Talks underway on competing minimum wage bills

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Competing proposals to raise New Mexico’s statewide minimum wage for the first time in a decade are moving forward in the state Senate.

And they’re becoming more alike as they move along, with the potential for still further negotiation.

“Try to find some middle ground,” Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, urged the bills’ sponsors Saturday.

Both measures passed the Senate Public Affairs Committee – of which Ortiz y Pino is chairman – and now head to another Senate committee, potentially their last stop before reaching the Senate floor.

One proposal – House Bill 31, sponsored by Rep. Miguel P. Garcia, D-Albuquerque – has already passed the House. It calls for an increase to $10 per hour in July and a phased-in increase to $12 in 2021. There would be inflation-adjusted increases after that.

The second proposal – Senate Bill 437, sponsored by Sen. Clemente “Meme” Sanchez, D-Grants – is just now starting to move this session and calls for a smaller increase in the minimum wage, with no inflation adjustments. It would raise the minimum to $9.25 an hour in October and $10 in April 2020.

A lower wage, $8.50 an hour, would be allowed for high school students under the Senate proposal.

Both bills would set a sub-minimum wage for waiters and other tipped employees at 30 percent of the regular minimum wage.

Garcia’s proposal previously called for phasing out the tipped wage, so waiters would make the full minimum wage eventually. But he amended the proposal Saturday, with the Senate committee’s approval.

It was a sign, he said, of his willingness to compromise so the two chambers can reach agreement.

Sanchez, too, said he is open to changes.

“There’s still room for negotiation,” Sanchez said.

The two bills now head to the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee, where Sanchez is the chairman.

His proposal advanced out of Saturday’s committee on a 3-2 vote. It was favored by chambers of commerce and other business groups throughout New Mexico.

“It has increases that we believe are fair and reasonable for the rural areas of the state,” said Carol Wight of the New Mexico Restaurant Association.

Garcia’s proposal passed the committee on a 4-1 vote. It was favored by a variety of advocacy groups and union representatives.

“People are working – they’re just not making enough to get by,” said Bill Jordan of New Mexico Voices for Children. “It’s time to raise the wage.”

Both bills drew a mix of support and opposition from restaurant owners and tipped workers who packed into the small committee room at the Roundhouse to testify.

But there was agreement about the broader goal of raising the statewide minimum wage, which is now $7.50 an hour for most workers and $2.13 for tipped workers.

“It’s a disaster that it’s so low,” said Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque.

Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, was the only committee member who voted differently on the two bills. He supported the larger increase and said he liked the idea of indexing the future wage to inflation, as Garcia’s bill does.

Ortiz y Pino suggested that Sanchez and Garcia keep working to find agreement. The key differences to work on, he said, are whether to have a lower student wage, whether to institute automatic inflation-adjusted increases and, of course, the wage level itself.

Neither bill would pre-empt communities 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 would remain intact, as long as they stay above the statewide minimum.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who took office this year, campaigned on raising the minimum wage to $10 this year and to $12 by 2022, with inflation adjustments after that.

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