Business / Legislature / News / Politics

Roundhouse 2013: Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems?

By Eric J. Garcia

By Eric J. Garcia

The Minimum Wage Battle

— Rep. Phillip Archuleta worked for the Department of Workforce Solutions for 20 years. His job was to handle cases where people weren’t getting paid their due, he said. “Anything to do with wage theft.”

The Democrat from Las Cruces said during those two decades, he encountered folks who were working for tips but not making the state’s minimum of $7.50 an hour. “Some parts of the state might have customers that give high tips. Rural areas might not.”

That’s why Archuleta proposed a statewide increase for tipped employees: HB 550 would raise the state’s minimum from $2.13 to $3.25—but only if the employee’s tips don’t add up to $7.50 an hour.

The measure was a smaller jump than Albuquerque’s January increase. With it, the hourly minimum hit $3.82 for tipped employees and $8.50 for everyone else. Owner of the Route 66 Malt Shop Eric Szeman refused to comply with the law. After city attorneys filed a lawsuit, Szeman changed his mind.

Two other bills aimed to enact statewide standards similar to Albuquerque’s new wage ordinance. One sponsored by Sen. Richard Martinez (D-Española) was passed by the Senate in March. It raised the minimum to $8.50, except for businesses with fewer than 10 employees. Those workers would make $7.50.Rep. Miguel Garcia (D-Albuquerque) proposed a joint resolution to increase wages every year in line with cost of living increases.

Archuleta, who brought forth the measure for tip-earners, said he’d work hard to get his bill enacted. Though he hadn’t spoken with Gov. Susana Martinez about it as of press time, he said he assumed she would sign it. “There are thousands of waiters and waitresses hoping this goes through. It’s not political. It’s a necessity to make sure people are able to make a living.”

Carol Wight, CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association, said she opposed all three bills. In a free market, the minimum wage goes up on its own, she said. “If my competition is paying a little more to get the good employees, I have to pay a little bit more.” When the wage is mandated by government, it causes price hikes, too, Wight said. That affects people on a fixed income, like senior citizens, she added.

“It’s been proven time and again: You cannot redistribute wealth or disincentivize employers, or you will have a state like New Mexico where employers are running for the hills.” (Marisa Demarco)

Relief for Servers and Small Towns

Next time you mosey up to the bar for a cocktail, don’t forget to tip your server. After all, he’s been shouldering heavy responsibility for ensuring you’re of legal drinking age.

As of press time, state law says if a liquor license owner or any of their employees “knows or has reason to know” that they’re selling booze to someone under 21 years old, the server and license owner can be charged with a fourth-degree felony. SB 259, aimed at easing that penalty, made it through the Senate on Feb. 13.

If passed by the House and signed into law, the bill would step penalties for a first-time service-to-a-minor offense down to a misdemeanor.

J. Dee Dennis, Jr., superintendent of the Regulation and Licensing Department, said his office watched the bill closely because it also required shorter renewal periods for alcohol servers’ permits. Trimming the permit lifespans from five to three years, said Dennis, would make it easier for servers to stay on top of changing liquor laws.

“We anticipate that it will make it all the way through the House and get to the governor’s desk,” said Dennis.

Other liquor-centric provisions were weighed this session. Because of New Mexico’s cap on the number of liquor licenses issued statewide (only 1,411, based on 2010 population measurements), the cost of setting up a restaurant in rural areas is prohibitive. One license available in Clovis in January was priced at more than half a million dollars. Legislation like HB 413, carried by Yvette Herrell (R-Alamogordo), would help encourage new eateries to set up shop. “It’s really more of an economic development tool than anything else,” said Dennis. (Margaret Wright)

* This article originally appeared on Page 5  of Local iQ. Look for Compass reports there in every edition through the end of the legislative session.

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