SANTA FE (KRQE) — A proposal to tie the state's minimum wage to inflation hit a major snag at the Legislature Tuesday when a key Democrat broke with her party.
The surprise vote is a big setback for one of the Democratic proposals this session.
The minimum wage hike as a constitutional amendment would have skipped Gov. Susana Martinez's desk.
But after vote, it looks like all minimum-wage hikes passed this session will be at risk for her veto pen.
Albuquerque Democrat Miguel Garcia spent the morning fighting in committee for the amendment that would automatically raise the state minimum wage every year.
"Fair wages create a strong local business environment," he said.
Under Garcia's bill, New Mexico's minimum wage would go up along with inflation although no more than 4 percent a year.
If it were in place last year, New Mexico's minimum wage would've been gone from $7.50 to $7.70 an hour.
Republicans didn't like the idea.
"Minimum wage should not be a living wage that a family of four should be living on, period," said Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque. "I want to see people strive. I want to see people aspire to be more than minimum wage, make more than minimum wage."
But it was a Democrat, Las Cruces Rep. Mary Helen Garcia, who switched sides and voted down the idea saying this was the wrong way to change minimum wage.
"I don't think it belongs in the Constitution as a constitutional amendment." Garcia said. "I believe that if this had been in statute I would have voted differently."
Garcia's move caught fellow Dems off guard. Passing the bill would have sent the issue to the voters instead of the governor's office.
"The vote was a little surprising," said Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas, D-Albuquerque. "I would've liked to have seen it go to the voters"
"I'm a little discouraged in terms of the turnout of that vote, but the battle continues," Garcia added. "We're going to win the war in terms of providing good quality wages for our minimum wage workers in this state."
This is just one minimum-wage proposal Democrats are backing this session.
A Senate bill that would raise the wage from $7.50 to $8.50 was scheduled for a committee hearing Tuesday evening.
That bill would have to get the governor's go-ahead if the Legislature passes it.
In a previous statement, the governor told KRQE News 13 she'd consider anything that made it to her desk.
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New Mexico is located in the southwestern region of the U.S. Inhabited by Native American populations for many centuries, New Mexico has also been part of Imperial Spain, part of Mexico, and a U.S. territory.