ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When it came to nearly all the big issues before the Legislature, you knew where Gov. Susana Martinez stood.
The governor wanted higher starting salaries for public school teachers, merit pay for teachers and principals, and wage increases for hard-to-fill state government jobs.
She pushed to increase the number of physicians and nurses, particularly in rural areas, to spend more than $100 million for water projects and to set aside $10 million to help close deals for businesses to move to the state.
Martinez proposed again to do away with driver’s licenses for people with unlawful immigration status and to hold back third graders who can’t read proficiently despite intense intervention.
What neither the governor nor her staff made public during the legislative session was that she would have agreed to an increase in the state minimum wage to $8 an hour. Martinez made that announcement at a news conference about two hours after the Legislature’s session ended Feb. 20.
Martinez said she told legislative leaders privately “that I was willing to compromise and propose and agree to sign a bill with an $8 minimum wage.”
House Minority Whip Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said he was aware of the governor’s position. Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, and Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, said they never got the memo.
Martinez could have had a minimum wage bill introduced. She didn’t. She could have sent legislators an executive message specifically authorizing consideration of such a bill. She didn’t. There was no mention in her State of the State address.
“Actions speak louder than words,” House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, said.
Martinez’s announcement that she would have agreed to an increase in the minimum wage to $8 an hour came two weeks after the Senate Public Affairs Committee rejected a bill to increase the minimum wage from $7.50 to $8 for employees of businesses with 11 or more workers.
And the announcement came one day after the House narrowly defeated a proposed constitutional amendment to raise the wage to $8.50 with automatic future increases for inflation.
Gentry said during the House debate, with less than 24 hours to go in the legislative session, that Martinez would back a bill for $8 an hour.
Several other bills to increase the minimum wage died quiet deaths in legislative committees.
Last year, Martinez vetoed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour, saying the bill was a job-killer. She said she would have gone for an increase to $7.80 an hour, which would have tied Arizona for the region’s highest minimum wage.
At her news conference Feb. 20, Martinez said she decided to support $8 an hour because Colorado raised its minimum wage to that level. (The cities of Albuquerque and Santa Fe have separate and higher minimum wages.)
In this year’s elections, Martinez and her fellow Republicans can criticize Democrats for not compromising on a raise in the minimum age to $8. Democrats can blame Republicans for the failure of the proposed constitutional amendment to raise the minimum wage to $8.50.
The minimum wage was last increased, from $6.50 to $7.50 an hour, in 2009, but most of that increase has been eaten up since by inflation.
Critics of an increase in the minimum wage say it would result in job losses, and there is some evidence to support that.
Supporters of a boost in the minimum wage say it would result in fewer workers and their families on public assistance programs, and there is some evidence to support that.
Employees at fast-food restaurants and big-box stores aren’t the only ones who would have benefited from an increase in the minimum wage to $8 or more. As of Feb. 1, at least 215 workers in state government earned less than that.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.