Senate OKs minimum wage bill

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The Senate voted late Friday to approve a plan to gradually increase New Mexico’s minimum wage to $11 per hour by 2022, despite concerns about its impact on small business in rural parts of the state.

The final 27-15 vote came after the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, fended off proposed amendments from both flanks – Republicans trying to delay or shrink the proposed wage hike and several Democrats trying to boost it for tipped workers and high-schoolers.

“I think this is reasonable,” Sanchez said at the end of the debate. “I think citizens deserve a raise, which they haven’t had for awhile.”

While some cities have enacted higher local minimum wage ordinances, New Mexico’s current statewide $7.50 per hour minimum wage has not gone up since 2009.

Former Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican who left office at the end of last year, vetoed several wage hike bills during her eight years as chief executive.

In contrast, the state’s new governor, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, has urged lawmakers to send her a minimum wage increase during the 60-day session that ends March 16, arguing that boosting workers’ pay would bolster the state’s economy.

Under Senate Bill 437, the proposal approved late Friday, New Mexico’s minimum wage would gradually ramp up – to $9.25 per hour in October, then to $10 per hour in April 2020 and eventually to $11 per hour in January 2022.

It would also allow for a lower allowable training wage – $8.50 per hour – for high school-aged workers and would not call for any additional increases after 2022.

Republican senators argued the proposed wage hike would lead to restaurants and small businesses closing in rural areas.

“Most of us can’t all of a sudden take a 21 percent increase,” said Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington.

Only one GOP senator, Sander Rue of Albuquerque, ultimately voted in favor of the legislation. All 26 Senate Democrats also cast “yes” votes.

Meanwhile, the Senate’s approval of the bill sets the stage for a showdown with the House, which last month passed a more far-reaching minimum wage measure.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, told reporters earlier this week the Senate minimum wage bill would be altered if it reaches the House floor.

It’s also unclear if Lujan Grisham would embrace the Senate bill, since her administration supports the larger wage hike proposed by the House-approved bill. That measure would increase New Mexico’s minimum wage to $12 per hour with future increases tied to inflation.

But that bill stalled in a Senate committee when a top-ranking Democrat, Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces, joined with Republicans to block its advance.

As for the New Mexico cities that have already enacted higher municipal minimum wages, Santa Fe’s minimum wage recently went up to $11.40 per hour and is currently the highest in the state. Las Cruces has a $10.10 per hour minimum wage and Albuquerque’s is $9.20 – with a lower base wage for tipped employees and those who get certain benefits.

The bill approved Friday would not pre-empt the local ordinances that set minimum wages higher than the new state wage, meaning no employee’s wages would be reduced under a statewide wage hike.

In addition, it would phase in an increased minimum wage for tipped employees – from $2.13 to $3 per hour. Such employees can be paid the lower wage if they collect enough tips to reach the regular minimum wage.