By Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Attorney General Raúl Torrez and other statewide elected officials each would get a raise of nearly $60,000 this year under a proposal the Senate Finance Committee endorsed Monday.
Senate Bill 442 passed on an 8-3 vote.
Sen. William Burt, R-Alamogordo, joined the seven Democrats on the committee in voting in support of the bill, which heads next to the full Senate for consideration.
The Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee had previously advanced SB 442 but with the proposed salaries taking effect in four years, or after the next election cycle.
The Senate Finance Committee, however, approved an amendment to SB 442 that would make the proposed raises go into effect this year instead of in 2027 if the governor signs the legislation into law.
A fiscal impact report states the New Mexico Constitution prohibits salary increases for public officials from taking effect during their terms. But Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, who is co-sponsoring the bill with Sen. George Muñoz, a Gallup Democrat who chairs the Finance Committee, has said she believes the analysis is “wrong,” citing what she called a “lengthy” 1971 court opinion.
“We have people doing these jobs now and being paid far, far less than they would even get, certainly, on the private market, but also in comparison to our surrounding states,” Duhigg said during Monday’s committee hearing.
Three Republicans — Crystal Diamond of Elephant Butte, Bill Sharer of Farmington and Pat Woods of Broadview — voted in opposition.
“Those are huge numbers; I never got an increase like that,” Sharer said. “I’m concerned by these, what appear to be, colossal pay raises.”
Duhigg noted the salaries of statewide elected officials in New Mexico haven’t changed in 21 years, and Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, said the time has come for them to receive pay raises.
“I think right now our statewide officials are colossally underpaid,” he said.
Whether Lujan Grisham would sign the bill into law if it passes both chambers remains to be seen.
“As with all legislation, we will evaluate the final proposal if and when it passes,” Maddy Hayden, a spokeswoman for the governor, wrote in an email.
The chairman of the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee, Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said last month making the proposed salary increases effective immediately is “just wooing a veto” from the governor.
Ortiz y Pino also said an immediate pay increase would prove problematic for incumbents. He compared it to “handing a hand grenade” to them if they plan to seek office again, noting it would be the first thing their challengers would bring up on the campaign trail.
Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said she would “welcome” a salary increase.
“We have lives and families to support just like everybody else,” she said.
“This isn’t so much about making money — none of us went into government to get rich or to make money,” she added. “I just need to be able to pay my bills and deal with inflation, the cost of living that’s really high right now. I’m a single mom, so for me, it’s much needed and very welcome and appreciated.”
Toulouse Oliver noted elected officials haven’t received a cost of living increase over the years unlike other state employees.
“I’ve been doing this work for 16 years now,” said Toulouse Oliver, a former Bernalillo County clerk. “I’ve received a single salary increase in that time, and that was when I moved from county clerk to secretary of state, and now my successor in the County Clerk’s Office makes more than I do now.”
Toulouse Oliver said she knew what the job paid when she ran for office but that it shouldn’t preclude her from getting a pay increase.
“I think anybody who applies for a job knows that they’re taking a job at a certain salary,” she said. “But if you’ve been doing a good and effective job and you have a record of delivering for the taxpayers and the citizens of the state, just like anybody in any job, the right to ask for a salary increase, especially in these really difficult times financially for the nation, I think that’s a fair request.”
Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.