Saturday, January 22, 2011
How About This Paycheck, Gov. Martinez?
By Thomas J. Cole
Journal Staff Writer
Gov. Susana Martinez has continued to pound the populist drum since taking office New Year's Day.
Reduce the number of political appointees. Check.
Cut the salaries of Cabinet secretaries. Check.
Fire two chefs at the Governor's Mansion. Check.
Sell the state jet. Check, double-check and triple-check.
So, I was a little surprised when Martinez missed a beat when the issue of her $110,000-a-year salary came up at a news conference Jan. 6 at the Capitol.
Here was the exchange:
Reporter: "Are you possibly thinking about reducing that pay, as well?"
Martinez: "It's statutory. And so, the Legislature would have to change that. ... Certainly, if they see it appropriate, I would take on that cut, as well."
I couldn't tell whether the governor was caught off guard by the question or simply isn't keen on the idea. But it was a missed opportunity by Martinez to play again to the common folk.
Several governors, from New York to South Dakota to Oregon, have taken pay cuts in recent years because of economic troubles facing their states.
Martinez was correct; her salary is set by state law, as is the pay for other top elected state officials.
But, heck, not a dime of state money can be spent without a law authorizing it, and laws are changed and passed all the time. The Legislature began a 60-day session Tuesday.
Also, even without a law change, Martinez is free to kick back part of her salary to the state treasury.
In announcing furloughs for government workers in November 2009, then-Gov. Bill Richardson said he would donate five days of his pay to the state's general fund.
Whether Richardson ever followed through on his pledge is unclear. The Department of Finance and Administration and the state Treasurer's Office say they have no record of any such payment by Richardson.
As for Martinez, maybe her pay shouldn't be reduced. Despite the big jump up the government food chain, she's earning only about $1,000 more a year than she did as state district attorney in Doña Ana County.
The average salary for all governors was about $124,000 in 2007, according to the Council for State Governments.
It's also fair to note that Martinez's salary is lower than the pay of some of her Cabinet secretaries, which she has capped at $125,000 annually.
At least six members of Richardson's Cabinet and two of his top aides were making more than $125,000 a year when he left office. At one time, more than 100 of Richardson's political appointees, including the governor's chief scheduler, made more than $100,000.
In her State of the State address on Tuesday, Martinez reminded us (again) that some New Mexico families are hurting.
"We face a tough road ahead, one which demands shared sacrifice," the governor said.
Well, at least she is ditching the jet and the chefs.
Rest of story
In her State of the State address, Martinez didn't tell the whole story when it comes to the government program that reimburses filmmakers up to 25 percent of what they spend in the state on allowable expenses.
The governor, saying she wants to reduce the reimbursement to 15 percent, said some film producers have taken advantage of the program.
"One film company spent $100,000 chartering an actor's private jet, and New Mexico taxpayers paid $25,000 of it," she said.
Martinez was correct. In 2006, makers of the movie "The Flock" received a $25,000 credit against a state loan for spending $100,000 to charter a jet for actor Richard Gere. The jet was owned by Gere.
A travel agent disclosed the credit to the Journal; the administration said it had no choice but to grant it under state law.
What Martinez didn't say is that the law governing the film program was later changed to prevent such an abuse from occurring again.
Under the change, a filmmaker can no longer be reimbursed for any expenditure for aircraft charters involving out-of-state travel.
It's impossible to know whether the provision is being enforced; citing privacy rules, the state Taxation and Revenue Department refuses to release the expense claims filed by filmmakers.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at email@example.com or (505) 992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.