Minimum wage increase draws support
By Mike Cook
Las Cruces Bulletin
A substantial majority of members of the public speaking at a Monday, July 11, Las Cruces City Council work session said local increases in the minimum wage have benefitted them and the community.
“The increase in the minimum wage does not appear to have a negative impact on the Las Cruces economy,” said city Economic Development Administrator Mayra De La Canal.
She said gross receipts taxes increased about 8 percent from 2014 to 2015, building permits increased by more than 26 percent during that time period and city-wide employment dropped just 0.3 percent. The first minimum wage increase, mandated by a vote of the city council in 2014, raised the minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $8.40 an hour and took effect Jan. 1, 2015. A second increase, raising the minimum wage to $9.20 an hour, will take effect Jan. 1, 2017. A third increase to $10.10 an hour will take effect Jan. 1, 2019.
‘Clear and convincing’
The resolution raising the minimum wage also requires the city council to meet in July of 2016 (the July 11 meeting) and 2018, as it did in 2015, to hear from members of the public about the impact of the increase and to determine if additional changes to the resolution are necessary.
Before the campaign to raise the minimum wage was started in 2013, Las Cruces had lost six percent of its public sector jobs, and wages were down 1.9 percent since 2009, said Sarah Silvafierro, director of New Mexico CAFé, a nonprofit that works to help shape public policies.
“This is the space in which we can rebuild the middle class here in Las Cruces. We look forward to other forward- thinking economic policies,” she said.
“I’m proud that this city stuck to its word and the next two phases (of the minimum wage increase) are going to go through,” said Cassandra Calway, a server who is also pursuing a master’s degree.
She said she has “seen an increase in my check and checks of people I work with. I’m hoping this wage increase is a start, a start to us looking at poverty realistically in the city.”
Former Councillor Nathan Small said there is “clear and convincing” data that show raising the minimum wage is beneficial.
The increase, he said, provides “benefits in the city and ripples into the county.
“People in the state see that progress and want to emulate that,” he said. “The data suggests that a more aggressive approach may have been just what we needed. The increase in the base wage for tip workers which was so hotly contested, that increase went forward and we’ve seen growth in those sectors.”
Small supported the minimum wage increase six years ago as a councilor, but voted for a tiered version of its implementation.
There were negative comments, as well.
Oscar Andrade, owner and operator of the Las Cruces Pic Quick gas stations, said he has seen no growth in business in Las Cruces, but there is growth in other Pic Quick locations, such as El Paso and Tucson.
“It’s a flood gate that’s about to open and you’re going to see a lot of native small businesses impacted here in New Mexico,” Andrade said. “I really think it’s a joke that you all are applauding yourselves for an increase in gross receipts. If you look at my business, I feel it (the minimum wage increase) was a huge mistake and you’re going to see the consequences of that.”
Debbi Moore, president and CEO of the Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce, said there was little data available for the two increases because of how closely they were implemented to each other.
She asked if the council had considered the additional impact on businesses dealing with the Affordable Care Act, competition, young people entering the workforce and other issues.
“I want to make sure that they’re (the city council) prepared for the second phase (of the minimum wage increase),” Moore said. “All of us working together will allow us to move Las Cruces forward,” she said.
Russell Allen, vice president of Allen Theaters and Chairman of the Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce board of directors, reminded the public that many community businesses worked with the council in order to approve the increase to $8.50.
That increase, he said, “would have been able to be absorbed. The discussion is the $9.20 and the $10.10” increases, he said. “I would really like to see some more apples- to-apples kinds of numbers.”
He said the increase in building permits was due in large part to local damage from hail storms, and the subsequent repairs of many roofs in Las Cruces. All those roof repairs require building permits.
“I know my business hasn’t increased. I haven’t added to the gross receipts tax. These are fuzzy numbers,” he said.
In trying to recruit businesses to Las Cruces, “we compete with El Paso,” said Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance (MVEDA) President and CEO Davin Lopez. El Paso, he said, has a lower minimum wage than Las Cruces. And, even though Las Cruces hasn’t seen an impact from the increase in the minimum wage to date, “the next two increases may impact our ability to compete with El Paso and to compete in the future,” he said.
“We’re looking at a bigger issue here,” Lopez said. “Over 30 percent of the working- age population in Doña Ana County are not in the workforce. They’re not working. There’s many, many jobs above minimum wage already. How do we get people out of the minimum wage positions and take these above-minimum wage positions that are already out there? I don’t think we have an answer to that. But I think that’s something we have to look at really hard to overcome the poverty issue.”
‘You get what you pay for’
Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima said Las Cruces has “much more to offer” than El Paso.
“You get what you pay for,” the mayor said. “You have a better quality workforce and schools (in Las Cruces). Once we can bring a company here, they’re going to choose Las Cruces over El Paso. It’s true. We’ve got a great community here.”
Rich Ferrary said more enforcement of the minimum wage increase is needed.
“The original draft of the ordinance that went to the city clerk had a significantly more robust enforcement procedure that were stripped out based on the city attorney’s opinion that you couldn’t enforce it,” Ferrary said. “If you don’t have enforcement you don’t really have access to the wage.”
Assistant City Attorney Thomas Limon responded by saying the city has “limited capacity” to fine businesses that don’t comply with the minimum wage ordinance.
“When it comes to actual enforcement actions, I think the notion that it’s a large problem is probably over-estimated,” said Limon. “We haven’t heard of any enforcement actions pursuant to our ordinance. The risk of leaving some people out in the cold is pretty diminished.”
The ordinance specifies that any employee who brings a successful action against his or her employer for failure to pay the minimum wage as required “can recover any lost wages and any attorney’s fees,” said City Attorney William R. “Rusty” Babington.
‘I’m proud that this city stuck to its word and the next two phases (of the minimum wage increase) are going to go through’
A server who is also pursuing a master’s degree