Modernization Myths Dispelled!

Tomorrow -->> HJR 8 Legislative Salaries Commission is headed to Senate Rules Committee


Opposition to raising legislative salaries — and even letting an independent commission consider the matter — is politically calculated to portray the proponents as self-serving, and to maintain a status quo, which limits legislative membership and productivity and maintains the power of lobbyists.

We know New Mexico deserves better. Please call members of Senate Rules Committee and urge them to vote yes on HJR 8 Legislative Salaries Commission.

Refutation of Opposition Arguments

Legislators are already rolling in cash.  They have a handsome per diem and a juicy retirement package.


Per diem is not salary – it is reimbursement for expenses incurred by legislators while they are doing their job—mostly lodging and meals. Without it, legislators would be paying to serve in the body. Per diem (pegged at the federal level for Santa Fe) is now $178-per day in this year’s session and will increase to $210 for interim committees.  Without it, legislators who do not live in the Santa Fe area would be paying for their Santa Fe hotel rooms (averaging above $200 per night) and meals out of pocket.

Important: Legislators do not get paid per diem every day of the year! Outside of the legislative session and committees they do not get reimbursed for any expenses. They pay for their trips to meetings with local government officials, constituents or advocates.

The average per diem is about $15,000. There is a mileage reimbursement. It averages $900 per year—mainly due to the large distances traveled to interim committee meetings.

In a survey this year by the UNM Bureau of Business and Economic Research, 77% of legislators said current per diem and mileage reimbursements do not cover their expenses for legislative duties.


Retirement benefits for legislators were designed to reward them later for serving the state without pay. Until 2022, the average benefit was about $11,000 per year. The formula for calculating them was changed in 2022 to enhance them by some of the same legislators (SB 159 in 2022 passed the Senate unanimously, and 61 to 5 in the House) who are now decrying retirement benefits as too generous, and a reason not to pay salaries.

Important details:

  • You must serve 10 years before you are eligible.
  • Legislators do pay into the plan while they serve—it is not a free benefit.


  • Let’s allow the voters of NM to decide this question and not assume we know the answer. The last time this issue was on the general ballot was more than 30 years ago (1992)-over two generations ago.
  • An October 2022 survey of 812 likely voters taken by Research and Polling for Common Cause, showed that 64% of likely voters support paying legislators (37% strongly support + 27% somewhat support). Support for these measures cut across party and regional lines.
  • And 82% of the legislators who participated in the BBER survey responded Legislators should be paid a salary
  • We are the last state in the union to not pay our legislators.

Legislators knew what they were getting into when they ran for office and any request for support shows they are not true public servants.

Legislators do not work full time and are not doing a good job anyway.  They don’t deserve a “raise.”

The Bureau of Business and Economic Research study completed in January 2023 asked legislators, “How many days do you do legislative work annually without claiming per diem?” 90.6% said 30 days or more.

Many who represent large rural districts the size of some US states must put in long hours to travel to meetings with school personnel, local government officials, and constituents. In addition, without staff, they must familiarize themselves with complex issues like broadband, utility regulations, and water law.

Salaries will only benefit incumbents and career legislators.

When legislators receive salaries, there will be more incentive for people who are not able to subsidize their own service, to run for office. That will make elections more contested and not benefit incumbents.

The major factor favoring incumbents in elections is the way districts are drawn by the incumbents themselves to minimize opposition.

For that and other reasons (such as the lack of term limits), the New Mexico legislature already has one of the lowest rates of turnover in the nation. Between 2003 and 2019, NM’s average turnover rate was 8.62% — making NM the 13thlowest in the nation. NM has a system that favors long-time incumbents who often draw no opposition.

We need to study the issue more.

There has been broad agreement that legislators are not compensated adequately from the following task forces, conventions and studies over 50 years:

  • The NM Constitutional Convention, convened by voters in 1968
  • The NM Constitutional Revision Commission, established by law in 1993
  • The 2007 Legislative Structure and Process Study Task Force, established by the Legislature
  • A 2022 UNM Study on Legislative Professionalism, completed by UNM Professors Tim Krebs and Michael Rocca. The study of legislatures nationwide recommended salaries, staff and longer sessions for New Mexico to keep pace with other states.
  • A 2022 Bureau of Business and Economic Research Study and Survey of NM Legislators, commissioned by the Legislature found legislators to feel overworked, undercompensated and unsupported.

Paying legislators would be too costly.

The exact amount that legislators would be paid, and if they were to be paid would be determined by an independent commission. Even the highest cost estimates of $10 million per year represent far less than 1% of the state budget.

Legislators should not be voting themselves a salary.

Under HJR 8, they will not be. An independent commission will set salary levels. This is in accord with a Research and Polling survey of registered NM voters. The poll showed that while 64% support paying legislators, 72% opposed legislators setting their own salary level.

The time to modernize the NMLEG is now –>> tell Senate Rules Committee YES on HJR 8!