Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – A proposal to boost the minimum wage for rank-and-file New Mexico state employees to $15 per hour could increase the pay levels of roughly 1,200 workers who currently make less than that amount.
But a plan being crafted would also adjust upward the pay levels of employees making more than $15 hourly, in order to avoid salary “compaction” issues.
“If we’re going to do pay raises, then we need to do them right,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman George Muñoz, D-Gallup, told the Journal.
A measure filed this week, Senate Bill 125, would establish the $15 per hour minimum wage for state workers, effective July 1.
It would be funded under a budget bill being crafted by a House committee, as budget plans released this month by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and a key legislative panel both call for average 7% salary increases for state employees.
However, under strategies crafted by the State Personnel Office, lower-paid state employees would get larger salary increases by percentage than higher-paid workers, though all employees would get raises of at least 4%.
For instance, workers who currently make $11.79 per hour would get a 33% raise – to $15.63 per hour.
Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said the governor’s administration worked with labor unions to come up with the approach.
“Addressing compaction ensures that appropriate resources are being allocated to increase the pay of state employees with the lowest current wages,” said Sackett.
Meanwhile, Muñoz pointed out many fast-food restaurants have increased worker pay levels to above the state’s minimum wage in order to attract new hires, and said even $15 per hour barely qualifies as a living wage.
But he cautioned that simply increasing salaries might not be enough to address cost-of-living issues, saying, “The more money we pump into the economy, the higher inflation is going to go.”
Rank-and-file New Mexico state workers have received small pay increases in each of the last two years, though such increases have been largely offset by rising health insurance rates and mandatory pension contributions.
In addition, planned raises were scaled back from 4% to 1.5% one year ago due to falling revenue levels. Since then, however, revenue levels have rebounded to record-high levels due to surging oil and natural gas production and an uptick in consumer activity.
At least some state workers who make less than $15 per hour have said they feel unappreciated and were assigned to do contact tracing for COVID-19 exposure during the pandemic at lower levels than contract employees hired by the state.
New Mexico’s statewide minimum wage for all workers is currently set at $11.50 per hour under a bill approved in 2019 that has gradually increased the state’s base wage rate.
One final increase is planned under that bill – to $12 per hour starting in January 2023.