- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 18, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A proposal to boost the state’s minimum wage to an estimated $8.30 an hour next year is heading to the House for consideration.

The measure, which already has passed the Senate, is a top priority for many Democrats in the 30-day legislative session that ends on Thursday.

The House Voters and Elections Committee approved the measure Tuesday on a party-line 6-4 vote, with Republicans in opposition and Democrats in support.

New Mexico’s minimum wage has been $7.50 an hour since 2009.

The proposed constitutional amendment would adjust the minimum wage for inflation since 2009 - setting it at an estimated $8.30 starting in July 2015.

The minimum wage would increase annually for inflation, which happens now in 10 other states. However, the rate couldn’t go up more than 4 percent a year.

If the measure clears the House, it will be placed on the November general election ballots for voters to decide.

The proposal will need the support of 36 House members, which could be difficult because two Democrats have been absent from the session for health reasons. Democrats hold a 37-33 advantage when all members are voting.

Sen. William Soules, a Las Cruces Democrat sponsoring the proposal, said a higher wage would help New Mexico’s economy.

“People who make minimum wage tend to spend that money right back into the economy immediately. And as a result the economy heats up. When money moves, the economy improves,” Soules told the committee.

However, opponents said the higher wage could force businesses to trim their workforce, potentially hurting low-wage workers and teenagers trying to find jobs.

The measure would not prevent cities from establishing a higher minimum wage than the state rate.

Santa Fe has a “living wage” requirement of $10.51 an hour, and it will increase to $10.66 next month. Albuquerque’s minimum wage is $8.60 an hour.

Under the proposal, the minimum wage for tipped employees such as waitresses, waiters and bartenders will increase from $2.13 an hour to 30 percent of the state’s wage floor - an estimated $2.49 an hour next year.

However, the measure’s proponents agreed to roll back the proposed wage increase for tipped workers in hopes of neutralizing opposition from businesses such as restaurants.

The proposal initially would have required employers to pay at least 60 percent of the state’s minimum wage for their tipped workers - an estimated $4.98 next year.

But that was dropped to 30 percent in a Senate committee to improve chances the measure will pass this session, Soules said in an interview. He dismissed suggestions that tipped workers were shortchanged.

“For some restaurants the tipped employees are some of the highest paid employees they have,” said Soules.

Under current law, tipped employees must earn at least the state minimum wage, including all tips and their wages. If a worker’s tips don’t bring their wage up to the state’s minimum rate, the employer must pay the difference. But if tips push a worker’s wage over the minimum, the employer can pay the $2.13 hourly rate.


Follow Barry Massey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bmasseyAP

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