By MORGAN LEE
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Members of New Mexico’s Legislature are the only state lawmakers in the country who aren’t paid a salary for their service, but voters might change that as a referendum on giving legislators a steady paycheck gains traction.
A Democratic-sponsored initiative to provide New Mexico legislators with regular salaries earned its first committee endorsement Friday, over the objections of Republicans in the legislative minority.
The proposed constitutional amendment would scrap a ban on legislative salaries and create an independent commission to set and adjust future pay for the state’s 112 legislators. Similar proposals have stalled in recent years.
Salary figures aren’t specified and would be determined later by a nine-member “citizens commission on legislative salaries.” Salaries would take effect as soon as July 2026.
Currently, New Mexico legislators do receive mileage reimbursements for travel and a daily stipend toward expenses like room and board during legislative sessions. Those who serve at least 10 years qualify for partial retirement benefits at a subsidized rate through a public employee pension fund.
Advocates for legislative salaries in New Mexico say they are looking for ways instill greater professionalism and make elected office more accessible to people of limited economic means.
“I know there’s a lot of pride in being a ‘citizen legislature,’” said Democratic state Rep. Angelica Rubio of Las Cruces, co-sponsor the initiative. “I believe that we’re leaving a lot of people out of being able to represent their communities.
“It’s a privilege to serve in the Legislature — but it’s that much more of a ‘privilege’ when it comes to finances and when a person can’t afford to do this,” she said.
Republican state Rep. Martin Zamora of Clovis voted against the initiative in committee, expressing unease with a referendum on unspecified salaries.
“We’re going to ask the public to vote on this resolution but they’re not really going to be given the facts,” said Zamora, a farmer. “What if we did give ourselves an outrageous amount of pay for doing this job, and the citizens would say, ‘Hey, that’s not what I voted on.’”
Already this year, state lawmakers in Alaska received a 67% salary increase and New Jersey’s governor signed off on legislative salary increases amid concerns about rising costs and efforts to attract younger people or those with families to run and serve as legislators.
In New Mexico, a three-fifths vote of approval in both the House and Senate would send the proposed constitutional amendment to a statewide vote in November.
A separate referendum proposal would lengthen the Legislature’s short 30-day legislative session in even years to 60 days.