Wednesday, January 22, 2003
Panel OKs More Money For Richardson's Office
By David Miles
Journal Capitol Bureau
SANTA FE A bill to fund the 60-day legislative session and pay nearly $800,000 for additional staffing in the Governor's Office cleared its first legislative hurdle on Tuesday.
The House Appropriations and Finance Committee endorsed the so-called feed bill just hours after legislators convened their 2003 session. The legislation now goes to the House for consideration.
Reps. Donald Bratton, R-Hobbs, and Rory Ogle, R-Albuquerque, cast the only votes against the bill.
The committee amended the bill to add $297,000 to provide pay raises to legislative staffers. That amount is in addition to $6.9 million for salaries, mileage and other expenses related to the 60-day session.
Newly elected Gov. Bill Richardson took the unusual step of asking legislators to include in the feed bill $793,500 to pay for additional staff members and related costs for the rest of this fiscal year, which ends June 30.
The Democratic governor has recommended expanding the number of full-time staffers in his office from 27 to 37, with an annual spending increase of $1.4 million, or 68 percent.
James Jimenez, secretary-designate of the state Department of Finance and Administration, said the requested funding contained in the feed bill included money for two staffers for a proposed office in Washington, D.C. The bill also includes money for advisers specializing in several areas, including education, health policy, natural resources and crime, Jimenez said.
Jimenez said former Democratic Gov. Jerry Apodaca, who was in office from 1975 to 1978, also asked the Legislature to include in the feed bill money for the Governor's Office.
Rep. Ray Begaye, D-Shiprock, expressed concerns about how to pay the ongoing salaries of the new staff members.
"You're adding more funds into a permanent staff, and you haven't identified where that money is," Begaye said.
Earlier Tuesday, Richardson told legislators that he merely was calling for the same staffing levels as those of former Democratic Gov. Bruce King, whose third and most-recent term as governor spanned from 1991 to 1994.
Richardson said he needed a professional staff to oversee state agencies and carry out administration initiatives.
"I need a sufficient group of experts and staff that will focus on these challenges, and there is much to do," Richardson said during his State of the State address, delivered to a joint session of the House and Senate.