Apples-to-Apples, New Mexico’s Government Employees Already Make More: Gov. Martinez Should Consider Vetoing Wage Hike

(Albuquerque) Prior to the 2014 legislative session, the Legislative Finance Committee called for 1.5 percent pay hikes for all New Mexico government employees. Gov. Martinez proposed more modest pay increases. Rather than seeing pay increases for all state employees, Martinez planned to boost pay for about one-third of public workers. New teachers would have received higher pay.

In a “compromise” plan the likes of which are only found in government, the Legislature-passed- budget includes 3 percent cost-of-living salary increases for state agency workers and teachers.

Judges, district attorneys, state police and motor-transportation officers would receive 8 percent raises while prison guards, juvenile-justice officers, social workers handling child abuse cases and educational assistants in schools would get 6 percent pay increases.

In other words, the Legislature took its own proposed pay hikes and doubled them…or more.

Ironically, these proposed pay hikes come at a time of conflicting evidence over whether New Mexico’s government workers are overpaid or underpaid.

According to a recent report from New Mexico’s Personnel Office, “New Mexico’s average pay for 115 of 151 (government) job classifications trailed the average pay of the nearby states. Some workers’ average pay trailed the average pay in neighboring states by more than 20 percent including plumbers, biologists, engine mechanics, and chemists.”

The Rio Grande Foundation, on the other hand, analyzed data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics and Department of Labor to determine the earnings and compensation differences among employees of similar characteristics, skill sets, and occupations within the public and private sectors.

Using a mathematical tool called regression analysis to isolate relevant factors relating to employee pay including education levels, time of services, and more, the Foundation produced a careful analysis of data on both total compensation and benefits. The study finds that with benefits included, public workers in New Mexico make over 8 percent more in total compensation than a similar worker in the private sector.

Said Rio Grande Foundation president Paul Gessing of the differing approaches to government employee pay, “Gov. Martinez would be entirely justified in vetoing these pay hikes which went far beyond her original budget proposal and which unnecessarily increase the compensation disparity between government and private sector workers in New Mexico.”

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9 Replies to “Apples-to-Apples, New Mexico’s Government Employees Already Make More: Gov. Martinez Should Consider Vetoing Wage Hike”

  1. Also remember that here in NM we are TEEMING in the number of public sector employees. I believe that the RGF has previously reported on a number of occasions that the average public sector employment ratio in the U.S. is 17 per 100, but in N.M. we have 25 per 100 (50% more). So whether the average N.M. state employee is paid more, less or the same as the average private sector worker, the net result is that the state pays way more because of the enormous # of state employees. Also, what is the intangible worth of having a job where it is almost impossible to be fired ,and you can retire after 25 years with no age limit at 80% of your highest average 3 years of pay?

  2. Is there any evidence that the state is losing employees who are leaving for higher-paying jobs in other states — or in the private sector? Are vacant jobs not being filled because qualified candidates cannot be found for the salaries suffered?

    1. I don’t believe so. At least I’ve never seen any data indicating that government workers are leaving to head into the supposedly more lucrative private sector. They might leave for government jobs in other states, but I don’t think I’d want New Mexico government workers if I were in Texas.

  3. Rio Grande Foundation’s request to the Governor to veto the budget because there are raises in it, borders between insanity and hatred. Budgets are hard to craft and to force a special session based on ideology is childish (Gary Johnsonish—we’ve been through that and it doesn’t work—just leads to the egotistical claim you can run for President). The idea that you can create a budget that holds state employees six years without a raise, and without increasing compensation for the annual rises in the costs of insurances and benefits, and still retain competent and motivated employees is ridiculous. I am amazed that any dedicated people remain and that the wheels of government haven’t ground to a halt. It shows on the complete incompetence of the management style and intellect of the Governor. Recognizing that she never managed anything but less than 60 employees in a District Attorneys office, and the thing she is most proud of is walking around bingo parlors in El Paso as an eighteen year old girl with a loaded gun; I guess it is fair to say that she isn’t qualified to be a governor, and we should all give her a break on that. But what has she done recently? Is she worthy of being retained? I would say no.

    I am suspect of the Rio Grande Foundation’s reports and if the private sector is paying 8 percent less it much be poverty wages. I know that LANL pays $60-100,000 for what state government pays $35-45,000.

    1. Will,

      Thanks for your points. You have some interesting insights, but I wanted to clarify a few things. For starters, I’m not arguing that the Gov. should veto the entire budget, but she would be justified in line-item vetoing some of the raises, especially some of the most generous raises. Remember, the Gov. proposed modest raises for some, but not all gov’t workers, the LFC proposed across the board 1.5% raises. The compromise wound up at 3% across the board raises with some agencies and departments rising 6-8%.

      I don’t know all the details on how LANL or Sandia are classified in the data, but they are NOT true private-sector employers. Despite being managed by private contractors, they are essentially federal entities.

  4. Charles, the retirement has been changed to 30 years and 75%. True we have higher than average state employees but we are also carrying a 5-8,000 vacancy rate in that level which is about 20% of the workforce. Those that remain must pick up the slack without compensation that the private sector would be mandated to provide. The reason for such high rates and Paul Geesing fails to report on this, is that state employees do the functions of local governments in other states (counties, parishes, and municipalities).

  5. So the State Personnel Office (SPO) does a “Compensation Survey” in conjunction with the other 50 states’ Human Resources branches. They also subscribe to HR resources/groups which survey fed, cities and towns (Hay Classification Systems was one when I worked for state). Not too much comparison to private unless it is a specific “class study” like “carpenters” which the state has at museums, state hospitals and prisons. Studies peg what people (jobs) should be at and recommend to the budgeting agency the legislature with notice to unions. So the governor picking and choosing teachers, nurses and CYFD workers this session is actually disrupting SPO studies and is picking winners and losers because Governor likes CYFD no merit in whether they deserve it as compared to any other class.

    I recognize that 2007-2010 was a national period of austerity and no one should get raises. Then afterwards it is sometimes hard to make up lost ground. But there should be a plan to do it and not just years and years of vetoes. True, there is a phenomena of Santa Fe being a “company town” and people landing here and making a career of it, so they are not moving on when there is a six year drought in raises like in “normal free markets.” It is a sort of captive audience that is waiting out the (formerly) generous retirement that is retroactive to them.

    But man, these are people, not pigs in a commodities market. They deserve some decency—one raise in six years. A veto will only hurt morale more and maybe seek to inspire them and their families and friends to vote against the GOP. I think Susanna made a ‘grand bargain’ not to veto the budget —sure she can line item veto; but I think her approval of the Public Safety Director and Environment Department guy were a part of that bargain.

  6. It’s great to see you getting some response here. It is important that the ideas the RGF promotes are finding their way into the conversation on issues in the state.

    1. Thanks Kevin. “Inequality” is one of those dog whistle words for the left. Since so many are socialists at heart it really gets to the heart of the differences between free market conservatives and the left. They’d rather everyone be equally poor than unequal and relatively wealthy.

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