Min­i­mum wage de­bate’s fo­cus: How much more?

2 pro­pos­als filed; one would hike pay to $15 an hour, the other to $8.45


Lynda Deuel is em­ployed at a gas sta­tion, but even with the steady job she has dif­fi­culty mak­ing ends meet. The gas sta­tion, which is lo­cated in un­in­cor­po­rated Ber­nalillo County, pays her the county’s min­i­mum wage of $8.70 per hour— more than a dol­lar above the state’s min­i­mum of $7.50 an hour. It’s enough for her to sur­vive, ac­cord­ing to Deuel, but only just barely.

“A higher min­i­mum wage would mean I could stop wor­ry­ing about hav­ing enough money to buy food,” Deuel said. “That hap­pens a lot.”

The New Mex­ico busi­ness com­mu­nity has long re­sisted min­i­mum wage in­creases, say­ing such pol­icy changes would harm the state’s al­ready de­pressed eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment. But this year, 19 states are rais­ing wages for their low­est-paid work­ers, in­clud­ing

Mas­sachusetts and Washington, where the min­i­mum is $11. That mo­men­tum has en­er­gized the now Demo­crat­i­cally con­trolled Round­house, where law­mak­ers have filed two min­i­mum wage in­crease pro­pos­als in ad­vance of the reg­u­lar ses­sion that be­gins Jan. 17.

And Repub­li­can Gov. Susana Martinez and some busi­ness groups now ap­pear open to the idea of a small in­crease of some type.

One of the pro­pos­als raises the min­i­mum to $8.45 an hour, the other to $15 an hour. Both pro­pos­als still per­mit coun­ties and cities to have their own min­i­mums above that of the state.

The na­tional min­i­mum wage is $7.25 an hour.

Sen. Wil­liam Soules of Las Cruces, who spon­sored the $8.45 an hour pro­posal, said he be­lieved his pro­posal has a rea­son­able chance of suc­ceed­ing this year. In 2013, Soules spon­sored an $8.50-an-hour min­i­mum wage bill that passed the Leg­is­la­ture be­fore be­ing ve­toed by Martinez, who ar­gued it would com­pel busi­nesses to re­lo­cate and ex­pand in neigh­bor­ing states in­stead of New Mex­ico. That ar­gu­ment car­ries less weight now that Ari­zona and Colorado have passed bal­lot mea­sures that would raise the min­i­mum wage in­cre­men­tally to $12 an hour by 2020. Pre­vi­ously, the min­i­mum wage was $8.05 an hour in Ari­zona and $8.31 an hour in Colorado.

“I know I’ll get push­back from some of the pro­gres­sives in my party, who say we should be leg­is­lat­ing a liv­ing wage and not a min­i­mum wage,” Soules said. “But I think it’s help­ful to put in a floor statewide that gives New Mex­i­cans some guar­an­teed buy­ing power, and then al­low lo­cal en­ti­ties to de­ter­mine what the liv­ing wage is in their area.”

In an email, a spokesman said Gov. Martinez would con­sider a pro­posal to in­crease the min­i­mum wage “in a way that makes (New Mex­ico) com­pet­i­tive with neigh­bor­ing states and doesn’t hurt small busi­nesses.”

Rep. Pa­tri­cia Roy­bal Ca­ballero of Al­bu­querque, the spon­sor of the $15-an­hour bill, is one of the law­mak­ers ar­gu­ing that a slight in­crease doesn’t go far enough. A $15 min­i­mum wage would give New Mex­ico the high­est state min­i­mum in the coun­try, though Roy­bal Ca­ballero said such a min­i­mum is nec­es­sary to im­prove the lives of work­ers at the bot­tom of the eco­nomic lad­der.

“It is un­con­scionable to me that we expect peo­ple in this state to live on the equiv­a­lent of $15,000 and of­ten much less,” she said. “That’s an in­sult. I hope we have the fore­sight and the courage to get out of this con­stant cy­cle of poverty.”

Ja­son Espinoza, pres­i­dent of the New Mex­ico As­so­ci­a­tion of Com­merce and In­dus­try, said a large min­i­mum wage in­crease could be es­pe­cially detri­men­tal for the state’s small busi­nesses and pos­si­bly elim­i­nate thou­sands of jobs. Espinoza also said the Leg­is­la­ture needs to re­con­sider the min­i­mum wage “patch­work ef­fect” that oc­curs when cities and coun­ties cre­ate their own min­i­mums.

“Con­sis­tency is cru­cial to busi­nesses,” Espinoza said. “The min­i­mum wage dis­cus­sion has to in­clude em­ploy­ment law uni­for­mity if we want our econ­omy to head in the right di­rec­tion.”

Both Soules’ and Ca­ballero’s pro­pos­als al­low lo­cal en­ti­ties to cre­ate wage floors above the state’s min­i­mum.

Agree­ing that a large in­crease in the min­i­mum wage would have a detri­men­tal ef­fect on the state’s small busi­nesses, the Greater Al­bu­querque Cham­ber of Com­merce would strongly op­pose any in­crease in the $12 to $15 range, ac­cord­ing to pres­i­dent Terri Cole.

Ex­perts dis­agree on the eco­nomic im­pact of min­i­mum wage in­creases. The U.S. Depart­ment of La­bor web­site cites a 2014 let­ter from the non­par­ti­san but left-lean­ing Eco­nomic Pol­icy In­sti­tute, which was signed by more than 600 econ­o­mists, stat­ing that “re­search sug­gests that a min­i­mum-wage in­crease could have a small stim­u­la­tive ef­fect on the econ­omy as low-wage work­ers spend their ad­di­tional earn­ings, rais­ing de­mand and job growth, and pro­vid­ing some help on the jobs front.” Other stud­ies not ref­er­enced in the let­ter have had in­con­clu­sive or con­tra­dic­tory find­ings.

Back at the gas sta­tion, Deuel said the thought of a min­i­mum wage in­crease ex­cited her, though she felt it was un­likely law­mak­ers would ap­prove a ma­jor jump.

“Fif­teen dol­lars is never go­ing to hap­pen,” she said. “But just a lit­tle bit more and I could pay some of my bills.”

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