Democrats campaigned last year on a promise to raise New Mexico’s minimum wage, which has remained at $7.50 an hour for a decade. How high it will go, exactly, is a question that quickly has become wrapped in a battle waged by the restaurant industry and could get caught in a tug-of-war between the state House and Senate. The issue has raised a series of other questions as well. Should there continue to be a lower minimum wage for workers who traditionally earn tips from customers, such as restaurant servers? Should employers be allowed to offer a lower minimum wage to younger workers, like high school students?
How high will the statewide minimum wage go? Or will it go at all? For many business owners, that is a key looming question during the 60-day legislative session. The minimum wage in New Mexico, unchanged since 2009, could see an upward adjustment from $7.50 an hour. Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, wants to double that to $15 an hour Jan.
Members of the state House announced a panel will investigate sexual harassment claims against State Rep. Carl Trujillo. Three of his colleagues have already called on him to resign. The investigative subcommittee, made up of two Democrats and two Republicans from the Interim Legislative Ethics Committee, will work with outside counsel and staff to investigate the allegations by Laura Bonar against the Santa Fe Democrat. Last week, Bonar said that Trujillo sexually harassed her. Trujillo responded by saying the “charges are lies” and withstood calls for him to resign.
A complex tax overhaul bill failed to clear its committee, and that’s going to further complicate the special session in which legislators are supposed to address the budget in New Mexico. Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, presented his 430-page tax overhaul bill Thursday morning. It took him nearly an hour to describe the bill to the House Labor and Economic Development Department. “That in very high-level, broad terms is what is in this bill,” Harper said when he finished describing the bill and how it differed from a similar bill legislators already passed in March. After public comment and questions from the panel, the committee voted 6-5, on party lines, to table the bill.
Thursday marks the halfway point of the 2017 New Mexico Legislature’s 60-day run in Santa Fe. And while half the time is gone, perhaps 90 percent of the work remains. All-important debates over how to spend the public’s money, where to get it and how much to keep in reserve, are yet to be resolved. How much should be devoted to keeping the schools running? What kind of tax breaks are effective in stimulating a sputtering economy?
Backers of a proposed constitutional amendment that would take about $112 million a year from the state’s land grant endowment to pay for early childhood education say a new study shows that the need for such programs actually exceeds $400 million annually. “This is an alarm,” Allen Sánchez, president of CHI St. Joseph’s Children, said Tuesday of the report commissioned by his organization. Sánchez is among the most vocal supporters of House Joint Resolution 1, sponsored by Democratic state Reps. Antonio “Moe” Maestes and Javier Martinez, both of Albuquerque.
Lawmakers took a step Wednesday toward raising New Mexico’s minimum wage. Members of the House Labor and Economic Development committee voted 6-5 along party lines to advance a bill sponsored by Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, that would increase the state minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $10.10 over the next three years. Tipped employees would have to be paid at least 40 percent of the minimum wage, a boost from the $2.13 per hour they’re now paid. And starting in 2021, the minimum wage would be adjusted annually based on the cost of living. Business groups have fiercely opposed such legislation.
Brian Egolf, on his first night as speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives, selected nine committee chairmen and chairwomen who will be in leadership jobs for the first time. Egolf, D-Santa Fe, on Tuesday also expanded the number of committees in the House from 13 to 14. Republicans, back in the minority after two years as the controlling party, objected to adding a committee but lost on a party-line vote of 38-29. Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said the additional committee would create the need for more staff. Egolf said that was not the case because the existing pool of legislative analysts would handle the workload for all committees.
As Democrats gear up for a legislative session after retaking the state House of Representatives and expanding their majority in the state Senate, several members are looking at ways to increase New Mexico’s minimum wage. Two lawmakers have already pre-filed legislation to do so ahead of the session, which begins Jan. 17. One measure would double New Mexico’s minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $15 an hour by January 2018. Another more cautious bill ups the minimum wage to $8.45 an hour.
Legislators joined the dispute between an immigrant rights group and the state Taxation and Revenue Department. State Rep. Miguel Garcia and State Sens. Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Richard Martinez, all Democrats, sided with the immigrant rights group Somos un Pueblo Unido and MALDEF. The groups say that TRD is illegally withholding tax returns from immigrants who are in the country illegally. The TRD secretary says that the efforts are legal and necessary to root out fraud in tax returns.