SANTA FE — A proposal to tie annual increases to New Mexico’s $12 an hour minimum wage to inflation has hit a dead-end at the Roundhouse.
The House Commerce and Economic Development Committee voted 6-4 on Monday to table the measure, with two Democratic lawmakers joining the panel’s four Republicans in voting to stall the proposal.
While it could still be revived before the 60-day legislative session ends next month, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Miguel P. Garcia, D-Albuquerque, said in an interview after the vote that it’s likely dead.
“The votes aren’t there,” Garcia told the Journal. “I don’t see this initiative moving forward this session.”
New Mexico’s minimum wage increased to $12 an hour last month under the final step-up mandated by a 2019 bill. Before that bill took effect, the state’s minimum wage had been set at $7.50 per hour for roughly a decade.
But two separate measures filed during this year’s session authorizing additional wage increases have encountered opposition from business groups, who have argued they would represent another body blow after the COVID-19 pandemic and last year’s enactment of a paid sick leave requirement.
In an attempt to blunt those concerns, Garcia proposed an amendment to his bill, House Bill 28, limiting annual adjustments to no more than 4% — even if inflation increased by greater than that amount in a certain year.
That change drew the support of the New Mexico Restaurant Association, but other business groups remained opposed to the measure.
Bill Lee of the Gallup-McKinley County Chamber of Commerce testified during Monday’s committee hearing the proposed minimum wage increase could actually hurt employees by prompting business owners to employ fewer workers and reduce the number of hours employees work.
“For the employee, a minimum wage increase is no panacea,” he said.
But Garcia argued the proposal would, in fact, help workers, while also providing businesses with the ability to prepare for looming wage increases.
“We cannot take our lower-paid workforce for granted,” said Garcia, who added the pandemic had highlighted the importance of frontline employees.
However, the House commerce committee ultimately voted to halt the legislation, with Democratic Reps. Patricia Lundstrom of Gallup and Marian Matthews of Albuquerque siding with the panel’s four Republicans in favor of a motion to table the bill.
Rep. Joshua Hernandez, R-Rio Rancho, said he’s sympathetic to worker pay issues but expressed concern about the timing of the proposal.
“I think we’re just doing this too soon while these businesses are hanging on by a thread,” he said.
Meanwhile, the vote could also be an ominous sign for the other minimum wage measure, House Bill 25, which was not debated Monday but is also pending in the same House committee.
That measure would bump New Mexico’s minimum wage up to $15.50 per hour starting in 2025 — it would increase to $13.50 in 2024 — and would also call for future increases based on a consumer price index.
Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, the sponsor of that bill, said Monday she was working with members of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee on possible revisions to the legislation.
Despite the recent increases, New Mexico’s minimum wage is still lower than the base wage in the neighboring states of Arizona and Colorado, which have minimum wages of $12.80 an hour and $12.56 an hour, respectively.
But New Mexico’s wage level is higher than other states like Texas that have a $7.25 per hour minimum wage — the lowest allowable under federal law.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who signed the 2019 bill, has not taken a cautious approach toward additional minimum wage hikes.
A Lujan Grisham spokeswoman said in December the Democratic governor would balance supporting workers with creating a “business-friendly climate” in the state.