

A major public employees union, New Mexico Voices for Children and the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce have backed the proposal, seeing it as a compromise that would ensure at least some increase in pay for low-wage workers while also proving palatable to some in the business community.

“The chance to raise the minimum wage $3,000 a year for workers is too appealing to say no to,” said Carter Bundy of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “If this is something that can help workers, we can support it.”

Bundy said the union would prefer the bill not allow for lower training wages, and that provision seemed to be a deal breaker for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, which pointed to existing law exempting many teenage and student workers from the state’s minimum wage. And with the bill designed to take effect July 1, the New Mexico Restaurant Association has also opposed the measure, arguing it would hit small businesses too hard, too soon.

The approval of the legislation by the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee signaled that lawmakers and lobbyists alike believe this may be the time to make a deal on raising the minimum wage. Democratic legislators are emboldened after gains in last year’s election but are still checked by a Republican governor, giving business groups at least some leverage in the debate.

An increase in the minimum wage would fulfill a campaign pledge made by several Democratic legislators, too.

A separate proposal, House Bill 27, would boost the hourly minimum wage to $15. Another measure, House Bill 67, would raise the hourly minimum wage to $10.10 over the next three years. And Senate Bill 36 would set the rate at $8.45 per hour on July 1.

All three bills also call for annual changes to the minimum wage based on the cost of living.

Another proposal filed with the backing of leading House Democrats, House Bill 442, would raise the hourly minimum wage to $9.25 per hour. In what seems like an attempt at a compromise, however, it would also prohibit local governments from imposing certain labor regulations favored by workers rights groups.

While the state’s hourly minimum wage rests at $7.50 — 25 cents above the federal level — Santa Fe has a separate rate that rose above $11 this month, meaning workers in the capital will not see a boost from most of the proposals under consideration in the Legislature. Most proposals also would still leave the state’s minimum wage below that of neighboring Arizona and Colorado. They have hourly minimum wages of $10 and $9.30, respectively.

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