Proposal would increase NM minimum pay annually
Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, has fired the first shots in New Mexico’s 2014 minimum wage war.
He’s introduced SJR 13, a constitutional amendment that would raise the state’s minimum pay per hour every year according to the national inflation rate.
If voters approve the proposal in November, the statewide minimum wage would increase starting July 2015. That first increase would also include inflation since January 2009, the last time minimum wage was hiked in New Mexico. If the bill were in effect now, the state minimum wage would be $8.20, up from the current $7.50.
“I think the majority of the [lawmakers] here feel that it’s the right idea,” Sen. Martinez said.
That pay rate is less than the $8.50 an hour Democrats passed out of the House and Senate last session. Last year’s proposal, also sponsored by Sen. Martinez, cleared both chambers on rare party line votes in each.
The proposed minimum wage would also be a lot less than the $10 an hour Democratic Party Chair Sam Bregman has said is a top priority.
Even strong minimum wage hike backers like Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, acknowledge that the votes aren’t there to get a $10 an hour minimum wage passed.
“I think it’d be very difficult to get through this legislature at this point,” Soules said.
Bregman tells News 13 that $10 an hour is an eventual goal, but he sees the current proposal as a solid step forward.
Gov. Susana Martinez and House Republicans tried to cut a deal to raise minimum wage to $7.80 last year, which would tie New Mexico with Arizona for the top rate in the region. That deal was turned down. Because Arizona’s minimum wage increases annually, that state wage is now $7.90.
“If our minimum wage becomes significantly higher than neighboring states, companies are going to invest in those neighboring states and not New Mexico,” said Rep. Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque.
“Had certain Democrats not put party politics ahead of the interests of our state, we would have a higher minimum wage in New Mexico today,” said the governor’s spokesperson Enrique Knell in a statement.
Another point of contention is whether or not minimum wage belongs in the Constitution.
“Using the Constitution to set wage rates is highly irresponsible ,” Knell wrote.
Soules disagrees with that assertion saying that paying a fair minimum wage is a civil rights issue and that because the governor vetoed a minimum wage hike last year, taking the issue to voters is the right approach.