By Daniel J. Chacon Santa Fe New Mexican

Public service, at least at state government’s highest levels, soon could become a better-paying job.

New Mexico’s statewide elected officials would receive five-figure salary increases under one of several bills the influential Legislative Finance Committee endorsed Monday on the eve of the start of the 30-day legislative session.

Other bills the committee endorsed include a proposal to make New Mexico a center of hydrogen production, which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has called her administration’s “signature piece of legislation” during the session, and a measure that would reduce the gross receipts tax rate in the state by a quarter percent.

The committee also endorsed a bill to create a venture capital program in the New Mexico Finance Authority; legislation that would make a number of changes to the state’s procurement code; and a bill that would increase the minimum distribution in the Early Childhood Trust Fund from $30 million to $40 million.

The proposal to increase elected officials’ salaries does not include legislators, though Sen. Bobby Gonzales, D-Ranchos de Taos, mistakenly believed it did.

“This is something that’s just way overdue,” he said. “We’re the last state in the country that doesn’t have compensation for elected legislators.”

Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, corrected Gonzales but said she hoped to get a bill for compensation for legislators.

“This is … for those statewide positions,” she said.

Members of the Public Regulation Commission would get the biggest pay bump, from $90,000 to $140,000. The proposed salary increase comes after voters approved a constitutional amendment changing the panel from an elected five-member commission to an appointed three-member commission.

The initial proposal called for increasing commissioners’ salaries to $115,000. But Sen. Steve Neville, R-Farmington, successfully advocated for a bigger increase.

“We’re going to be recruiting people to [serve on the commission], and we’re wanting attorneys, we’re wanting [certified public accountants], we’re wanting electrical engineers, those kind of folks to be the applicants for those jobs,” he said. “Are we going to offer enough money to be able to get the kind of candidate we want for the PRC?”

Under the proposal, the governor would get the next highest salary increase, from $110,000 to $150,000 — or $40,000 more annually. The salaries of the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, auditor and treasurer would increase from $85,000 to $115,000 a year. The attorney general’s salary would jump from $95,000 to $125,000 annually, and the commissioner of public lands would also be paid $125,000, up from the current salary of $90,000.

“We have prepared an FIR [fiscal impact report] that includes the national ranks for the current salary rankings and then the proposed rankings,” said Connor Jorgensen, a committee analyst. “Generally speaking, we’re going to be sticking around the middle of the pack [nationally] in terms of pay if the provisions of this bill were to be implemented.”

Jorgensen said the proposal would cost $320,000 annually.

“The bill would cost about $160,000 in the first year,” he told lawmakers. “That’s half the cost because we have to wait until the actual election cycle is through [and] until the next general election to implement.”

Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview, said he had “a little problem” with the proposed salary increases.

“We’re not having any trouble having people run for these offices,” he said. “Usually, we talk about [how] we’re having trouble keeping state state employees because nobody wants to be there — they can get better jobs elsewhere. But we’ve got an abundance of candidates running for these jobs, so I’ve got a little heartburn over this.”