Big Raises for Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Inner Circle Dwarf Increases to Boots on the Ground Employees

Governor Gives Another Round of Huge Pay Raises – as High as $24,000 a year – to Close Staff.

Between August of 2021 and April of 2022, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham again quietly gave out raises equal to more than half the wages thousands of agency and school employees make in an entire year.

This isn’t the first time the Governor has quietly passed out big raises to her favored staff as thousands of workers on the ground and serving the public, struggle to make ends meet.

About two years ago the governor rescinded a 4% raise promised to all state and school employees because of uncertainty of the impact COVID 19 was about to have on the economy.

From a year ago in The Candle: “New Mexico Governor Quietly Gave Large Raises to Her Staff While Cutting Teacher and State Employee Raise”

At that time Lujan Grisham told state employees they needed to suck it up and get through the hard times without the modest increase – but she never mentioned she had already given pay raises ranging from $7,000 to $18,000 a year to favored employees in her Roundhouse office.

This time, the governor treated eight of her senior staff to raises of 10% to 32%, including big bumps prior to the 3% increase that all state employees received earlier this month.

Courtney Kerster, who works for the governor lobbying Washington officials, received a $24,750 raise while the governor’s deputy press secretary received a $20,000 raise.

There is a chart below reflecting some of the raises the governor doled out.

She also promoted, at least temporarily, her deputy chief of staff, Diego Arencon, to the position of “acting” Secretary of Homeland Security.

Arencon, who was a recipient of the large raises in 2020, saw his annual salary rise an additional $26,058/year (from $137,025 in January of this year to $163,083 as of earlier this month – see political note below the chart).

In contrast, State and school employees are receiving a raise of 3% for the remainder of the fiscal year – which ends June 30, 2022.

And they will receive an “average” of another 4% beginning in the new fiscal year.

Each of the recently rewarded governor’s employees will likely share in the 4% raise provided to all other employees after July 1, 2022.

The raises state and school employees are receiving come after a decade of insufficient or no pay raises.

To put things in perspective, the average New Mexico state employee wage according to Zip Recruiter is about $53,600 – they will likely see much of their increase offset by inflation, although the rebate the state is providing this election year will help.

There are more than ten thousand state employees making less than that average, including about 1,200 making less than $15/hour.

In July, the state budget will have sufficient money set aside to prevent any state of school employee from making less than $15/hour.

However, $15/hour is arguably still a poverty wage … amounting to $31,200/year.

There will still be thousands of public employees whose families will barley be getting by.

Arencon, Kerster and Sackett got raises from the governor in amounts close to what the state pays thousands of agency and school employees for most of a year’s worth of work.

In a letter the governor emailed to people last Sunday, she complained about not being able to raise enough money for her campaign and suggested her supporters need to help her out even more – so she can continue to “support working families.”

She wrote: “I know New Mexicans are struggling with rising prices. That’s why I called a special legislative session to deliver relief for working families … Because of our work during this legislative session, more than 1 million households will receive up to $1,500 in rebates starting this spring to help them make ends meet.”

While the $1,500 in rebates will be helpful, the relief falls far short of the help needed for thousands of New Mexicans who clean the offices, monitor pollution, care for the elderly, drive school buses, feed kids in schools, sweep streets, and more.

But for the people working in the Governor’s office – it looks like they need not worry about the price of gas … or worry about the cost of much else, for that matter.

Name Position Old SalaryNew SalaryPercent IncreaseIncrease
Courtney L. Kerster   Senior Advisor$104,000$128,75024%$24,750
Mariana D. PadillaCabinet Director$114,400$128,75013%$14,350
Daniel D. SchlegelDir. Strategic Plan Init.$93,600$108,15016%$14,550
Maria S. DudleyAssoc Gen Counsel$80,000$97,85022%$17,850
Kyle P. DuffyAssoc Gen Counsel$80,000$97,85022%$17,850
Madeleine HaydenDep. Dir. Comm. Media$87,000$95,27510%$8,275
Matt RuybalDir. Constituent Services$78,000$92,70019%$14,700
Nora M. SackettDeputy Press Secretary$62,400$82,40032%$20,000

On a political note, Arencon replaced Bianca Ortiz Wertheim as Homeland Secretary.

Ortiz Wertheim took a cut in cabinet level pay from what is now $163,083/year, to take another appointment from the Governor at the Department of Finance Administration (DFA), where she holds the title of “Special Director” of infrastructure and related implementation in the Local Government Division of DFA, making $139,050/year.

The local government division is home to at least 48 positions where the state seems to have parked a lot of money for GOVEX positions – a/k/a Governor Exempt Employees positions – or political positions.

Ortiz Wertheim is also the wife of the Governor’s campaign treasurer, John Wertheim.