Push to pay legislators may be gaining momentum
I authored a commentary in September arguing that we need to pay our state legislators; newspaper articles published this weekend may indicate that such an idea is gaining momentum.
Steven Robert Allen, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, and State Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, were quoted as saying they support paying lawmakers in an article published by the Las Cruces Sun-News.
In addition, the Albuquerque Journal published an editorial saying voters should “be given the opportunity to decide if they want a professional, paid Legislature.”
In my September commentary, I argued that our unpaid legislators “can’t keep up with the governor or the pace of life in the 21st Century no matter how hard they work.” From my column:
“If we paid lawmakers a part-time salary, say $25,000 a year, we’d dramatically increase the potential pool of candidates. And, because they would be making some money, lawmakers would have a greater responsibility and ability to focus on the job.
“It would also take away any excuses based on a sense of entitlement. I can’t tell you how frustrated I got every time I heard then-Sen. Shannon Robinson argue against ethics reform during the 2007 session. He essentially said that, because lawmakers weren’t paid, it was unfair to take away things such as meals paid for by lobbyists.
“It’s reasonable to suspect, then, that if you pay legislators, and take away that argument against ethics reform, you could create a legislative branch with a stronger commitment to ethical behavior, in addition to one that’s committed to working harder.”
‘We romanticize the citizen Legislature’
In the Sun-News article, which dealt with the potential conflicts created when lawmakers become lobbyists, Allen said one way to minimize conflicts would be to pay legislators a salary. Allen said that’s something New Mexico “should” do, saying it “would allow more people to run for the Legislature.”
The Sun-News quoted Maestas as saying some lawmakers have discussed the possibility of trying to make their positions salaried.
“I support a paid Legislature – maybe $40,000 or $50,000 a year per member – and zero gifts of any kind,” the newspaper quoted Maestas as saying. “We romanticize the citizen Legislature in New Mexico, but the truth of it is that not many people can afford to run for a job that does not pay.”
Maestas suggested such a proposal would have to come from a senior member of the Legislature, such as Henry “Kiki” Saavedra, D-Albuquerque and the chair of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.
‘A fair question to debate’
Paying lawmakers would require a change to the N.M. Constitution, so lawmakers would first have to agree to put the question to voters, and then voters would have to approve it.
Even the Journal said that’s an idea worth considering. Its editorial, on the topic of public employees who serve in the Legislature while getting paid for their taxpayer-funded job, stated that voters should decide whether to pay lawmakers.
“That’s a fair question to debate,” the editorial states. “If they don’t, and want to continue a volunteer citizen Legislature, the people who choose to serve in it should really fit that description.”
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