March 18, 2017

Gov. vows to veto both bills to raise state’s minimum wage

Andy Lyman

Gov. Susana Martinez delivering the 2017 State of the State Address.

Gov. Susana Martinez said Saturday she will veto legislation to increase the state’s minimum wage.

Lawmakers approved two bills during the 60-day legislative session to raise the wage of New Mexico’s lowest-paid workers, who make $7.50 an hour.

One bill would have raised the minimum wage to $9 an hour, and the other called for an increase to $9.25.

But soon after legislators adjourned Saturday, the Republican governor told reporters both increases are too high for small businesses to afford.

“I was willing to compromise,” Martinez said, adding that an increase to between $8 and $9 an hour would have been acceptable.

Republicans in the House of Representatives even proposed changing one of the minimum wage bills to fall within that range. But Democrats voted down that suggestion, and some argued that $9.25 is not high enough or should at least be increased annually based on the cost of living.

Democrats still touted their proposals to raise the minimum wage as major accomplishments of the legislative session.

House Bill 442 would have increased the statewide minimum wage to $9.25 an hour Jan. 1, 2018. Democrats say it would have put another $3,000 a year in the pockets of those at the bottom of the pay scale.

In addition, the bill would have prohibited local governments from adopting certain labor regulations on flexible work schedules, a priority for some advocacy groups for workers. Many business organizations opposed the measure, arguing that the proposed minimum wage would be too high and would not be phased in gradually.

Senate Bill 386 would have increased the minimum wage to $9 an hour in two steps during the next year. It also would have allowed employers to pay a lower training wage to employees during their first two months on the job.

The two bills also would have raised the minimum wage for tipped workers.

Critics of Martinez said she was wrong to suggest that raising the minimum wage would set back efforts to boost employment in New Mexico, where the jobless rate rose to the highest in the country last week.

“It’s unfortunate the governor continues choosing corporate interests over those of hardworking New Mexicans under the false premise that somehow this approach will magically create jobs,” said Edward Tabet-Cubero, executive director of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.

But the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry, a business group, said both measures would have had a negative effect on small, rural businesses. And even the provision barring local governments from adopting certain labor rules did not go far enough, said the organization’s president, Jason Espinoza.

“Statewide uniformity of labor laws, such as paid scheduling, paid leave and other benefit mandates, will prevent communities from creating a regulatory patchwork and an administrative nightmare for businesses that want to operate in more than one community,” he said.

New Mexico’s minimum wage is 25 cents higher than the federal rate and has not changed since 2009. But several local governments, including Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Las Cruces, have since enacted higher minimum wages than the state.

Santa Fe’s minimum wage is $11.09 an hour, or about $2 an hour more than either bill that Martinez says she will veto.

The bills also would have left the state’s minimum wage below that of neighboring Arizona and Colorado. They have hourly minimum wages of $10 and $9.30, respectively. But some cities have enacted higher wages, notably Flagstaff, Ariz., where the minimum hourly pay will be $12 starting in July and $15 an hour in 2021.

Texas and Oklahoma, though, have not raised the minimum wage above the federal rate of $7.25.

Contact Andrew Oxford at 986-3093 or Follow him on Twitter at @andrewboxford.