Debate heightens over state lawmakers’ pension and salary

New Mexico lawmakers debate pension and salary

New Mexico lawmakers get a pension but not a salary – now debate is ongoing over if they should get a bigger pension and a salary.

SANTA FE, N.M. — While state lawmakers are mostly focused on bills affecting you, they’re looking at a few proposals regarding benefits for themselves.

Lawmakers can already opt into a retirement package after serving at least 10 years in the New Mexico Legislature. A formula, considering the number of years served and the current per diem rate for lawmakers, calculates their yearly payments.

According to a legislative report, the average retired lawmaker is currently receiving around $11,700 a year.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers wants to tweak that formula. They essentially want to give retirees an extra $1,000 for each year they serve.

“This is about the only thing we have. You know, we are volunteers, completely volunteers,” said state Sen. Roberto J. Gonzales, D-Taos. “This is something at the very end. This is something that we take with us other than being a paid legislature, which we’re not.”

Sen. Gonzales added this bill was just a technical fix from a proposal last year. That is likely why the Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved the proposal Thursday afternoon.

While there’s bipartisan support for increased retirement, we’ve seen some debates on whether to give state lawmakers a salary.

New Mexico is currently the only U.S. state that doesn’t pay its legislators a salary. Like we mentioned, they do receive a per diem and a small retirement package, as well as travel reimbursements.

It’s worth noting some states only pay their lawmakers a few hundred dollars a year.

Regardless, some state House Democrats want to assemble a group of everyday New Mexico citizens to decide if state lawmakers should get a salary and, if so, how much.

Supporters argue it would open the door for a more diverse group of lawmakers.

“People can’t serve because they can’t afford to do it. We have a system of government where anyone who can get elected should be able to serve, and I have personally talked to people, typically young people, who are interested in running. But, they decide not to because it’s just not feasible,” said state Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-District 50, Santa Fe County.

Republican state lawmakers criticized the attempt, suggesting increased competition could raise campaign costs. They also noted voters have rejected the idea before.

The bill cleared its first committees along party lines. Now, it sits on the state House floor, where it may be losing momentum.

The legislative session ends February 16 at noon.