By Barry Massey
The Associated Press
SANTA FE — Business groups across New Mexico are opposing an increase in the state’s minimum wage, but a Santa Fe restaurant owner threw her support Tuesday behind a proposal to boost the hourly wage rate.
Restaurateur Julia Castro said at a news conference in the Capitol that employees at her Santa Fe cafe are paid above the city’s minimum wage, which is higher than the state’s $7.50 hourly wage rate.
Castro said well-paid employees are critical to providing quality service to her customers.
“My major expense is my payroll. But I don’t mind paying more for it,” Castro said.
A proposal pending in a Senate committee would boost New Mexico’s minimum wage to an estimated $8.30 an hour next year and provide for annual inflation increases.
Business groups, including the New Mexico Restaurant Association, have opposed the measure. They say it would hurt smaller businesses, especially in rural areas.
Opponents also object that the proposal seeks to increase the wage rate through a change in the state constitution. Voters would decide in the November general election whether to adopt the higher wage rate if the Legislature approves the proposal.
A constitutional amendment wouldn’t go to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who vetoed a measure last year that would have raised the minimum wage to $8.50 an hour. The governor, however, expressed support for an increase to $7.80. That was the same as Arizona’s wage last year.
Sen. William Soules, a Las Cruces Democrat, said the minimum wage belongs in the constitution. “In New Mexico, it’s a civil rights issue. It’s a human rights issue,” Soules said.
Neighboring Arizona and Colorado are among 10 states that automatically adjust their minimum wages to inflation each year. Arizona’s wage rate is $7.90, and it’s $8 an hour in Colorado.
Washington state has the highest minimum wage in the nation at $9.32 an hour, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Santa Fe’s “living wage” requirement is $10.51 an hour and will increase to $10.66 next month.
The proposed constitutional amendment by Sen. Richard Martinez, an Espanola Democrat, would increase New Mexico’s wage rate for inflation since 2009, when the rate went to $7.50. That inflation adjustment would fix the rate at an estimated $8.30 next year, according to a Legislative Finance Committee analysis.
University of New Mexico student Israel Chavez, who works as a server at an Albuquerque restaurant, joined Castro in supporting a minimum-wage increase.
“Families in New Mexico need this increase,” said Chavez, who grew up in Las Cruces and hopes to go to law school. “Prices of goods continue to go up and wages do not.”