Posted at: 02/19/2013 9:31 PM
Updated at: 02/19/2013 9:35 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4
A major effort to raise the state's minimum wage - and keep on raising it every year - was dealt a blow in the state legislature Tuesday that may prove fatal.
In a surprise move, the House Voters and Elections Committee shot the legislation down on a 6-5 vote, with the committee chairwoman, Rep. Mary Garcia of Las Cruces, voting with the panel's five Republican members to table the proposed constitutional amendment.
Garcia, a Democrat, said she opposed putting the annual raises in the state constitution. The annual raises would have been tied to the cost of living, as measured in the federal government's consumer price index. With the legislature's approval, voters would have had the final say on the proposed amendment.
Rich Ferrary of New Mexico Communities in Action and Faith fought tirelessly to get the legislation passed.
"We have to raise those wages of the very poorest of the poor people at least to the point where they can afford the basic necessities," Ferrary said. "Those basic necessities are purchased right in our communities. This was a win-win situation."
The legislation's sponsor, Rep. Miguel Garcia, was philosophical about the loss.
"It happened the way it happened," said the Democrat from Albuquerque's South Valley. "We're going to continue fighting for the poor, for our low wage earners, for the state. We're going to continue."
The legislation isn't dead - but it would be extremely difficult to revive it. Meanwhile all eyes are now on a Senate minimum wage bill. It steers clear of the constitution, proposing simply to raise the wage from $7.50 an hour to $8.50.