Minimum wage debate rages in New Mexico after 10-year freeze

March 9, 2019
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham endorsed a scaled-back version of a proposal to spend more money from a state education trust to support early childhood education programs on Monday, March 4, 2019, in Santa Fe, N.M. A more ambitious proposal has stalled in the state Senate as lawmakers grapple with a court order to shore up resources for public education. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The state Senate endorsed Friday an increase to the statewide minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $11 over the next three years without additional raises.

The bill from Democratic Sen. Clemente Sanchez of Grants advanced on a 27-15 vote to the House for consideration and a possible showdown. It would be the first increase in roughly a decade.

The House has approved a larger increase to $12 an hour — with automated future increases tied to inflation — that was shunned by the Senate.

Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf warned on the eve of the Senate vote that Sanchez’s proposal likely would be amended in the House. He said future cost-of-living increases to the state’s minimum wage are essential and that New Mexico’s minimum wage should be competitive with neighboring Arizona’s. Minimum pay in Arizona is currently $11.50, and it rises to $12 in 2020 with automated future increases.

Sanchez said his proposal is reasonable and that he consulted with numerous businesses in arriving at the gradual increase to $11 an hour. His bill also would establish a separate minimum wage for high school students of $8.50 an hour.

The wage for tipped employees would increase from $2.13 per hour to $2.50 by April 2020. Employers have a legal obligation to ensure tips and salary meet the full state minimum wage, though some legislators says the system is prone to providing insufficient pay.

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham campaigned successfully last year on pledges to seek a $12 minimum wage. She has recommended $12 minimum hourly pay for state workers and public school staff starting in July.

Senate Republicans said the proposed increases are out of touch with the economy of rural New Mexico and would result in bankrupted small businesses.

“We’re not going to run McDonald’s out of the state,” said GOP Sen. Bill Sharer of Farmington. “But we might run ‘Hometown Hamburger’ out of the state or out of business completely.”

Major municipalities and counties in New Mexico have instituted their own minimum wages, topping out at $11.40 an hour in Santa Fe.

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