An attempt by two Republican legislators to cut the wages of many of the state’s lowest-paid workers is dead.
Sen. Mark Moores of Albuquerque and Rep. Jason Harper of Rio Rancho have relented to public pressure and scrapped the part of their bill that would have rolled back the minimum wage in the city of Santa Fe and four other local jurisdictions.
Moores said Saturday that he and Harper have crafted a substitute bill that will not deal at all with minimum wage.
“The idea was to create uniformity for businesses across the state instead of this patchwork of different minimum wages that creates uncertainty for businesses,” Moores told The New Mexican. “But after hearing the testimony of opponents, we realized this would have created uncertainty for workers in Santa Fe. We took that to heart.”
The measure, House Bill 211, was heard Jan. 29 by the House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee, which voted along party lines to recommend the measure in its original form.
Critics said the bill would worsen poverty. In Santa Fe, the rollbacks that were proposed by Moores and Harper in their original bill would have reduced the annual salary of someone making minimum wage to $16,000 from $22,000.
Three of the state’s four largest cities — Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Las Cruces, as well as Santa Fe and Bernalillo counties — have enacted higher minimum wages than the statewide minimum wage of $7.50 an hour.
Santa Fe’s minimum wage is $10.84 an hour and will rise to $10.91 on March 1.
Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales said Saturday that, although he’s happy that the bill no longer would reduce the city’s minimum wage, he’s still opposed to the remaining parts of the legislation that would prohibit cities from mandating benefits for workers in private industry.
“Any effort to take away local control is a slap in the face,” Gonzales said.
Santa Fe City Councilor Signe Lindell called the bill a case of state legislators trying to rewrite a city law that is well-established and accepted. “I don’t think we have any real feeling in the city on going backwards on the minimum wage,” she said.
Julia Castro, owner of Cafe Castro on Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe, has been an outspoken supporter of the city’s minimum wage that is nearly $3.50 an hour more than the state’s. She said Saturday she’s glad the bill sponsors are taking cutbacks in the minimum wage off the table. “I couldn’t support anything that would lower the minimum wage,” she told a reporter. “I’m very happy to comply.”
As originally written, House Bill 211 would have prohibited home-rule cities and counties from authorizing minimum wages higher than the state’s. It also would have repealed higher minimum wages in the cities and counties that have authorized them.
Without the minimum-wage element, the bill would prohibit local governments from approving ordinances to regulate the hours, scheduling or leave of workers in the private sector or passing ordinances to require private employers to provide workers with paid or unpaid leave or any benefits that would cause an expense to a private business.
Moores said no local governments have passed any such ordinances.
Gonzales said that currently there are no Santa Fe ordinances in the works that would set benefit requirements for private-industry employees. But, he said, there are several areas such as paid sick leave and paid family leave that local governments in New Mexico might want to look at.
The mayor pointed out that New Mexico is 49th in the nation in child well-being and nearly last in economic growth. “I wish the Legislature would focus on other ways to help businesses out,” he said.
The House Business and Employment Committee had been scheduled to hear the bill Saturday. However, because of a time crunch, the committee delayed the hearing until Tuesday.
Two bills have been introduced in the current session that would increase the statewide minimum wage. However, because this is a 30-day session, any bills not directly related to the state budget need a message from the governor to be considered. Gov. Susana Martinez, who has vetoed legislation to raise the statewide minimum wage, has not authorized those bills to be heard.
Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, has introduced a proposed constitutional amendment to raise the state minimum wage. Soules’ constitutional amendment does not require Martinez’s endorsement to be heard, but it has no chance to pass the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Contact Steve Terrell at [email protected]. Read his political blog at tinyurl.com/Roundhouseroundup. Contact Milan Simonich at [email protected]. Follow his Ringside Seat column at santafenewmexican.com.