Richardson won’t compromise on $7.50 minimum wage

By Deborah Baker

SANTA FE — Gov. Bill Richardson said Wednesday he won’t compromise on raising the state minimum wage to $7.50 an hour and would veto a Senate bill that capped it at $6.15.

The governor said he was willing to modify his proposal for a phased-in $7.50 wage floor “a bit — but not much.”
“I want a message to go out to the Legislature that this is one of the most important issues facing the session,” he said.

Richardson made the comments a day after a Senate panel gutted the bill he is backing. The Public Affairs Committee instead endorsed a $6.15 minimum wage, phased in over two years, that would allow employers to pay a $5.15 “training wage” for a year.

The current state minimum wage is $5.15, the same as the federal minimum.

“I will not take $6.15 … so they should start over,” the governor said in an interview.

The Senate bill, which will be heard next in the Corporations and Transportation Committee, also freezes Santa Fe’s minimum wage at its $9.50 level. Under a city ordinance, it would go to $10.50 in 2008 if the city council gave the go-ahead.

Richardson labeled the cap for Santa Fe “unacceptable.”
Business groups in Santa Fe challenged the wage ordinance and lost in the state Court of Appeals, and the governor said the city is “entitled to the result they got in the courts.”

Business lobbyists at the Capitol had supported the changes to Richardson’s bill.

“It’s a better bill (now), but with the governor saying he’s going to veto it, it doesn’t mean it’s a very live bill,” acknowledged Terri Cole, president of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.

The Senate Public Affairs Committee version of the bill bars cities or counties from enacting their own minimum wages higher than the state minimum. The Richardson-backed bill contains the same pre-emption provision, but for just five years.

“Let’s be flexible. … Let’s not lock ourselves in forever,” the governor said.

Another minimum wage proposal from House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe — backed by a coalition of labor, church and community groups — was scheduled for a vote on Thursday in a House committee. It would raise the minimum wage to $7.50 next year, then adjust it annually for inflation.

A House committee delayed action on that bill on Tuesday, directing Lujan to try to come up with some proposal more acceptable to the business community.