Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
The U.S. House voted to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour on Thursday – though one member of New Mexico’s all-Democratic delegation broke ranks and voted against the bill.
“I’m for raising the minimum wage, but $15 is just too high,” U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small said of her no vote.
She voiced a concern that a boost that high would have a devastating effect on small businesses in her district, especially rural areas.
“I’ve heard a lot from people in my district in places like Roswell and Santa Rosa about the bill,” the 2nd Congressional District representative said. “We have to be able to help small businesses keep their doors open so they can pay their employees well.”
Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Deb Haaland voted in favor of the bill, which would raise the wage to $15 an hour by 2025. The plan would also gradually eliminate the “tipped” minimum wage for servers and other workers who rely on gratuities. Employers would have to pay the minimum wage by 2027.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already pledged not to bring the bill up for a vote in that chamber. The White House has also threatened a veto, should the legislation land on the president’s desk.
The current national minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. The last increase was in 2009.
“Working families haven’t seen a much-deserved minimum wage increase in more than a decade,” Luján said. “It’s time to raise the wage to boost local economies and help our communities make ends meet.”
His office said the increase would help 110,900 workers in the 3rd Congressional District – in the northern part of the state – he represents. Haaland said 120,000 people in the 1st Congressional District and 363,000 employees statewide would receive an increase.
“No one who works 40 hours a week should have to live in poverty, but the minimum wage has not kept up to the rising costs of living,” Haaland said. “Many families live in a reality where they have to work several low-wage jobs to put food on the table. Raising the minimum wage will lift families out of poverty and has ripple effects for everyone.”
The Congressional Budget Office reports that 17 million Americans would receive a pay increase. And Haaland’s office said it would lift 1.3 million Americans out of poverty. But the CBO also said the bill would eliminate 1.3 million jobs.
“That’s a reasonable analysis,” Torres Small said. She said many rural residents in the state were already having to commute to work and grocery shop because of a shortage of businesses in their communities.
The bill also drew criticism from Torres Small’s predecessor, now-state Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce.
“In pushing a $15 federal minimum wage, Nancy Pelosi and the progressive Democrats in Congress are aggressively working against rural states like New Mexico where businesses are closing up because they can’t afford to pay their workers due to high local wage ordinances,” Pearce said. “Just last month, the mayor of Las Cruces said that he hoped to discuss with the governor the $12 state minimum wage rate that she signed into law because of the negative impact it’s already having on his city. If this is happening at these much lower wage rates, just imagine the devastation to New Mexico’s economy if progressive liberals were to get their way.”
New Mexico’s minimum wage will increase to $9 an hour next year and $12 an hour by 2023 under legislation signed into law earlier this year by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Torres Small said there were attempts at a compromise, including taking a regional approach, which she felt had merit.
“It’s time for the federal minimum wage to be raised, but in a way that considers the unique factors of each region’s economy,” she said. “What works in places like New York City or Seattle doesn’t always work in more rural areas like the ones I represent.”