A proposal to give the governor and other statewide elected officials hefty raises while state employees are poised to receive average 7 percent pay increases under New Mexico’s proposed budget touched off a spirited debate Sunday at the Capitol.
The Senate Finance Committee advanced Senate Bill 202 on a 7-4 party-line vote with Republicans expressing concerns about the optics and the need to boost the pay of elective offices that typically have no shortage of candidates.
Sen. Crystal Diamond, R-Elephant Butte, said she’d be open to supporting the proposed pay increases if “contingencies” were part of the deal.
“So, we’re trying to bring the governor’s salary from 44th up to 19th” in national rankings, she said. “Can we make that contingent upon her bringing New Mexico’s CYFD (Children, Youth and Families Department) child welfare from 50th to 19th? Or for education from 50th to 19th? I mean, I’ve got to say that our return on this governor and arguably the last governor hasn’t been too great.”
Sen. William Burt, R-Alamogordo, said he, too, wanted to see performance measures as a condition of the salary increases.
“It’s hard for me to justify increases” as high as 55 percent, he said.
Members of the Public Regulation Commission would get the biggest pay bump, from $90,000 to $140,000. The proposed salary increase comes after voters approved a constitutional amendment changing the panel from an elected five-member commission to an appointed three-member commission.
Under the proposal, the governor would get the next highest salary increase, from $110,000 to $150,000 — or $40,000 more annually. The salaries of the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, auditor and treasurer would increase from $85,000 to $115,000 a year. The attorney general’s salary would jump from $95,000 to $125,000 annually, and the commissioner of public lands would also be paid $125,000, up from the current salary of $90,000.
Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, who is sponsoring the legislation, said the salaries of statewide elected officials haven’t been adjusted in decades.
“The last time this was done was about 20 years ago,” he said.
Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill, D-Silver City, said the proposed pay hikes could increase the diversity of candidates seeking statewide office.
“Being able to serve in public office when you have a different level of livelihood, this is going to provide a better pathway for people who may come from less advantaged backgrounds,” she said.
If approved, the salary increases wouldn’t go into effect right away.
“The New Mexico Constitution prohibits changes to the salary of a public official mid-term, so all changes would occur at the beginning of new terms,” according to a fiscal impact report.
Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, said the governor and other statewide elected officials devote an incredible amount of time as public servants.
“If we were to tabulate that, it would still be below zero what we’re giving them because this has truly been public service,” she said. “There’s no reason why we can’t increase these salaries to an amount that is at least reasonable. I don’t think it’s exorbitant. I think it just brings them up to a level where it’s not embarrassing. This has been very bad here in New Mexico and the way we have these salaries so low.”
Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, noted the proposed increases are considerably higher than those for state workers.
“What message does that send to all of those people that we just said, ‘You’re only worth 7 [percent], you peons,'” he said. “And it wasn’t me who called them peons. It looks to me like this 30, 40, 50 percent increase verses seven.”
Campos said a similar proposal has been met with opposition in the past.
“The inflationary rate, about 2 percent per year, so you figure that for about the last 20 years, that’s a good 40 percent,” he said. “We’re trying to bring out some equity … but we continue to fall further and further behind when it comes to the compensation for our elected officials.”
Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.