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Cabinet secretary receives pay boost

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

James Kenney, New Mexico environment secretary

SANTA FE – Environment Secretary James Kenney received an 8% raise this spring, pushing his pay higher than other Cabinet secretaries under Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, according to state records.

The increase is temporary and may last up to a year – intended to reflect his increased duties during the pandemic, Lujan Grisham press secretary Nora Meyers Sackett said.

Kenney’s agency has coordinated the state’s rapid response program for COVID-19 cases in the workplace.

In a written statement, Sackett said the Environment Department “has been tasked with ensuring the health and safety of workers and customers statewide, including carrying out tens of thousands of rapid responses, running the state’s wastewater surveillance testing program, and coordinating with businesses to ensure safe practices and establish mobile testing programs, all of which Secretary Kenney coordinated and executed.”

The temporary boost changes Kenney’s annual salary to $168,480, up from $156,000 – the standard rate that almost every other Cabinet secretary receives.

For example, Health Secretary Tracie Collins and Human Services Secretary David Scrase – both heavily involved in the pandemic response – make $156,000 a year and haven’t had their salary changed over the last year. Collins joined the administration in December.

Kenney’s raise is reflected in New Mexico’s employee data for March, though it’s unclear precisely when it started. His hourly rate went from $75 in February to $81 in March.

The raise far outpaces what’s been available to most state employees.

This year’s state budget had enough funding to give teachers a 1% raise last summer. State employees generally didn’t get a raise at all, unless they made less than $50,000 a year or fit certain criteria.

Pay raises for the next budget year – starting July 1 – range from 6% for correctional officers to 1.5% for employees of school, higher education and state agencies.

Lujan Grisham faced criticism earlier this year when it was disclosed that eight of her top staffers had received salary increases averaging about 10%. A spokeswoman said the raises had been planned earlier and reflected increased responsibilities, promotions and other changes.

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