- Associated Press - Monday, February 2, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - A New Mexico panel of lawmakers voted along party lines Monday to table two bills that called for raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour from the current $7.50, one of them incrementally.

The vote on both bills was 4-3, with Republicans in the majority.

At $10.10 an hour, New Mexico’s minimum wage would be higher than any other state in the nation.

More than a dozen labor and education union representatives and minimum-wage workers told the House Regulatory and Public Affairs Committee that New Mexicans deserve a living wage.

Opponents of raising the wage said an increase would be tough on small businesses and the Legislature’s focus should be on improving education, which in turn would produce higher wage earners in the state.

At $10.10 an hour, minimum-wage earners would take home about $21,000 a year, and “that’s just above the federal poverty level,” said Gail Evans, legal director of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Less than $10.10 an hour is leaving New Mexico families in deep poverty.”

Jack Bent, a lobbyist for the New Mexico Business Coalition, told the committee “we don’t believe government should be setting wages (for) business.”

Rep. Yvette Herrell, the Republican from Alamogordo who chairs the committee, said she believed a minimum wage increase would have an “enormous impact” on businesses.

And “I just have a hard time understanding it wouldn’t have an impact on job growth,” she said.

The Legislature passed a measure to raise the wage to $8.50 during the 2013 session, but it was vetoed by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

Last year, an effort to amend the state Constitution to allow the minimum wage to increase annually at the rate of inflation passed the Senate but died in the House. With Republicans now in control of the House after 60 years, Democratic representatives still wanted to increase the statewide minimum wage.

Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe, whose bill would have raised the minimum wage to $10.10 on July 1, said he was not surprised by the vote given the Republican majority in the House.

Fellow Democrat Rep. Miguel Garcia’s bill would have bumped the minimum wage to $8.40 Jan. 1, to $9.20 in January 2017, and to $10.10 the following January.

“When New Mexican workers are paid (an increased) minimum wage, that money is invested right back into our economy,” the lawmaker from Albuquerque told the committee.

Diana Maze, 24, a single mother of a 3-year-old and a preschool worker from Albuquerque who testified before the committee, said after the hearing that until recently she earned $8.60 an hour.

“I am disappointed,” Maze said of the committee vote. “It’s really tough to support a family with minimum wage.”

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