In a recent editorial by the Albuquerque Journal, the unique nature of New Mexico’s Legislature, which convenes annually in Santa Fe to conduct state business, was scrutinized for its lack of urgency and efficiency. The editorial highlighted that New Mexico hosts the only unsalaried Legislature in the United States, a fact that sets it apart from other states, many of which operate on a part-time basis but still compensate their legislators.
The editorial questioned the necessity of a full-time Legislature in an era where significant policymaking often occurs through executive agencies and boards, citing examples such as the Environmental Improvement Board’s electric vehicle sales mandates and the Construction Industries Division’s EV charging infrastructure requirements. “More and more, the real lawmaking takes place at the level of boards, commissions, and state agencies through rule-making,” the editorial stated, pointing out the diminishing role of the Legislature in direct lawmaking.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Legislature’s lack of involvement in the governor’s emergency public health orders was noted, with lawmakers largely acquiescing to the executive branch’s decisions. This led the editorial to question the value of compensating such an “acquiescent group of lawmakers” who seem to readily align with the governor’s agenda.
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers had absolutely no official input in the governor’s emergency public health orders. And they were largely OK with that. Yet they continue to whine about not getting a paycheck from taxpayers. Earning one would be a good start,” the editorial read.
The discussion around legislative salaries has been ongoing for nearly two decades in New Mexico, with House Joint Resolution 7 recently proposing a constitutional amendment to allow for legislative compensation. The resolution suggests creating a citizen commission to authorize payment of legislative salaries, which would require a referendum to amend the state Constitution that currently prohibits lawmaker compensation beyond per diem and mileage reimbursements.
Public opinion on legislative salaries, longer sessions, and increased staffing shows varying levels of support, but the editorial argued that the cost of even modest salaries for legislators could be significant for taxpayers. With legislative salaries in other states averaging around $19,000 for part-time lawmakers, the editorial suggested that New Mexico should consider similar modest compensation, if any, given its status as one of the smaller states in the nation.
The editorial concluded that while exploring legislative salaries is worthwhile, it should be approached with caution and clear limits to avoid excessive taxpayer expenditure. “Lawmaker salaries are still worth looking into, but with clear caps on how far we’re willing to go spending taxpayer money now and in the future,” the editorial stated, emphasizing the need for fiscal prudence in any decision regarding legislative compensation.