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Minimum wage bill in New Mexico killed in committee

By   /   February 19, 2013  /   No Comments

MINIMUM WAGE DEFEAT: A resolution calling for tying New Mexico’s minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index was killed in committee.

By Rob Nikolewski | New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE — One of two pieces of legislation in the New Mexico statehouse aimed at raising the state’s minimum wage was defeated in a committee hearing Tuesday (Feb. 19), with the deciding vote came from a Democrat.

CORRECTION: An earlier post incorrectly said that House Joint Resolution 6 would raise the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour. It would only adjust the minimum wage to the consumer price index.

“This was very difficult,” state Rep. Mary Helen Garcia, D-Las Cruces, told New Mexico Watchdog after House Joint Resolution 6 was defeated on a 6-5 vote in the House Voters and Elections Committee. “I just thought I should be here to vote on the behalf of the citizens of New Mexico, not necessarily one issue.”

The legislation called for tying the wage to the Consumer Price Index and bring the issue before the voters in the fall as a constitutional amendment.

But a number of members of the committee, including Democrat Debbie Rodella of Española, expressed concern about raising the minimum wage through constitutional amendment instead of by statute.

And Republican Monica Youngblood told the resolution’s sponsor, Democrat Miguel Garcia, that she suspected he wanted to bring the legislation before voters to avoid a veto from Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

In the end, all five Republicans voted to not pass the resolution and five Democrats voted to pass the resolution. Mary Helen Garcia cast the deciding vote, thus sending HJR6 into legislative oblivion.

Mary Helen Garcia’s vote came one day after fellow Democrats blocked her bill in committee that called for ending the practice of “social promotion” for third-grade students who cannot read at a minimal level.

Was her vote an act of revenge?

“Absolutely not,” Garcia said, adding, “There’s a great deal of difference between putting something in statute and putting it (in) as a constitutional amendment … I believe if this was put in statute, I would have voted different.”

There is one other bill that calls for raising the minimum wage in New Mexico — Senate Bill 416 sponsored by Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española — but, unlike SJR6, it would raise the minimum wage strictly through the Legislature instead of a constitutional amendment and would be subject to a veto by Gov. Martinez. SB416 would raise the minimum wage in the state to $8.50 an hour, the fourth-highest in the country.

Only Washington, Vermont and Oregon have state minimum wages higher than $8.50 an hour. Most of the states have minimum wage rates that equal or exceed the federal rate of $7.25 an hour. Five have no state minimum wage law, and four have rates below the federal level.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on raising the national minimum wage to $9 an hour.
Contact Rob Nikolewski at rob@nmwatchdog.org.

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Since 2010, Rob Nikolewski has covered New Mexico politics and investigated fraud, waste and abuse in government. He also writes an opinion column in the Sunday editions of the Santa Fe New Mexican. Rob joined New Mexico Watchdog after 20 years in television as a sports anchor and reporter. He anchored at MSNBC, New York City, Boston, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, Reno and Boise, winning three regional Emmy awards along the way. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, a master's in public administration from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and a bachelor's degree in journalism from Trinity University in San Antonio.

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