Some New Mexico lawmakers have attended Statehouse sessions virtually, from home, rather than in person – but are still pocketing per diems meant to cover travel expenses, according to a report.
“I think it’s important for the taxpayer to know that, frankly,” Jim Dines, a former state lawmaker, told KRQE-TV in Albuquerque.
Republican State Senator Craig Brandt has said any lawmaker who does not attend a Statehouse session should refuse that day’s travel money.
“It is constitutionally required to pay per diems to lawmakers,” Brandt told the station. “It is not necessary that the legislator accepts it.
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“It’s a huge cost to taxpayers,” Brandt continued, “that [some lawmakers are] literally sitting at home and not being here and still getting paid to be here. “
IRS data suggests that New Mexico state lawmakers average about $ 10,000 in daily income for a 60-day legislative session, with the total cost to taxpayers reaching about $ 1.2 million, KRQE reported. .
The exact number of lawmakers who remained at home was not clear as no tracking system was in place for the temporary coronavirus-related setup, the report said.
But state Democratic Representative Angelica Rubio noted that New Mexico is the only one of the 50 states not to pay its lawmakers a salary – so per diems are the only compensation they receive for their legislative functions.
Rubio told KRQE that she has no reservations about keeping the money despite working from home in Las Cruces instead of traveling to the capital of Santa Fe.
“I have older parents who were at risk and didn’t want to be near the Roundhouse petri dish,” she said, using the colloquial name of Statehouse from New Mexico. .
Rubio sponsored a bill to initiate the salaries of lawmakers, the station noted, adding that his bill had passed in the House and in a Senate committee but was unlikely to reach the Senate floor before the end of the current session on Saturday.
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The use of taxpayer dollars by public officials in New Mexico already came under scrutiny in February, when the Santa Fe New Mexican released details of Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan’s discretionary spending. Grisham.
The governor spent around $ 13,500 over a six-month period in 2020 on expenses such as dry cleaning, groceries and alcohol, according to the report.
The same report noted that Grisham was holding in-person staff meetings at the governor’s mansion, although he advised residents of the state not to congregate mixed in the midst of the pandemic.
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