- Associated Press - Friday, February 7, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A proposal moved ahead in the Legislature on Friday that would boost New Mexico’s minimum wage to $8.30 an hour next year and provide for annual inflation increases.

The proposed constitutional amendment cleared the Senate Rules Committee on a 6-4 party-line vote and heads to another committee for consideration.

The minimum wage in New Mexico has been $7.50 an hour since 2009.

Boosting the minimum wage is a top priority for Democrats, who hold majorities in the House and Senate.

If approved by the Legislature, the wage proposal would be placed on the November general election ballot for voters to decide. It would bypass Republican Gov. Susana Martinez because a constitutional amendment, unlike a bill that changes state law, doesn’t go to the governor to be signed or vetoed.

The proposal would adjust the state’s wage rate for inflation since 2009, setting it at an estimated $8.30 next year, according to a Legislative Finance Committee analysis.

The minimum wage would then automatically increase each year for inflation. That could raise the wage rate to an estimated $8.40 in July 2016 and $8.60 in 2017, according to the LFC analysis of the measure.

Supporters said the proposal will help workers in low-wage jobs whose salaries have remained stagnant for years.

“We need people in New Mexico who can afford to spend in New Mexico,” said Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, an Albuquerque Democrat.

Business groups and other opponents said the proposed wage increase would hurt smaller businesses, especially in rural areas.

Democratic Sen. Clemente Sanchez, of Grants, said he supported increasing the minimum wage but opposed doing it with a constitutional amendment.

“We are not a referendum state,” Sanchez said.

The measure initially stalled in the committee on a tie vote, with Sanchez joining Republicans in blocking it. But then Sanchez joined other Democrats in voting to forward the bill to the Judiciary Committee with no recommendation on whether it should be approved.

The governor vetoed legislation last year to boost the wage rate from $7.50 to $8.50 an hour and instead backed a proposal that would have moved it to $7.80, which at the time was the same as neighboring Arizona.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Employers must pay the higher rate when there is a difference between the federal wage and state or local requirements.

About a dozen states have minimum wages of $8 an hour or greater. Washington state has the highest minimum wage in the nation at $9.32 an hour, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

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