Senate panel favors smaller minimum wage increase

Taos restaurant owners advocate to save tip credit

By Andrew Oxford
aoxford@sfnewmexican.com
Posted 3/7/19

Taos restaurant and bar owners from Michael's Kitchen, The Alley Cantina, Lambert's and others, have traveled to the Roundhouse more than once in the last few weeks to lobby for keeping the tip credit.

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Senate panel favors smaller minimum wage increase

Taos restaurant owners advocate to save tip credit

Posted

A Senate committee Tuesday (March 5) snubbed Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's call to raise New Mexico's minimum wage to $12 an hour over the next several years, advancing instead a more modest bill backed by business groups.

Dueling proposals for increasing the wages of New Mexico's lowest-paid workers collided in a packed hearing of the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee. After a flurry of changes, the committee ultimately advanced a measure that would raise the wage over time, topping out at $11 an hour in 2021.

While not far off from a minimum wage increase backed by the governor and approved by the state House of Representatives, the proposal omits a key provision to adjust the minimum wage annually in the future based on the rising cost of living. And the committee's vote reflected resistance in the Legislature's upper chamber to some of the newly elected governor's agenda.

The committee deadlocked on House Bill 31, which would have raised the statewide minimum wage to $10 an hour July 1, with the wage going up $1 a year, reaching $12 in 2021. The state would then adjust the wage each year based on inflation starting in 2022.

Those are rates straight out of the governor's campaign platform. Moreover, the bill would have changed the minimum wage for tipped workers from $2.13 to 30 percent of the prevailing minimum wage.

Under current law, employers can pay workers the lower wage as long as they receive enough money in tips to reach the higher rate, a so-called "tip credit" provision that is key to the restaurant industry.

Taos restaurant and bar owners from Michael's Kitchen, The Alley Cantina, Lambert's and others, have traveled to the Roundhouse more than once in the last few weeks to lobby for keeping the tip credit. They say they support increasing the minimum wage overall but keeping the tip credit.

Nathaniel Troy Jr., restaurateur of Lambert's, was in Santa Fe for Tuesday's hearing. He said they back one of the opposing bills, Senate Bill 437, because "it takes a more gradual approach" to raising the minimum wage.

Lillian Torrez, superintendent of Taos Municipal Schools, said in an interview at her office that an increased minimum wage to $12 an hour would cost the district an additional $27,000 for cooks and secretaries and $97,000 for substitute workers. "We'll find the money somehow," she said, noting she supported an increased minimum wage.

The proposal favored by the committee would raise the minimum wage to $9.25 an hour in October. It would rise again to $10 in April 2020, then $10.50 in 2021. The new minimum wage would top out at $11 in 2022.

The bill would allow employers to pay $8.50 an hour to high school students.

The Taos area minimum wage stands at $7.50.

Perhaps more significant was what the vote signaled about the politics of the legislative session set to end March 16.

Tuesday marked the second day in a row in which Democrats in the Senate snubbed a governor from their own party who won an overwhelming victory last year and is arguably wielding more political capital now than she ever will.

-- Staci Matlock contributed to this report

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