NM House passes wage increase

Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, with his expert witness, Stephanie Welch of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, speaks on the House floor Wednesday as he urges lawmakers to support his proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico’s minimum wage would climb to $10 this summer – the first statewide increase in a decade – under legislation approved by the state House late Wednesday.

The legislation would also set in motion future increases each summer, and it would eventually phase out the sub-minimum wage allowed for waiters, bartenders and other tipped employees.

House Bill 31 passed 44-26 on Wednesday and now heads to the Senate, where a proposal for a smaller wage increase is pending.

Rep. Miguel P. Garcia, an Albuquerque Democrat and co-sponsor of the House proposal, said low-wage workers are disproportionately women – many of them single parents.

“Raising the minimum wage is about reducing inequality,” Garcia said Friday, “but it’s also about restoring the true value of work.”

Republican lawmakers slammed the proposal, arguing that it would force some restaurants to close and ultimately hurt workers. They said phasing out the tipped wage – a provision in the law that allows workers to be paid less than the minimum hourly wage as long as their tips make up the difference – would disrupt a business model that already works well for waiters.

“These laws and rules tie our hands behind our backs,” said Rep. Martin Zamora, a Clovis Republican and business owner. “They don’t give you the freedom which has made us prosper.”

The House legislation calls for raising New Mexico’s minimum wage from $7.50 an hour now to $10 an hour on July 1, an increase of 33 percent. A year later, the wage would climb to $11 an hour and, in 2021, to $12.

After that, the wage would increase each year based on inflation.

The proposal also would phase out the lower wage allowed for tipped employees. They must make at least $2.13 an hour now, but the bill would boost that to $5 an hour in July, then rise each year until it catches up with the regular minimum wage in 2022.

An earlier version of the bill would have eliminated the tipped wage in July, but Garcia won approval Wednesday to amend the proposal to reduce the immediate impact.

Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said it was a reasonable change.

“It’s a better bill,” he said. “The restaurants don’t take that initial hit.”

Republicans said the change wasn’t enough. Restaurants, they said, might change their format to reduce employee costs, perhaps even move to having customers order at automated kiosks.

“The margins already are so tight” in the restaurant business, said House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington.

Wednesday’s vote fell largely along party lines. Two Democrats – Candie Sweetser of Deming and Raymundo Lara of Chamberino – joined Republicans in opposition.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who took office this year, commended the House for passage of the bill.

She said it would provide “a critical boost to hardworking New Mexico families” and help the economy.

House Bill 31 wouldn’t pre-empt communities in New Mexico from establishing higher minimums. Santa Fe, for example, has a minimum wage of $11.40 an hour, and Las Cruces has a $10.10 hourly minimum — both of which would remain intact, as long as they stay above the statewide minimum.

Albuquerque’s current minimum is $9.20, but with a lower base wage for tipped employees and those who get certain benefits.

Seven states, meanwhile, require restaurants and other employers to pay their workers the full state minimum wage before tips.

Colorado now has a $11.10 hourly minimum wage and Arizona’s minimum wage is $11 an hour, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Texas, Utah and Oklahoma all have minimum wage levels of $7.25 an hour, which is also the national minimum wage.

In other action, the state House late Wednesday was debating a proposal that would allow family members or police to seek court orders to take guns temporarily from someone they believe is an immediate threat.

House Bill 83, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Daymon Ely of Corrales and Joy Garratt of Albuquerque, would establish an Extreme Risk Protection Order Act. It’s sometimes called a “red flag” law.

If passed by the House, the bill would move to the Senate for consideration.


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