January 29, 2016

Committee votes to stop cities from raising minimum wages

Votes for two bills affecting taxes and wages came across the same partisan lines at the House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee Friday afternoon.

Minimum WageThe committee approved a bill 4-3 that would bar municipalities from setting minimum wages and employment rules that differ from the statewide minimum wage, with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats voting against. They then tabled a measure that would raise state income tax on households earning $100,000 or more by one percentage point.

While the state’s minimum wage is $7.50 an hour, cities like Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe have higher wages. Santa Fe’s ranks as the seventh highest at the nation at $10.84 and is scheduled to jump to $10.91 in March.

Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, cosponsor of the measure, argued many times that his bill wasn’t a minimum wage bill. Instead, he said it only relates to “uniform economic consistency.”

“It just provides a little consistency around the state,” he said.

Some supporters who spoke in favor of the legislation brought up their opposition to the proposed Fair Work Week ordinance in Albuquerque that would have regulated paid leave and scheduling for businesses. That proposed ordinance drew the ire of many business groups last fall and didn’t go very far.

After arguments from the sponsors that the bill wouldn’t lower minimum wages, Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, asked Rep. Jason Harper, Rio Rancho, a cosponsor of the bill, what would happen to employees living in cities subjected to higher wages if his bill succeeds.

“They would be subject to the state minimum wage,” Harper said.

“They could be subject to decrease in their pay?” Armstrong asked.

“That is correct,” Harper replied.

Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, argued that the bill would infringe on the rights of local governments.

“Sometimes we say we don’t want government, we don’t want Big Brother, medium brother, little brother to dictate this,” she said. “But now we’re saying we want a uniform consistency limiting local capacity to make these decisions. There’s a reason we have these [local] governing bodies.”

The bill passed 4-3 with all Republicans voting yes and all Democrats voting no. The same vote quickly killed a bill from Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, to raise taxes on upper income earners. Maestas’ bill would have raised state income taxes from 4.9 percent to 5.9 percent on individuals making $100,000 or more, married individuals filing separate taxes making $75,000 or more and married couples making $150,000 or more.

Maestas reminded the committee that the state income tax rate used to be 8.2 percent on the highest earners until a Democratic-controlled legislature and Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson lowered it to 4.9 percent.

The committee did not debate the bill and tabled it on partisan lines.