SANTA FE — New Mexico's lowest-paid workers will not get a raise.
Gov. Susana Martinez on Friday vetoed a bill to increase the state's minimum wage by $1 an hour, to $8.50.
Martinez, a Republican, blamed majority Democrats in the state Legislature for seeking too large an increase. She said she would have signed a bill for a 30-cent raise, to $7.80 an hour, but the bill approved by legislators was too much.
Even the 30-cent increase would have tied New Mexico with Arizona for the largest minimum wage in the region, Martinez said.
"In order for New Mexico to thrive economically, we must be competitive with our surrounding states in terms of our tax code, regulatory environment and the minimum wage," Martinez said in her veto message.
Democrats in the Senate and the House of Representatives were united in seeking the dollar-an-hour increase, but it would have exempted businesses with fewer than 11 employees. Employees in training also could have been paid less under the Democrats' bill.
Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, said increasing the minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.50 an hour would have been a big boost for families in poverty. Soules, a former elementary school principal, said he had students who arrived famished on Monday mornings because their parents had not been able to feed them much over the weekend. School lunches sustained those kids, Soules said.
The $1 bump would have put another $40 a week in the paycheck of those making minimum wage.
Republicans in the Legislature fought the proposed $1-an-hour increasing, saying it would hurt businesses and decrease employment.
Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, even introduced a sarcastic amendment to the bill, calling for the state minimum wage to be $21.87 an hour, or about $42,000 a year.
If forcing employers to pay higher wages is smart economics, Sharer said, why stop at a $1-an-hour increase? He said state government should go all out to make the minimum wage "a living wage" for families.
Republican lawmakers uniformly fought an increase in the minimum wage until offering a compromise plan on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Rep. Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, told fellow House members that Martinez would veto an $8.50 minimum wage. Gentry urged them to accept an increase to $7.80 an hour because it was a bill the governor would sign.
This brought a tart reply from Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan. Alcon said he wanted to do what was right for people, not worry about the governor wielding her veto pen.
Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, said he found Martinez's stands inconsistent.
"She wanted tax breaks of millions of dollars for corporations, but was less interested in people at the other end of the spectrum," he said.
Martinez said she stood ready to work with Democrats, but they were not interested in finding a middle ground.
"Had there been willingness to compromise on a reasonable wage rate that is in line with our neighboring states, I would be signing into law a higher minimum wage today," Martinez said.
Albuquerque already has a minimum wage of $8.50, approved by voters last year. Santa Fe has an even higher minimum of $10.51 an hour, also authorized by its electorate.
Ken Martinez, speaker of the House of Representatives, said during debate on the bill that New Mexico would not suffer by increasing its statewide minimum wage to $8.50.
"People will come to a fair state," said Speaker Martinez, D-Grants.
Milan Simonich, Santa Fe bureau chief of Texas-New Mexico Newspapers, can be reached at 505-820-6898. His blog is at nmcapitolreport.com