Bill would raise state min wage to $15

State Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque

State Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, has introduced a bill to boost the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, ahead of the legislative session beginning Jan. 21.

At a time of rising rent costs, higher medical bills and decades of stagnant wages, the third-term lawmaker said the legislation is necessary because it is becoming increasingly difficult for New Mexico residents to make ends meet.

House Bill 82 would mandate an increase to $9 an hour in 2020, then $10.50 in 2021, $12 in 2022 and $15 an hour by 2025. Roybal Caballero calls it “living wage” legislation and has been trying to pass similar measures since she was first elected as a state representative in 2015. “It’s without a question what we should be affording every hard-working family,” Roybal Caballero said. “It’s unconscionable for me to have individuals ... have to work two and three jobs just to be able to afford the essentials.”

The bill comes months after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into a law a measure that will gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2023. The state law likely won’t affect workers in Santa Fe and Santa Fe County, which both have a minimum wage of $11.80 an hour — higher than the rest of the state. Those rates increase annually based on increases in the Consumer Price Index for the Western Region.

Roybal Caballero’s more progressive $15-an-hour plan is unlikely to pass in the upcoming legislative session. Lujan Grisham and other Democratic leaders have not indicated another minimum-wage increase is a priority during the 30-day session, which will focus on the budget.

The Governor’s Office did not immediately respond to an inquiry on whether Lujan Grisham would support increasing the state’s minimum wage to $15. House Speaker Brian Egolf declined to comment on the legislation.

During the 2019 session, lawmakers backed the more conservative increases over legislation Roybal Caballero sponsored that would have doubled the state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2020. Her 2019 bill’s aggressive timeline would have given New Mexico the nation’s highest minimum wage, but it found little support even in a heavily Democratic Legislature with a new Democratic governor.

Roybal Caballero calls it a “moral imperative” to offer New Mexico workers a so-called living wage. But Carol Wight, executive director of the New Mexico Restaurant Association, said increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour would undercut small businesses, hurting their chances of staying afloat. “Small businesses across the state would be shackled by that, so I think it would be not a good time to do this,” Wight said Tuesday.

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Meanwhile, two left-leaning U.S. senators who are running in the Democratic presidential primary, Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., are pushing for a $15 federal minimum wage, which was approved by the Democrat-led U.S. House in July but is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate.

Although wages have grown for most U.S. workers since 1964, purchasing power has not, according to data from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. Adjusted for inflation, the average U.S. wage has about the same purchasing power it had 40 years ago — despite ever-increasing profits for corporations and shareholders, and wage increases for the highest-paid workers.

Average hourly earnings actually reached an all-time U.S. high in terms of purchasing power 45 years ago, when $4.03 an hour was worth what $23.68 is today, according to the Hamilton Project.

In New Mexico, about 245,000 people, or 31 percent of the state’s workforce, earn wages at or near $12 per hour. About 159,000 are paid less than $12, according to a data analysis by the nonprofit New Mexico Voices for Children.

Several states already have passed legislation to gradually increase their minimum wage to $15.

In February, New Jersey enacted a measure to hit that target by 2024. Illinois passed a plan to do so by 2025, while Maryland lawmakers overrode a veto from the state’s governor to increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2024 with a slower schedule for smaller employers.Connecticut enacted a bill in May that would raise that state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2023.Roybal Caballero said she considers increasing New Mexico’s minimum wage “a state emergency.”

“The disparity is so great right now it literally is going to take generations [to undo it],” she said. “Nine dollars an hour does not make a difference in the disparity. ... It does not begin to break that historical cycle of poverty that has kept us at 48, 49, 50 [in the nation].”

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(1) comment

Barry Rabkin

Great idea if you want existing small businesses to fire workers, hire fewer workers, or go out of business. Also a great idea if you want fewer new businesses to launch.

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