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Budget bill includes pay for ex-staffers’ leave

SANTA FE – Top staffers from former Gov. Susana Martinez’s office may be gone, but they’re not forgotten under a budget bill moving forward in the Legislature.

A supplemental appropriation in the bill would provide $100,000 for accumulated leave payouts for former Governor’s Office employees, along with other worker benefit payments.

Specifically, 16 former employees had accumulated 2,156 hours of annual leave at the time of their resignations at the end of December, according to a spokeswoman for Martinez’s successor, first-term Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Although the Governor’s Office did not provide a breakdown by ex-employee, the total price tag for cashing out that leave is roughly $95,922 – or nearly $6,000 per employee.

“The Governor’s Office has an obligation to pay out accumulated annual leave, and our office is committed to doing so, which is why it was included in the executive budget recommendation,” Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Sackett said.

Under state personnel rules, employees are able to cash out up to 240 hours of annual leave at their hourly pay rate when they leave state government. Any additional accumulated hours are forfeited.

Unlike most state government workers, nearly all staffers in the Governor’s Office are politically appointed exempt employees who can be hired or fired without cause.

That includes the governor’s chief of staff, general counsel, top policy experts and communications team.

Such employees are typically asked to resign when a new governor takes office, so the incoming governor can assemble her own staff.

Overall Governor’s Office spending decreased during Martinez’s eight years in office – from 2011 through last year – but there were also high rates of turnover in some positions, including four different communications directors.

However, her chief of staff, Keith Gardner, stayed on the job for all eight years that Martinez was governor.

Meanwhile, staffers in the office of Martinez’s predecessor, Democrat Bill Richardson, also received accumulated annual leave payouts after Richardson left office at the end of 2010.

Several Richardson appointees also filed court cases after being denied unemployment benefits after being let go by the new governor, but those claims were ultimately rejected.

The $100,000 supplemental appropriation is part of a $7 billion budget bill that passed the House 46-23 last week. The budget plan is now pending in the Senate, which will likely amend the bill before voting on it.

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