Lawmakers take up statewide min. wage hike

Posted at: 02/14/2013 4:15 PM
Updated at: 02/14/2013 5:32 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

State lawmakers are looking over two separate bills that would raise New mexico's statewide minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $8.50. The idea is popular with some lawmakers and pure poison to others.

The plan doesn't bother Julia Castro a bit. Her employees at Santa Fe's popular Café Castro make more than that right now. Santa Fe's minimum wage is $10.41 an hour - second highest in the nation behind only San Francisco. Some of Castro's employees make $10.41 - many make more.

"A well-paid employee is a happy employee," Castro said. "One wants their employees to be able to live, to not live in poverty, to make a decent wage, to live in a similar lifestyle as the employer. There shouldn't be a difference."

New Mexico Voices for Children, a nonprofit advocacy group, says raising the minimum wage to $8.50 would put $105 million a year into the hands of low-wage workers who would spend it in local economies. Researchers for the group say it would also create nearly 600 jobs statewide.

Terri Cole of the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce says many business people in her organization foresee an entirely different outcome.

"Passing an increase in the minimum wage will cut off employment opportunities," Cole said. "In Albuquerque, that is exactly what is happening right now. We've seen evidence of jobs lost, hours lost."

Albuquerque's minimum wage went up to $8.50 an hour in January, after voters approved the raise in a city election. The national minimum wage is $7.50 an hour. Even President Barack Obama called for an increase in his State of the Union speech earlier this week.

One of the proposals before the New Mexico legislature would let voters decide on a constitutional amendment that would raise the minimum wage every year tying it to increases in the federal government's Consumer Price Index.