Amended version creates exemptions, two-tier payment system
A partisan disagreement over whether New Mexico should raise its minimum wage could come to a head today in the state Senate.
Two Democrats, Sens. Bill Soules, right, of Las Cruces and Richard Martinez of Espanola, propose to increase the state’s hourly minimum pay from $7.50 to $8.50.
Their measure, Senate Bill 416, has advanced to the Senate floor, but it was been amended heavily in the Corporations and Transportation Committee.
One of the changes would exempt businesses with fewer than 11 employees from paying the higher minimum wage.
Soules and Martinez, citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, said an estimated 102,100 employees in New Mexico work for businesses with fewer than 10 people on the payroll. Of course, many of them already make more than minimum wage.
A second exemption in the bill would allow for payment of a training wage lower than the $8.50 minimum. Restaurants and other businesses in the hospitality industry have lobbied for the training wage.
Albuquerque already has a minimum wage of $8.50 an hour, but it is the object of complaints and a refusal by a restaurateur to pay it.
Santa Fe's minimum wage is $10.51 an hour, one of the highest in the country. Albuquerque and Santa Fe are the only cities that have higher minimums than than the state rate of $7.50.
The bill by Soules and Martinez could be heard by the full Senate as soon as today.
All 17 Republicans are likely to oppose any increase. If they pick up at least four of the 25 Democrats' votes, the bill would be on its deathbed.
Four Democrats joining the Republicans would create a 21-21 vote, giving Republican Lt. John Sanchez tie-breaking authority. He almost certainly would deliver the decisive vote against raising the minimum wage.
Even if the bill receives approval from the Senate and then the House of Representatives, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez could veto it.
Soules says a minimum wage increase would be good for the state economy. Those at the bottom of the pay scale would make another $40 a week. He says they would spend that little bit of extra money on food, gas and clothing, putting the money right back into the state’s economy.