March 3, 2015

Senate Dems table min wage increase

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A proposed minimum wage increase to $8.30 per hour failed to pass a Senate committee on Tuesday evening.

dollar-billThe legislation was supported by Republican members of the Senate Public Affairs Committee but didn’t get any support from Democratic members. Most Democrats prefer a larger minimum wage increase from the current $7.50 per hour.

“To me, it’s just a slap in the face to raise it so little,” Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, told the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants.

Stewart went on to say that she would not vote for any minimum wage increase that was less than $10 per hour. She also criticized the slight increase for tipped employees from $2.13 per hour to $2.36 per hour. Stewart said the low tipped wage disproportionately hurts women as women make up most tipped employees.

Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, said both of his sons waited tables, so it wasn’t just women who receive that wage. A study by the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank that supports a minimum age increase, last year found that nationwide, two-thirds of tipped employees are women.

Brandt said that tipped employees make significantly more than $2.13 per hour, citing a portion of the current minimum wage the law that says the wage and tips the tipped employee receives had to add up to at least the current minimum wage.

“I think this is a reasonable approach,” Brandt said of the overall bill.

Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, agreed.

“I sure feel comfortable voting for this more than any other minimum wage bill I’ve heard or seen,” he said.

Griggs said that he can’t support any bill with “escalators,” a reference to tying the minimum wage to inflation.

The Alamogordo Republican said that minimum wage increases end up costing employers too much. He said that some employers, like restaurant owners and retail store owners, could see the money returned in the form of more economic activity, but others such as paint stores or title companies wouldn’t be able to do the same.

Another provision that Democrats have voiced opposition to is the “training wage.”

A training wage would allow employers to pay new employees a lower minimum wage for a period of time. Sanchez’s bill originally said six months, but that was lowered to three months in an amendment he put it. It would allow employers to pay new employees $7.50 per hour for that time.

“It’s not so much a training wage, but an evaluation-type wage,” Sanchez said.

The normally-contentious legislation received a bit of levity when Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto proposed an amendment to repeal a lower minimum wage for non-certified school personnel. The committee agreed to the amendment after verifying Ivey-Soto’s reading of the law.

“How do you find this stuff?” Sanchez asked Ivey-Soto to laughter from the committee and those members of the public who were left.

A minimum wage increase to $10.10 per hour was also assigned to the committee, but has not been heard yet.

A House committee already tabled a minimum wage increase to $10.10 per hour. The House did pass a right-to-work bill that includes a minimum wage increase to $8.00 per hour with a six-month training wage.

Senate Democrats have vowed to defeat any right-to-work legislation.

In 2014, a similar effort by Sanchez failed on a bipartisan vote.

In 2013, Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed a minimum wage increase to $8.50 per hour.