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Teacher’s union president lashes out at governor’s pension proposal

Caleb James
January 17, 2017 06:33 AM

The president of New Mexico's largest teachers' union has harsh words for Gov. Susana Martinez's budget and a specific proposal she says will balance the state's finances on the backs of teachers. 

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Ellen Bernstein, president of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, said a proposal requiring state employees to contribute more of their paychecks toward retirement will force teachers to leave the state. 

The proposal is a headline in Martinez's fiscal year 2017 budget and would require teachers and other state workers to contribute more to pensions, while the state contributes less. 

"By investing more of their money into their own retirement, they will get that money back," Martinez said. 

Bernstein lashed out at the idea on Monday, saying already poorly paid teachers will be forced to take home even smaller paychecks.

"So once again, we're balancing the state budget on the back of people who are working for the state," she said. "It's not right we're tired of it." 

Bernstein said the proposal calls back to a post-recession Band-Aid the legislature passed and Martinez signed in 2011 to keep the state's budget above water. Back then, only educators were required to pay more and unions like Bernstein's worked to reverse the decision.

"We worked a long time to trade back the way it's supposed to be before the recession," Bernstein said. "Now she wants to do it again."

In an interview with KOB anchor Tessa Mentus airing on Tuesday, Martinez defended the proposal.  

"To put a little more of your own money in a fund that will be coming back to them is not getting rid of them in their positions," Martinez said. 

Bernstein said the governor's explanation was a simplification of what will happen to teachers and their families. 

"It doesn't invest more for us, it means we're the ones investing more on our side, and the state is investing less on their side," she said. "It doesn't mean we'll end up with more money in our retirement in the long run. That's just a made-up story." 

In a press release announcing her budget proposal on Jan. 10, Martinez called on "... state government to tighten its own belt, not our hardworking families." 

KOB asked her about that line.

"Yes, they are families just like other New Mexico families, but I think investing in their own retirement, a retirement they're going to receive back whether they retire at 25 years or they just stop working for state government, they're going to get back every penny they put into it," Martinez said. 

Bernstein on Monday called the move a distraction. 

"It's just a diversion from the fact that the governor is not doing her job, she's not making the state a place where we can balance the budget," she said. 

The full interview with KOB's Tessa Mentus and Gov. Susana Martinez airs Tuesday in two parts, at 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. 

Credits

Caleb James

Copyright 2017 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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