March 1, 2017

Senate OKs minimum wage hike

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New Mexico State Senate. Wikicommons

The state Senate voted Wednesday to raise the statewide minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $9 an hour over the next 13 months.

The legislation may represent the best chance in several years to raise the minimum wage. The Senate approved the bill in a 24-6 bipartisan vote. The measure also has the support of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, which in the past has fought minimum wage hikes, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Senate Bill 386, sponsored by Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, would increase the hourly minimum wage to $8.25 in October, then to $9 in April 2018.

The bill also would allow employers to have an $8 training wage for employees for 60 days, which would go into effect in October.

The minimum wage for tipped employees, currently $2.13 an hour, would rise to $2.38 in October, then to $2.63 in April 2018.

“Today, many families and young people in our state are living in real economic distress; anxious about the future for themselves and their children,” Sanchez said.

“Full-time work year-round at the state minimum wage of $7.50 an hour leaves an adult with two children earning thousands of dollars below the poverty threshold,” he said. “That is unacceptable. No one who works full-time should live in poverty.”

The last statewide minimum wage increase took effect in 2009, Sanchez said.

Three of New Mexico’s four largest cities already have minimum wages higher than the one proposed in Sanchez’s bill. Santa Fe’s minimum wage, the state’s highest, increased Wednesday to $11.09 an hour.

Some Republican senators, even some who voted for the bill, said they were worried about the effect the higher wage would have on businesses.

Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, who voted in favor of the bill, said he worried the wage would lead to employers cutting hours, laying off workers and slashing their support for charities and community activities such as Little League baseball.

Sen. Jim White, R-Albuquerque, said, “Of all the bills out there that would raise the minimum wage, I think this is the best one.”

SB 386 is one of several bills introduced in this year’s Legislatures that would increase the minimum wage. Most of the others would establish higher minimum wages and many would increase the wage as inflation rose. But SB 386 is the only one to have cleared either the Senate or the House and the only one to pick up any support from Republicans.

If the bill is passed by the House, it would go to GOP Gov. Susana Martinez, who in 2013 vetoed a bill to raise the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour.

Asked whether the governor would sign the Senate-passed bill, Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan didn’t dismiss the chances of her signing it but left some wiggle room.”The governor supports raising the minimum wage so long that it’s in line with neighboring states and doesn’t hurt small businesses,” he said in an email.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Arizona has a $10 an hour minimum wage — which will rise to $10.50 next January, while Colorado’s is $9.30 and scheduled to increase to $10.20 next year. However, the other neighboring states, Texas, Oklahoma and Utah each have a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which is the federal minimum wage.

Both Colorado and Arizona raised their minimum wages through ballot initiatives, not legislative action.

Contact Steve Terrell at 505-986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexican.com. Read his political blog at www.santafenewmexican.com/news/blogs/politics.

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