SANTA FE, N.M. — Hours after this year’s 30-day legislative session closed on Thursday, Gov. Susana Martinez said she would have supported a bill to increase the minimum wage to $8 an hour.
But some legislators, including several Republicans, say Martinez’s support for an $8 minimum wage wasn’t communicated before the session’s final night, when a Democratic-pushed constitutional amendment proposal raising the wage to $8.50 with automatic increases tied to inflation died in the House of Representatives.
Some lawmakers working on the minimum wage issues had said they assumed the governor would veto a statutory minimum wage increase above $7.80, as she did last year.
“I had made it clear that I was willing to compromise, and propose and agree to sign a bill with an $8 minimum wage,” Martinez told reporters in a post-session news conference Thursday.
“We had conversations, quite a few conversations,” she said when asked whether senators got the message.
The first public mention of Martinez’s support for an $8 wage came Wednesday, the legislative session’s last night, when House Minority Whip Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said Martinez would instead back a bill for $8 per hour.
“It was clear all along to me,” Gentry said in an interview Friday. “During the minimum wage debate, I had spoken with her staff (and) they made it clear to me she was fine with $8. We talked about remaining competitive with the region and doing whatever would be tied for the highest minimum wage in the region.”
The governor’s stated support for an $8 minimum wage was an update of her view from last session, where she vetoed an $8.50 minimum wage bill, saying she would go no higher than $7.80, which at the time equaled the highest minimum wage available in neighboring states, the governor said.
But this year, after Colorado raised its minimum wage to $8 an hour, Martinez said she changed her assessment.
Democrats this year tried to go around her with the constitutional amendment proposal that would go before voters in November. Prior to the session, Democratic Party Chairman Sam Bregman said he considered the effort among the party’s top priorities.
Republicans charged the constitutional amendment proposal was a tactic to draw liberal voters motivated by the minimum wage issue to the polls in an election year when Martinez is running for re-election.
Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Public Affairs Committee earlier in this year’s session voted 6-2 to kill a statutory proposal to raise the minimum wage to $8 with no automatic increase. Committee Republicans said the $8 wage was too much, Democrats said it didn’t go far enough.
The state minimum wage, last raised in 2009, stands at $7.50 per hour, although some municipalities, including Albuquerque and Santa Fe, have adopted higher rates.
Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, the sponsor of the bill to raise the minimum wage to $8 that failed to clear its first committee, said he never heard Martinez voice her support for his proposal.
“I’m just disappointed that now the people that need it out there – because politics was played with it – that they get nothing now,” Sanchez said. “They could have had 50 cents more, $20 per week more in their pay.”
Republicans on the Senate Public Affairs Committee, the only standing committee to vote on the measure put forth by Sanchez, said in interviews Friday that they hadn’t heard Martinez supported the $8 wage. They also said the governor’s backing was unlikely to have swayed their opposing votes.
Gentry, contending that Democrats were not interested in finding a compromise on the wage issue anyway, said they really wanted to use the minimum wage debate as a line of political attack.
House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, said House Democrats never had a chance to consider a bill for a statutory $8 minimum wage. He said the governor could have directed the Legislature to consider the issue through an executive message to the House and Senate but that none was issued.
“Actions speak louder than words,” the House speaker said.
An executive message typically is a prerequisite for non-appropriations-related bills to be heard during the Legislature’s 30-day “budget sessions.”
The governor said a message was unnecessary after a procedural decision on the Senate side of the Legislature that the subject matter of Sanchez’s bill could be considered. That bill, if passed by the Senate, would have moved to the House for consideration.
“I offered to do a message,” the governor said. “Because (Sanchez’s bill) was ruled germane, that wasn’t necessary.”
House Minority Leader Donald Bratton, R-Hobbs, couldn’t be reached on Friday.
Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said he never heard Martinez would have backed the $8 minimum wage this year, although he regularly communicated with the governor and her staff about legislative priorities during the session.
“I was not aware of the governor saying she’d support an $8 minimum wage. I hadn’t heard anything from anyone on her staff or anything about it,” Ingle said. “Generally speaking, her staff or she calls me up for meetings weekly, sometimes twice a week,” the minority leader said. “Generally, it’s on a specific issue. I wasn’t aware of that.”