Wage hike support split on party line

By Andy Jackson: CNJ staff writer

Local legislators exhibit a party-line split in the debate over whether to raise up the state’s minimum wage.

Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, and Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, think if the minimum wage were raised from $5.15 to $7.50 as proposed, job cuts would result.

“I think it hurts the economy. I’m opposed to raising it,” Crook said. “Businesses won’t hire as many employees if the minimum wage rises,” because they won’t be able to afford training the new hires, she said.

Kernan agrees job cuts would piggy-back a minimum wage increase, and thinks the issue should be debated further federally.

“The consequence will be that if (minimum) wages go up, the cost of goods will follow, and if it’s set too high than employers may not hire as much,” Kernan said.

Kernan said she’d be cautious to support a minimum wage increase because she wouldn’t want to “cause problems for people at the lower end that may lose jobs.”

Rep. Jose Campos, D-Santa Rosa, thinks minimum-wage earners deserve a raise throughout the state to accommodate increased costs of living.

“I think increasing the minimum wage throughout the state is the way to go …The cost of food, bread and gas are all going up,” said Campos, a restaurant owner.

“The minimum wage ain’t cutting it.”

Even though a wage increase would hit him in his back pocket, Campos, a restaurant owner, thinks his employees deserve a raise.

Gov. Bill Richardson and Speaker of the House, Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, support the raise.

In the 2006 State of the State Address, Richardson explained why a phased increase of the minimum wage to $7.50 an hour is necessary.

“Put simply it makes good economic sense. Now, I know this is a contentious issue, but it doesn’t have to be a divisive one. I will work together with the different stake-holders and I am sensitive to the business community. But if we are to continue building a high-wage economy— which I am intent on doing— we need a meaningful wage for an honest day’s work. So I will support a phased increase to $7.50 an hour,” Richardson said.

Campos agrees minimum wages should increase in phases — over three years, he said, but an increase to $7.50 an hour is “too heavy.”

A bill to raise the minimum wage will go before the Business and Industry Committee early next week, said Campos, who sits on the committee.