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NM pension fund director leaving for legislative budget job

New Mexico Public Employees Retirement Association Executive Director Wayne Propst, shown testifying before a legislative committee in February 2020, is stepping down from his job to take a new position with the Senate Finance Committee. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — The head of New Mexico’s retirement system for state workers, law enforcement officers and other public employees is stepping down to take a legislative budget position.

Wayne Propst, who has been the executive director of the Public Employees Retirement Association since 2012, said Friday he had accepted a job as staff director for newly-appointed Senate Finance Committee Chairman George Muñoz, D-Gallup.

The former director of the New Mexico Retiree Health Care Authority, Propst faced challenges during his tenure at PERA, chiefly solvency concerns that prompted sweeping legislative changes to the retirement system in both 2013 and 2020.

Some retirees fiercely opposed the changes, which included a reduction in the annual cost-of-living payments that retirees receive, but Propst said Friday they were necessary to get the $16.5 billion pension fund on more stable financial footing.

Propst also faced allegations of improperly securing pay raises for himself and other PERA officials, but was later cleared of any wrongdoing by two state agencies — Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office and state Auditor Brian Colón office.

“I will miss my colleagues at PERA deeply but feel this is the right time for me to seek out new mountains to climb,” Propst said in a Friday statement.

He said his last day at the pension fund would likely be Feb. 12, though that date could be moved up.

The PERA board is scheduled to meet next week to begin discussing picking a successor.

The board’s chairman John Melia, a firefighter and paramedic with the Albuquerque Fire Department, said generations of current and future public employees would ultimately have Propst to thank for his “courage to face facts” and push for solvency fixes.

Muñoz was appointed this week as Senate Finance Committee chairman and sponsored both the 2013 and 2020 solvency bills. He said in a Friday statement he was grateful for Propst’s willingness to accept the new job.

“He has the respect of both Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature and I am glad to have his help during these challenging but hopeful times for New Mexico,” Muñoz said.

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