Wage Stage

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By Marisa Demarco

— Discussion of the minimum wage is happening at every level of government these days: Albuquerque and Santa Fe raised it, and politicians at the BernCo Commission and Legislature are also looking to give it a boost. Whether the state will pass a law remains yet to be seen, so varying wages are in place around New Mexico.

A measure introduced by Commissioner Art De La Cruz would implement a $1 increase for Bernalillo County in two phases, bumping the wage 50 cents every six months until it hits $8.50. The bill also states if tipped workers aren’t reaching the hourly minimum of $8.50, the business has to make up the difference. De La Cruz’ ordinance does not include the base hike for tipped workers that passed in Albuquerque in November.

Members of El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos attended the Commission meeting on Tuesday, March 12, to speak in favor of a raise. Rachel LaZar, executive director of the immigrant rights organization, translated when necessary. Many said simply that an extra $40 a week would make a big difference for their families. “I think hard work deserves fair pay,” said one commenter.

Where They Stand

The Commission wasn’t deciding yet whether to pass the minimum wage bill but whether to introduce it. Regardless, the conversation was heated, and each commissioner raised a nuanced argument.

2012-Comm-Art-De-La-CruzART DE LA CRUZ started off the discussion of his measure by pointing out that the commission has done a lot to help businesses and bring in jobs through a reduction in impact fees and tax breaks. “There comes a time when we have to do a little bit of economic not from the top down but from the bottom up,” he said. The extra cash that’s earned will cycle immediately back into the economy, he added, and there are studies to back that up.

WJ2011WAYNE JOHNSON called the measure one of the most foolish things he’s ever seen come before the Commission. It’s crazy to have so many differing wage zones around the state, he said. The Commission should wait until the Legislature makes its move, because a statewide law might render some of the county’s points moot. He also addressed the ideas brought forward by people who had come forward to speak on behalf of an increase. “The idea in our society is not for you to remain an entry-level, low-wage worker. This is not supposed to be a life wage. It’s supposed to be a beginning-of-life wage.”

omalley_headshotDEBBIE O’MALLEY said she remembered the restaurant industry forecasted doom-and-gloom when a smoking ban was being considered by Albuquerque’s City Council. The ban was supposed to spell the end for local restaurants, she said. O’Malley guessed that similar dire predictions were issued back when child labor laws were introduced in the United States. She made it a point to say that the wage on the Commission’s table wasn’t a livable wage. “A livable wage would be higher, much higher.”

Talbert_headshotLONNIE TALBERT read an email from a business owner in his district who outlined the increased payroll costs with the wage hike. “That’s real money for a business that employs 150 people,” Talbert concluded. After the increase went into effect in Albuquerque, Octopus Car Wash raised its prices by $1 immediately, he said. The county can help people grow their career and increase their opportunities instead, he finished.

Stebbins2011MAGGIE HART STEBBINS said the patchwork wage situation has given folks in the county an unfair advantage. All of the businesses in her district are in the city, she said. “It’s important to have consistency between the city and county.”

The motion passed 3 to 2 along party lines, with Republicans Talbert and Johnson dissenting.

Your Tax Dollars Explained

Budget Director Shirley Ragin unveiled a tool that allows the public to see a breakdown of how property taxes are spent. At bernco.gov/mytaxdollars, people can input their property’s value and see exactly where that tax goes. Hart Stebbins said the transparency site might help thwart the misconception that the County itself sucks up all those dollars.

It’s worth noting that BernCo’s government website was given a Sunny Award for its government website for the second year in a row. The award is issued by Sunshine Review, a transparency organization.

Prep Your Property

Johnson read a proclamation asking residents to create defensible space around the perimeter of their properties as wildfire season approaches. Creating that space will help determine whether the fire department will work to save your home, Johnson said. “You think of it as being a moonscape, but that’s not what we’re talking about.”

Instead, residents should be looking to create a decent space with natural habitat that will allow firefighters and equipment onto the property in an emergency. “Thinning trees, trimming and removing dead branches and leaves, mowing grasses and weeds can help to lessen the threat of wildfire-related damage to homes,” according to the proclamation.

After clearing out your perimeter, you can drop off green waste for free at the East Mountain Transfer Station (711 Highway 333 in Tijeras) March 30 through April 14 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The next meeting is Tuesday, March 26, at 5 p.m. in the Vincent E. Griego Chambers in the basement of City Hall. Dig through the agenda the preceding Friday at bit.ly/BernCoAgenda.

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