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Lawmakers move toward wage compromise

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A small coalition of lawmakers reached a deal late Thursday aimed at breaking the impasse over raising New Mexico’s minimum wage.

The proposal, SB 437, would phase in a new minimum wage of $12 an hour by 2023, but with no automatic inflation adjustments after that.

The $12 level is higher than what had been approved in the Senate, but it doesn’t have the inflation adjustments sought by the House.

The sponsors of the competing proposals – Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, and Sen. Clemente “Meme” Sanchez, D-Grants – announced the deal during a conference committee meeting called to help the two chambers resolve their differences.

“This was kind of a real tedious, hard-fought effort,” Garcia said as he announced the deal. “I think we have a pretty reasonable piece of legislation before us.”

It came after a day of negotiations that included Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who made raising the wage a critical piece of her campaign last year.

“The governor was happy to broker the compromise upstairs earlier today,” Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said in a written statement. “Both Senator Sanchez and Representative Garcia came to the table willing to give a little, and that makes for a better near-term future for hardworking New Mexicans statewide. Twelve dollars will be a reality.”

The conference committee – made up of three lawmakers from each chamber – recommended approval of the deal on a 5-1 vote, with only Republican Rep. Tim Lewis of Rio Rancho opposed.

In favor were Garcia; Sanchez; Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan; Sen. Jim White, R-Albuquerque; and Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming.

The Senate subsequently approved the changes. The House hadn’t yet considered the proposal during its Thursday evening floor session.

If the House approves, the legislation will go to the governor.

New Mexico’s statewide minimum wage is now $7.50 an hour. It hasn’t changed in a decade.

Under the proposal unveiled Thursday, the minimum wage would climb to $9 at the beginning of 2020, to $10.50 in 2021, $11.50 in 2022, and to $12 in 2023.

There would be no inflation adjustment after that.

A lower wage would be allowed for students with after-school or summer jobs – of $8.50 an hour, starting in 2020.

The minimum wage for tipped workers would also climb, eventually reaching $3 an hour in 2023.

The deal also stripped out a part of the bill that would have reimbursed state contractors for the increased minimum wage. Lawmakers said it wasn’t as critical given the phase-in schedule outlined in the new version of the proposal.

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