Governor signs minimum wage hike to $7.50

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By Deborah Baker, Mar 23 2007
Gov. Bill Richardson on Friday signed into law a $7.50-an-hour minimum wage for tens of thousands of New Mexico workers.

The new law increases the wage floor from the current $5.15 an hour - the federal level - to $6.50 in January 2008 and $7.50 in January 2009.

Richardson, who is running for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, said 
New Mexico "didn't wait for Washington's gridlock to end."

"The Congress goes ahead and gives themselves pay raises, but for 10 years they have not increased the minimum wage, and we are not waiting," 
Richardson said at a news conference.

The governor acknowledged the measure was a compromise, but said "it means progress for tens of thousands of hard-working New Mexicans."

Richardson signed the bill just before he headed to Las Vegas, Nev., for campaigning that included two events sponsored by organized labor.

The new law does not contain the automatic cost-of-living increases that some advocates of a higher minimum wage had sought. And it does not include all workers. Those who handle or process agricultural or horticultural products _ including those in the dairy and chili industries, for example _ are exempted. The higher minimum wages already in effect in Santa Fe and Albuquerque area would not be impacted by the new law. But other communities would not be allowed to enact minimum wages higher than those in the new law until at least 2010.

Raising the minimum wage was one of the governor's top priorities during the 60-day legislative session that ended March 17.

"By rewarding work instead of just offering welfare, we're going to increase the standard of living for thousands of working families," 
Richardson said.

Twenty-eight other states and the 
District of Columbia have minimum wages higher than the federal level.

According to an analysis done for lawmakers, the new law is projected to affect 20 percent, or 161,000, of 
New Mexico's 818,000 workers.

About 75,000 of those are currently making below the $7.50 level; their pay would be boosted by an average of $1.19 an hour. An additional 86,000 workers would be indirectly affected, meaning they would get an increase in wages as those below them on the pay scale moved up. The first bump up in the hourly wage, to $6.50 an hour next year, will directly affect about 40,000 employees. Albuquerque's minimum wage is $6.75 now, slated to go to $7.15 next year and $7.50 in 2009. Santa Fe
's is $9.50, and it could go to $10.50 next year.