The close of the 2024 legislative session was rather unremarkable, but for rumblings of calling a special session to address public safety. A mere 72 bills of the more than six hundred filed made it to the governor's desk to be signed into law.

The lackluster session juxtaposed against a state awash in revenues yet at the bottom of every national index is again giving rise to talk of "professionalizing" the Legislature. Our legislators are unpaid but for per diem when the Legislature is in session and for interim meeting attendance. For those who must travel long distances and pay for lodging, the per diem rate is barely a break-even proposition.

The problem with this "citizens' legislature" model is two-fold: first, it limits the pool of those who can serve in the legislature to the independently wealthy, the flexibly employed, or the retired. Second, the minimal staff and drop-in nature of the legislators themselves limits the Legislature's efficiency and effectiveness which dilutes its power in favor of the executive branch.

Opponents to ending the citizen legislature model point to New York, which has a full-time legislature and pays legislators $142,000 a year. We don't need anything close to that. New Mexico does not need a full-time Legislature. New Mexico does need an appropriately compensated, part-time Legislature with sufficient full-time staff to allow it to run efficiently.

Legislators should be compensated for their time and given consideration for their time away from their regular professions and earnings. Legislative salaries in New Mexico should not approach full-time compensation. Looking at our neighboring states, Texas is on the low end with a $7,200 salary, Colorado on the high end with $44,000, and Arizona falls in the middle with $24,000. Arizona is probably getting it right. Arizona also doesn't pay legislators who live in the same county as the capital as much per diem as those who don't, which is something New Mexico might consider.

$24,000 is not going to inspire candidates to run for office for the money, but does provide fair compensation for the sessions, interim meetings, and constituent work.

To operate effectively with alternating 30- and 60-day sessions, the Legislature needs sufficient infrastructure to hit the ground running on Day One of each session. In 2024, there still isn't the IT support to get the video streaming of hearings working quite right yet for just one example. A well-running Legislature takes people, period.

All of this of course will cost money year over year. Now is the time, when revenues are still high, to establish a permanent investment fund to cover the costs of a professional Legislature. This is a proven and effective way to fund long-term commitments with a one-time budget obligation.

Of course, it would help if legislators would be more prudent in the bills they file. The short 30-day sessions are to be primarily budget sessions. Any legislation considered during a non-budget session must be at the call of the governor or ruled germane by having a budgetary element to it. It is completely unrealistic for 600+ bills to be heard in 30 days. Caucus leadership should ask their members to be more disciplined and develop coordinated agendas with realistic and appropriate volume.

Even extending the 30-day session to a full 60 days isn't a bad idea, either.

Reforming and modernizing New Mexico's Legislature doesn't require a year-round obligation or six-figure salaries. Some basic staffing and appropriate compensation, however, could go a long way to providing the representation New Mexico's citizens deserve. After all, you get what you pay for.

Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and former Navy officer. She appeared regularly as a panelist on NM PBS and is a frequent guest on News Radio KKOB. A Republican, she lives amicably with her Democratic husband north of I-40 where they run one head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached at

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