March 12, 2019

Disagreement continues on minimum wage legislation

With only days left in the 2019 legislative session, the struggle between the Senate and the House of Representatives over how to reset New Mexico’s minimum wage law continued Tuesday when a House committee clashed with a senator over competing proposals.

And while the differences may be minimal to some — an extra dollar an hour in the House bill, a lower minimum wage for high school students in the Senate bill, for example — Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, said if the two sides continue to butt heads on the matter, the state’s lowest-paid workers will suffer.

“I do not want to get to the point where we cannot work something out and we have no minimum wage [increase],” Sanchez told members of the House Labor, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee. “That’s more of a tragedy than either one of these bills not passing.”

But the five members of the committee present for the hearing on Sanchez’s Senate Bill 437 were unmoved, voting 5-0 to attach what he considered an “unfriendly amendment” to his bill and thus putting it more in alignment with a House bill working its way through the Senate side.

Sanchez’s proposal would raise the current state-wide minimum wage of $7.50 an hour to $9.25 an hour on Oct. 1 of this year. Then, on April 1, 2020, it would bump up to $10 an hour. On Jan. 1, 2021 it would go to $10.50, and finally, on Jan. 1, 2022, $11 an hour.

His proposal also calls for a separate minimum wage of $8.50 an hour for high school students who work. That’s because, Sanchez told the committee, several business owners told him that if they have to adhere to the new minimum wage over the next few years, they would stop hiring teens, who often take on summer or after-school jobs.

But the five Democrats on the committee stuck with the amendment proposed by Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, sponsor of a rival minimum wage bill. That amendment calls for increasing the minimum wage to $10 an hour effective Jan. 1, 2020, then to $11 an hour one year later and finally to $12 an hour on Jan. 1, 2022, with future increases tied to growth in consumer prices.

Garcia’s amendment also includes a tip credit provision that would ensure that restaurant workers who rely more on tips than a salary get paid a base pay equaling 30 percent of the annual minimum wage, as well as tips. Currently those workers earn at least $2.13 an hour, plus tips.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has said she wants the state’s minimum wage raised to $12 an hour by 2021, with adjustments to follow every year to keep pace with inflation.

But legislators in the Senate have already displayed a preference for Sanchez’s more modest wage increase, arguing that the raises will hurt business owners in small rural communities.

One such owner, who said he runs a drive-in restaurant in Clovis, told the committee members that while he approves of increasing the minimum wage, it will affect his prices and subsequently the wallets of senior-citizen customers who live on limited means.

“My ‘$5 with french fries hamburger’ is gonna go to $6.25 with the first increase,” he said.

By the end of the hearing, committee members tried to encourage Sanchez to keep working with them on a compromise.

“I hope this is not the end of the conversation,” said Rep. Linda Trujillo, D-Santa Fe.

But upon leaving the hearing room, Sanchez said he was not going to “concur” on the amendment.

“So it looks like we’re not gonna have a new minimum wage,” he said.

Meanwhile Garcia’s original minimum wage bill, House Bill 31, is slated to be heard next in the Senate Corporation and Transportation Committee.

Sanchez chairs of that committee.