SANTA FE — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has not yet acted on a bill that would boost the salary levels for all New Mexico statewide elected officials — except herself — for the first time in more than 20 years.
But the governor indicated this week she’s leaning toward signing the legislation, even after vetoing a similar bill in 2019, saying she would struggle to make ends meet in Santa Fe on her current $110,000 per year salary if her two children were still of school age.
“We have not kept pace, and I’ve long complained if you want to produce leadership and leaders you have to have a salary that can support their families,” Lujan Grisham told reporters after a bill signing event on Monday.
“If I was raising my kids still, even with all the benefits … it would be hard to feed my kids and get them fully clothed and ready to go on the salary that is available to me,” the governor added.
Under the bill approved during this year’s 60-day legislative session that ended March 18, the governor’s annual salary would jump from $110,000 to $169,714 — a 54% increase.
However, Lujan Grisham said the Legislature made the correct decision in deferring that salary hike until January 2027 — or just after her second term ends. That change was made in the Senate to ensure the governor would not violate state ethics laws by signing the bill.
Under the bill, Senate Bill 442, the pay levels for six other statewide elected officials would increase by an even larger percentage, with the salaries of the state auditor, state treasurer and secretary of state increasing from $85,000 annually to $144,714 per year.
Those increases would take effect in mid-June.
Lujan Grisham, who has until the end of next week to act on the bill, said the current salary structure for statewide elected officials largely limits the pool of potential candidates to wealthy or retired individuals.
“I haven’t totally decided, because I look at every bill uniquely and specifically,” Lujan Grisham said when asked whether she planned to sign the legislation. “But I really am inclined to adopt those set of policies.”
If the governor does sign the bill, it would represent a political shift since 2019.
That year, the Democratic governor vetoed a measure that would have increased by 15% the salary levels of the governor, secretary of state, attorney general and other statewide elected officials, whose terms in office stated in or after 2020.
At the time, Lujan Grisham said she was not comfortable signing off on a pay raise for current public officials who could run for reelection, though she said such raises might “eventually be appropriate” for such positions.
The veto came a year after her predecessor, Republican Susana Martinez, also vetoed a bill that would have provided a 10% pay raise for statewide officials — including her successor.
Roundhouse debate focused on legality of mid-term pay raises
During this year’s Roundhouse debate, bill supporters said New Mexico lags behind other states in salary levels for top state officials, with the last pay increase taking place in 2002. Since the pay rates for such officials are set by state law, they have also not been adjusted for inflation over the last two decades.
But the proposal ran into opposition from some Republican lawmakers, who questioned the legality of the bill.
“I think it’s unconstitutional,” said Senate Minority Whip Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, who argued the raises should be delayed until after the current terms of statewide elected officials. “And I can’t vote for something personally when I think it’s unconstitutional.”
Other Republicans backed the bill, however, after the change was made to ensure the current governor would not benefit from it.
“I think this is the right way to address the issues we’ve been talking about for a number of years,” said Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque.
In addition, Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, pointed out some university presidents currently make much more money than the governor.
For instance, University of New Mexico President Garnett Stokes is paid $662,000 in total annual compensation, after an increase was approved last year.
How does New Mexico compare to other states?
Currently, New Mexico pays its governor less than most other states.
Texas, for instance, pays its governor a salary of $153,750 annually, while Oklahoma and Utah also pay their governors more than New Mexico does, according to the Council of State Governments.
However, the neighboring states of Colorado and Arizona both pay their governors less than New Mexico’s governor, as Colorado Gov. Jared Polis makes $92,700 per year and Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs collects a $95,000-per year salary.
Many governors also receive other perks, including state-paid housing and taxpayer-funded travel for official state business.
Meanwhile, New Mexico state employees and teachers are in line for average 6% pay raises under a separate $9.6 billion budget bill that’s also awaiting final approval on the governor’s desk. Those raises would take effect in July.