Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – For the first time since 2009, New Mexico’s minimum wage is taking a hike.
Starting Wednesday, the state’s minimum wage will go up from $7.50 to $9 an hour, though some workers may still be paid slightly less than that amount, depending on their age.
State Department of Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley said the minimum wage increase will especially benefit women and children in low-income families, and could also function as an economic stimulus of sorts.
“We really believe strongly that when working people get a raise, they’re going to punch that money back into the local economy,” McCamley said in a recent interview.
The statewide base wage increase is the result of a compromise reached in the final days of last year’s 60-day legislative session that calls for the minimum wage to gradually rise to $12 an hour by 2023.
Although some lawmakers had pushed for an even larger base wage increase, others voiced concern that a large minimum pay hike implemented overnight would lead to restaurants and small businesses closing in rural areas.
Bill Lee, CEO of the Gallup-McKinley County Chamber of Commerce, said this week that the looming wage increase has prompted some small businesses in the Gallup area to lay off employees.
But he said most employers had already been paying their workers at least $9 an hour and were not opposed to the minimum wage increase, though he predicted it would lead to higher prices for customers.
“Are the businesses adapting to it? I’d say yeah,” Lee told the Journal.
The impact of the minimum wage increase will likely be felt most in parts of the state, such as Gallup, that have not had a wage increase in more than a decade; it will not affect New Mexico cities and counties that have already enacted higher local minimum wages.
That includes most of the state’s largest cities. Albuquerque’s minimum wage for most workers is rising to $9.35 an hour Wednesday and Las Cruces’s minimum wage is jumping to $10.25 an hour. Santa Fe has the state’s highest base wage rate – it rose to $11.80 an hour on March 1.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who took office last Jan. 1, made a minimum wage increase a central part of her platform in her campaign for governor, arguing that boosting workers’ pay would improve the state’s economy. Her predecessor, former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, had vetoed several minimum wage bills during her eight years in office.
Lujan Grisham said recently that she does not foresee problems in implementing the minimum wage increase, despite political opposition to the idea in rural parts of the state.
“That’s my expectation,” Lujan Grisham told Journal reporters and editors. “I’m thrilled we’re moving toward $12 (per hour), but it’s still not enough.”
The Department of Workforce Solutions, the agency charged with enforcing compliance of both the state minimum wage and prevailing wage laws, has just 15 investigators, according to the state Sunshine Portal.
McCamley said his agency is seeking a budget increase during the coming 30-day legislative session that would allow it to hire two additional staffers to investigate wage claims, but he said it’s already capable of dealing with potential minimum wage violations.
“I honestly think most business owners don’t want to cheat employees,” McCamley said. “These are the folks that can least afford to be stolen from.”
Under the phased-in approach signed into law by Lujan Grisham, New Mexico’s minimum wage will go to $10.50 an hour in January 2021 and eventually to $12 an hour in January 2023.
It also allows for a lower training wage – $8.50 an hour – for high school-age workers, and will gradually 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 at least the regular minimum wage.
The push for a New Mexico minimum wage increase was driven largely by immigrant rights advocacy groups, who also argued for eliminating the lower base wage level for tipped employees.
But that provision was eventually scrapped from the minimum wage bill signed into law by Lujan Grisham, as was a plan to tie future wage increases to inflation.
Meanwhile, at least one bill has already been filed for the legislative session calling for the minimum wage to continue increasing – to $15 per hour by 2024.