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          Front Page


March 1, 2003

House Panel Tables Measure That Would Limit Wage Laws

By Barry Massey
The Associated Press
   SANTA FE   —   A House committee shelved a proposal Saturday to stop cities and counties from enacting "living wage" laws like one approved in Santa Fe.
    The bill by Rep. Joe Thompson, R-Albuquerque, would prohibit local governments from establishing a minimum wage exceeding the federal rate, which is $5.15 an hour. The state minimum wage is $4.25 an hour.
    The Santa Fe City Council earlier this week approved a minimum wage ordinance to phase in a $10.50 hourly rate by 2008 for businesses and nonprofit organizations with 25 or more employees. The minimum wage would increase to $8.50 an hour in January.
    Thompson, who had introduced his proposal in early February, said the Legislature should set a policy for the state on whether to permit wage laws like the one in Santa Fe. Local decisions to require higher wages for some workers can effect economic development statewide, he said.
    "This decision made in Santa Fe will impact Albuquerque. It will impact other communities," Thompson told the Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.
    Several Santa Fe residents opposed the measure. They said local governments should be allowed to decide the minimum wage that's appropriate for a community.
    "This is a Santa Fe issue. It costs more to live in Santa Fe than anywhere else in the state," said Gwen Wardwell, who owned a landscaping business in Santa Fe from 1988 to 2001.
    Dan Rivera of the New Mexico Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, disagreed that Santa Fe's wage law would affect other communities or hurt economic development in the state.
    "You have one living wage ordinance in this state. The impact is minimal," said Rivera.
    Also opposing the bill were the New Mexico Catholic Conference and representatives of the Santa Fe Living Wage Network, a coalition of labor and other groups that advocated the city ordinace.
    Business groups supported ordinance legislation, including the New Mexico Restaurant Association and the Association of Commerce and Industry.
    "We do not want to have different areas of the state with different wage laws," said Gregg Nominelli, vice president of economic growth for the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.
    J.D. Bullington, a lobbyist for ACI, said, "We believe that wage laws should be set by Congress and the Legislature."
    The committee voted 4-3 along political party lines to table the bill, which means that it's been set aside. The bill could be considered later. However, tabling a bill often is a way of blocking legislation without directly voting to reject it. Democrats voted to table the bill and Republican members of the panel opposed that.