SANTA FE – The momentum appears to be building on proposals to raise the minimum wage in the New Mexico state government to $ 15 an hour for at least 1,200 public servants earning less than that, in a context of state budget surplus and national trends towards higher wages.
State Personnel Office Director Ricky Serna confirmed on November 5 that efforts were underway to raise low-level wages and increase the overall state government payroll for core employees of the executive agencies. His agency oversees the compensation guidelines of nearly 17,000 employees in executive agencies, with an annual payroll of $ 870 million.
In a legislative hearing in late October, Serna presented preliminary targets, including a minimum of $ 15 an hour and a 7% increase in annual payroll. These estimates relate to the salaries of executive agencies overseen by the governor and other elected officials such as the state attorney general, auditor and treasurer.
The statewide minimum wage of $ 10.50 for all sectors of the economy increases to $ 11.50 on January 1, 2022.
Salaries have jumped among many political appointments to senior levels of state government since Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham took office in 2019. At the same time, lawmakers have slashed annual salary increases for workers in the state. base in permanent positions in the state since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Legislature meets in January to develop a state spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2022, with state government revenues expected to exceed current spending obligations by $ 1.4 billion . The surplus is linked to a rapid recovery in oil and gas markets and strong tax revenues as consumers tap into federal pandemic aid.
Democratic State Representative Patricia Lundstrom of Gallup, chair of the legislature’s main budget drafting committee, said New Mexico struggles to recruit and retain public workers at the bottom of the ladder salary – wasting resources in the process.
“The cost of losing someone is far more expensive than paying them a living wage. This revenue is a killer, ”Lundstrom said Monday.
Lundstrom even described the $ 15 an hour wage as “ridiculously low,” and said she was eager to see the governor’s proposal.
Dan Secrist, union branch chairman of a range of state government employees under the Communications Workers of America, estimates that it would take nearly $ 6 million to provide a minimum hourly wage of 15 $ to executive agencies as well as to the legislature and the judiciary.
He said it would take nearly $ 25 million to meet that minimum wage on a larger scale, including public schools, colleges and universities.
New Mexico government salaries lost ground to competition from the private sector in the decade after the mortgage crisis and the Great Recession, from 2008 to 2017, according to the Office of the Budget and the responsibility of the Legislative Assembly.
In the first budget signed by Lujan Grisham in 2021, state employees got a 4% pay rise. Further salary increases were slashed in the pandemic’s first year, with a 1% salary increase for state employees with annual salaries of $ 50,000 or less in July 2020, followed by an increase salary of 1.5% this summer with a little extra money for front-line health workers.
Lundstrom said she also favors higher managerial salaries for key managerial positions in state government, such as secretaries of the public education department and the health ministry, amidst intense challenges of the pandemic. Public Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus earns $ 158,340 as the state searches for a secretary in the Department of Health.
Democratic state representative Candie Sweetser from Deming, who operates a local broadcasting company and owns grocery stores and real estate, warned against any aggressive moves to raise state government wages.
“The trend seems to be that we go for higher wages and better benefits, which makes it very difficult to hire in the private sector,” Sweetser said. “I just feel the need to say that we cannot overtake the people who contribute government funds through the tax base, we also have to make sure that the markets remain competitive.”