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Efforts to boost minimum wage begin in NM House

Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, right, with Gerry Bradley, left, of New Mexico Voices for Children presents a bill to raise the state's minimum wage to the House Labor and Economic Development Committee at the State Capitol in Santa Fe, Wednesday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, right, with Gerry Bradley, left, of New Mexico Voices for Children presents a bill to raise the state’s minimum wage to the House Labor and Economic Development Committee at the State Capitol in Santa Fe, Wednesday. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

By Dan McKay

SANTA FE – Democrats in the Roundhouse renewed their push Wednesday to raise New Mexico’s minimum wage – with the first of three competing proposals moving through a House committee.

And two longtime opponents of an increased minimum – Gov. Susana Martinez and the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce – indicated they’re willing to consider a small increase this year, under certain circumstances.

But neither was ready Wednesday to support the bill proposed by Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, to increase the wage by 35 percent over the next three years.

That bill won a narrow recommendation of approval on Wednesday from the House Labor and Economic Development Committee. It would raise the minimum wage from the current $7.50 an hour to $10.10 in 2020, with increases after that to match inflation, as long as it’s 4 percent or less a year.

His proposal now heads to the House Business and Industry Committee – the last hearing it needs before going to the House floor.

“This is a moral and ethical obligation,” said Allen Sánchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops.

He joined other religious leaders and anti-poverty groups in favor of the bill. They argued that a single parent who works full time shouldn’t remain stuck in poverty, and that putting extra money in people’s pockets would result in new spending that boosts the economy.

On the other side, business groups said a significant increase in the minimum wage would result in job losses because employers couldn’t afford as many workers.

And other opponents said eliminating poverty isn’t as easy as just raising the minimum wage – because of unintended consequences, such as increased prices that dampen the buying power of the new wage.

Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, said her group is open to a wage increase of some kind.

But $10.10 is “too high,” she said. “It’s just going to have such a horrible effect, not only on the manufacturing community but also on small businesses.”

Increasing New Mexico’s minimum wage is a priority of Democrats this session – they hold majorities in the House and Senate – but the idea would also need approval from Republican Gov. Martinez.

Four years ago, she vetoed a proposal for $8.50 an hour.

Martinez said Wednesday that she is open to a small increase, but only if New Mexico remained competitive with neighboring states and the proposal didn’t hurt small businesses. She also accused Democrats of refusing “to accept a bipartisan compromise that would have raised the minimum wage” already.

Arizona and Colorado are each scheduled to raise their minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. Texas has the federally mandated $7.25 hourly minimum.

Garcia’s proposal for a $10.10 minimum wage, House Bill 67, is one of at least three proposals working through the Roundhouse.

The most dramatic bill calls for a $15 hourly minimum in 2018. It’s sponsored by Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque. That proposal, House Bill 27, has been referred to two committees.

A more modest bill is pending in the Senate. Sen. William Soules, D-Las Cruces, has proposed an increase to $8.45, to take effect in July. His proposal, Senate Bill 36, has been referred to two committees.

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