March 7, 2019

Senate approves pay raises for elected state officials

New Mexico’s governor and other statewide elected officials would get 15 percent raises starting in 2023, under a bill approved Thursday by the state Senate.

The proposal, Senate Bill 547, next goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.

The state’s five public regulation commissioners, who are elected from districts, also would receive 15 percent increases.

Salaries for the governor and other statewide elected officials were last increased in 2002.

Sens. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, and Steve Neville, R-Farmington, are sponsoring the bill for the pay increases. They said salary scales for top elected officials are too low.

Neville conceded that any number of candidates probably would still run for governor if the job paid nothing. But, he said, these executive salaries should be more in line with job responsibilities.

Smith said chiefs of staff for the governor and other officeholders typically are higher than what the elected officials are paid.

Most senators accepted their reasoning, voting 37-3 to approve the bill. Republican Sens. Cliff Pirtle of Roswell, Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho and Mark Moores of Albuquerque cast the dissenting votes.

Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, voted for the bill, though he was uncomfortable with it for a different reason.

Sanchez said the proposed salary increase for the governor is too low.

The bill would raise the governor’s salary from $110,000 a year to $126,500.

Sen. Bill Burt, R-Alamogordo, took a position similar to Sanchez’s.

“Without offending anyone, I think you get what you pay for,” Burt said.

The Legislature last year approved 10 percent raises for these elected officials, but then-Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the bill.

Under the new proposal, the total cost of the pay raises would be about $206,000 a year.

In addition to the governor, these officeholders would get raises:

  • Attorney general, from $95,000 to $109,250.
  • Commissioner of public lands, from $90,000 to $103,500.
  • Public regulation commissioners, also from $90,000 to $103,500. The five commissioners serve staggered terms. Raises for two of them would take effect in 2021. The other three would receive the higher salary starting in 2023.
  • Secretary of state, state auditor and state treasurer, from $85,000 to $97,750.

Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, asked the bill sponsors how much of a salary increase the state’s longest-serving legislator, 94-year-old Sen. John Pinto, would receive.

None, they replied.

New Mexico legislators are not paid a base salary, but they receive a daily expense allowance while in session or on official business. They also can qualify for a pension after serving at least five years.

Pinto, D-Gallup, has been in the Senate for 42 years.

A proposed constitutional amendment that cleared the House of Representatives this week could open the way to pay legislators a base salary. That measure will be heard next by the Senate.

If both chambers of the Legislature approve that proposal, it would go before voters next year.