SANTA FE — The state Senate endorsed massive pay increases for New Mexico’s governor and six other statewide elected officials Saturday — a move that would add at least $50,000 a year to their salaries.
It would be the first change to their pay in more than 20 years, if signed into law.
Sen. Katy Duhigg, an Albuquerque Democrat who sponsored the measure, said even bigger raises would be necessary to match inflation since 2001.
But she urged her colleagues to support the proposed changes as a step toward “appropriately compensating” officials who have difficult jobs.
For the governor, the pay increase would go into effect after the next election. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, in other words, wouldn’t get the raise, but her successor would, in 2027.
The legislation calls for the other elected officials — such as the secretary of state and attorney general — to get the raises in late June, but there could be a court challenge. Senators offered conflicting opinions on whether any elected official’s pay can be changed in the middle of an elected term.
But they agreed it would be inappropriate for Lujan Grisham to get the raise, given that she would have to sign or veto a bill on her own compensation — action that could run afoul of an ethics law and create legal liability.
The proposal, Senate Bill 442, won approval 32-9, picking up some bipartisan support.
All the dissenting votes came from Republicans, who questioned the legality and the size of the proposed raises.
“Serving the public isn’t supposed to serve your bank account,” Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, said.
Supporters of the measure, by contrast, said New Mexico severely underpays its top elected officials and may draw better candidates with higher pay.
Some lawmakers said lawyers in private practice can make several times the salary now offered to the state attorney general, which pays $95,000 a year. Only three states pay their attorney general less.
Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, said the last three governors of New Mexico — Lujan Grisham, Susana Martinez and Bill Richardson — all came to the job after having served in other elected offices.
“We’re never attracting anybody out of the private sector to these positions,” Cervantes said.
The state government could benefit, he said, from having more elected officials who have succeeded outside of politics.
The legislation now heads to the House in the final week of the session. If approved there, it would go to the governor’s desk.
The governor now makes $110,000 a year, an amount that ranks 43rd out of 50 states.
The governor’s salary would jump to $169,714 under the legislation, a 54% increase.
The legislation also sets compensation at:
■ $154,714 a year for the attorney general, up from $95,000 now.
■ $149,714 a year for the state land commissioner, up from $90,000 now.
■ $144,714 a year for the secretary of state, auditor, treasurer and lieutenant governor, up from $85,000 now.
■ $500 a day when another official serves as acting governor, up from $250 a day.
Lawmakers clashed during debate over when the raises should take affect. Eventually, they agreed to postpone the raise for the governor while leaving the others set to go into effect this summer.
The state Constitution prohibits changing the pay of public officers during their term, but with some exceptions. Legislators offered conflicting legal opinions and court decisions on whether a salary can be changed in the middle of an elected term.
If the bill is signed into law and isn’t challenged, it would cost the state about $545,000 in the next full fiscal year.
Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, is in her second term and cannot run for reelection in 2026.