February 2, 2015

Minimum wage bills tabled in committee


dollar-billThe first minimum wage bills of the session were quickly tabled in the House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee by the Republican majority.

There were two pieces of legislation, one by Rep. Lucky Varela, D-Santa Fe, and one by Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque. Each would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour but had different timetables for doing so.

Both bills were tabled on a party-line vote with the four Republicans on the panel voting to table the legislation and the three Democrats on the panel voting against tabling.

Garcia told New Mexico Political Report following the hearing that he was not surprised by the committee’s action.

“We gave it our best shot. I think our presentation was really right on,” Garcia said. “There’s no trick to doing a $10.10 state minimum wage. I did it in the fairest way possible in terms of it being incremental.”

Garcia’s bill, HB 138, would have increased the hourly minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.40 in 2016, from $8.40 to $9.20 in 2017 and finally from $9.20 to $10.10 in 2018.

New Mexico would have joined seven other states and the District of Columbia in having minimum wages of $10 an hour or higher in 2018. Colorado and Arizona, the two states in the region with minimum wages higher than New Mexico, are projected to have minimum wages in the $8.60 to $8.65 range by 2018; both states’ minimum wages are tied to inflation.

The legislation also would have increased the tipped minimum wage from the current $2.13 per hour to 40 percent of the overall minimum wage.

Varela’s legislation, HB 20, would have increased the minimum wage straight to $10.10 per hour, with no phase-in.

Varela mentioned that Gov. Susana Martinez had previously vetoed a minimum wage increase in 2013.

“This year, she said she might consider raising the minimum wage,” Varela said. “And I said give her the opportunity to do it.”

He said he wasn’t sure it would be $10.10 per hour, but it might be something lower like $8.50 or $9.00 per hour.

Republicans on the panel said they were concerned about job losses. When Gerry Bradley, the senior researcher and policy analyst for New Mexico Voices for Children, said that it would not result in job losses, Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-Alamogordo, was skeptical.

“I just feel as though that can’t possibly be right,” she said.

Rep. Bob Wooley, R-Roswell, said that he was empathetic with those who earn the minimum wage. But he said that he was concerned about small businesses shutting down because of the increased costs from a minimum wage increase.

“It’s an important piece of legislation,” Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, R-Albuquerque, said in her support of the bill. “More than anything it’s a piece of legislation that notices our population, that we as government are taking our job responsibly.”

Garcia said he believed a smaller increase would just be for political cover.

“It’s just kind of catering to political sloganism and really placating those elements that really could care less about the working poor,” Garcia said.

In the testimony, business groups opposed the increases while poverty advocates and other groups supported the increases.

Terri Cole, the president of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, said the organization believed the two pieces of legislation would both hurt small businesses and make the state less competitive with its neighbors.

Garcia credited the testimony for the relatively quick hearing (the hearing lasted just over an hour and a half) when asked if he was surprised by the relatively quick action.

“No, I’m not surprised because I think the committee had not only what we presented as presenters of the legislation, as authors of the legislation but also what the public comment entailed,” Garcia said. “I think that might have satisfied the committee in terms of any questions, any doubts they might have had, both for and against.”

At the request of Varela, the two pieces of legislation were heard together to save time.

Minimum Wage