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          Front Page  news  state

Gov. Generous With Your Money

By Thomas J. Cole
Of the Journal
      Perhaps no governor has rewarded so many supporters with so much.
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Five years ago, just eight of Gov. Bill Richardson's political appointees made more than $100,000 a year. Today, more than 100 earn at least that much.
    Also up under Richardson: the number of gubernatorial political appointees, formally known as exempt employees.
    In his first 15 months in office, the number of appointees scattered throughout government grew from 167 to 307. Today, there are 468 gubernatorial appointees in exempt positions.
    That growth in the patronage, or spoils, system of state government is one of the legacies of Richardson as he prepares to vacate the Governor's Mansion for a slot in Barack Obama's Cabinet.
    Richardson's top-paid appointee is State Investment Officer Gary Bland, the man in charge of the state's multibillion-dollar permanent, or trust, funds.
    Bland's annual salary was $307,199 as of September, up 37 percent from $225,000 in December 2003.
    Those at the lower end of government's food chain haven't fared as well under Richardson.
    The average salary of a state classified — or nonpolitical — employee was $38,820 in July 2007, up 19 percent from Richardson's first year in office.
    The list of political appointees making more than $100,000 a year is dominated by agency heads and other top government managers, but it also includes Richardson's chief scheduler ($133,120) and the assistant to first lady Barbara Richardson ($107,519). The scheduler earns more than Richardson ($110,000) and at least 12 Cabinet secretaries.
    The figures in this column are based on data on exempt employees provided by the Department of Finance and Administration.
    Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos ($117,743) says the governor works his employees hard and expects much from them.
    "Despite high expectations for his staff, the governor has successfully kept employee turnover at the highest levels of state government to a minimum by paying competitive salaries, while maintaining a balanced and fiscally responsible budget," Gallegos says.
    The budgets signed by Richardson since he took office have increased government spending an average of more than 7 percent a year. The governor and lawmakers are now trying to deal with a projected $454 million shortfall in the current budget.
    Several departments have experienced significant growth in their number of political appointees during Richardson's tenure.
    One of those is the Department of Tourism, which in December 2003 had eight exempt employees earning an average of $67,653. There were 14 appointees earning an average of $77,707 as of September of this year.
    Tourism had one deputy Cabinet secretary five years ago; today it has two and one assistant secretary.
    The Department of Cultural Affairs had 12 exempt employees earning an average of $61,813 in December 2003. Those numbers were 28 and $74,740 as of September.
    The department's additions include a second deputy Cabinet secretary, a general counsel, a protocol officer, a public information officer, two projects administrators, a special projects coordinator and the heads of the Film Museum and Music Commission.
    Five of the political appointees at the Department of Cultural Affairs are in unauthorized exempt positions, meaning the jobs haven't been recognized as top management or policy jobs by the state personnel system.
    One appointee at Cultural Affairs has been in an unauthorized exempt job for more than five years.
    The Department of Public Education had 18 political appointees in September, up from four in December 2003, and the Department of Regulation and Licensing had 15, up from 10.
    At both departments, exempt jobs have been created for public information officers, part of the small army of PR folks Richardson has deployed throughout government.
    As of September, the governor had 24 people working in exempt communications and public information jobs, earning an average of $73,250 a year.
    I'm sure all those well-paid PR people could come up with a good shine on how a more politicized government work force is best for New Mexico.
    You can reach Thom Cole in Santa Fe at 505-992-6280 or at tcole@abqjournal.com