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Minimum wage inflation indexing stalls in NM panel

Barry Massey, Associated Press

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) -- A proposal to increase New Mexico's minimum wage for inflation stalled Tuesday after a House committee's Democratic leader opposed the measure.

An effort to send the measure to the 70-member House failed on a 6-5 vote in the Voters and Elections Committee. The measure remains alive and can be reconsidered later, but it's stuck unless votes change on the panel.

The state's $7.50 an hour minimum wage has been in effect since 2009.

A proposed constitutional amendment would allow voters to decide whether to require automatic cost-of-living increases in the wage rate.

The proposal by Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, would provide for increases of up to 4 percent a year to match inflation, but it wouldn't allow the wage to drop if the cost-of-living declined.

Business groups opposed the measure, warning that it could force employers to cut jobs.

"Business owners are trying to keep their doors open," said Matthew Gonzales of the Association of Commerce and Industry of New Mexico.

Supporters said the change is needed to prevent workers from losing buying power to inflation, and they contended it could help the state's economy.

"Putting money into the pockets of low-income workers is almost the single best thing we can do to help spur economic growth," said Carter Bundy of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers.

Committee chairwoman Mary Helen Garcia, a Las Cruces Democrat, was the only Democrat to join Republicans in voting against the measure. She said she opposed placing the minimum wage provision in the state Constitution.

Lobbyists for several business groups said the constitution is difficult to change and wage rate indexing shouldn't be included in case it needs to be revamped in the future because of economic problems. A state law can be revised with approval of the Legislature and governor, but constitutional amendments go on the ballot only during statewide general elections.

Unlike a bill, a proposed constitutional amendment doesn't require the signature of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, and Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, said Democrats were using that approach for the proposed automatic minimum wage increases to avoid an almost certain veto by the governor.

Still pending in the Legislature is a separate bill sponsored by Democratic lawmakers to raise the state's hourly minimum wage to $8.50, which would provide an annual salary of $17,680 for a full-time job. That measure will need the approval of the Legislature — and the signature of the governor — to become law.

Only three states — Washington, Oregon and Vermont — have higher minimum wages and each of those adjust their rates for inflation. Washington tops the nation with a state rate of $9.19 an hour, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Employers must pay the higher rate when there is a difference between the federal rate and requirements imposed by a state or local government, according to the state Department of Workforce Solutions.

Ten states, including neighboring Arizona and Colorado, increase their minimum wages annually for inflation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.


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