Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – In her ambitious State of the State address last week, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham urged New Mexicans to “aim high.”
The Democratic governor, who was sworn into office on Jan. 1, is also shooting high when it comes to the budget for her office, as she has proposed a 38.3 percent funding increase – from about $3.3 million to roughly $4.5 million – over current levels.
The Governor’s Office says the increase is needed to pay for hiring more staffers, including additional policy advisers.
“The rationale is the governor has a bold, aggressive agenda and feels she needs additional staff in the office to lead the formulation and implementation of it,” Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said.
However, some Republican lawmakers have criticized the request, which comes after former Gov. Susana Martinez trimmed the Governor’s Office budget during her 8-year tenure.
House GOP Whip Rod Montoya of Farmington said workload levels don’t appear to require the governor’s requested budget hike for her office.
“This seems very self-serving,” Montoya told the Journal. “The lack of restraint on spending is showing no end.”
Overall, the budget for the Governor’s Office represents a small slice – 0.05 percent – of the state’s current $6.3 billion budget.
But Governor’s Office spending has come under scrutiny in recent years, including a governor’s spending on holiday parties and other social events from a contingency fund that, until this year, was not subject to state audit.
Although Lujan Grisham’s budget recommendation for her office would be a big jump over current levels, the requested amount would still be lower than the Governor’s Office budget from about a decade ago.
The state budget passed under former Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson in 2007, for instance, appropriated nearly $4.7 million for the Governor’s Office.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, suggested a funding increase for the Governor’s Office could be appropriate this year, given recent spending reductions.
“I think with cutbacks in mind you can justify some increases,” Smith said Friday.
But he stopped short of endorsing Lujan Grisham’s full budget request, saying the committee would have to look at historical funding levels more closely.
Already, Lujan Grisham has filled some key jobs in the Governor’s Office.
She said just before taking office on Dec. 31 that John Bingaman – son of former U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. – and former Santa Fe County administrator Teresa Casados had been hired to head up her office, operating as equals who report directly to her.
They will each be paid $130,000 a year, compared with the $110,000-per year salary the governor makes under state law.
Lujan Grisham, who served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives before running for governor, has also picked some staffers from her gubernatorial campaign to work in her office, as well as former employees from her congressional office.
Some of the positions did not exist under the Martinez administration, such as the director of the Children’s Cabinet. The job duties of that role revolve around coordinating youth-related initiatives among various state agencies.