House Minority Whip Donald Bratton is now defending the underlying bill – HB628 – that requires state workers and public school teachers to contribute more into their retirement plans.
By doing so the state would save tens of millions of dollars for the year that starts July 1, the bill’s supporters say.
The bill demands that those two public employee groups contribute 3.25 percent more into their retirement plans – 1.5 percent more of that total for two years and 1.75 percent of that total more for one year.
“A temporary shift (in ) in lieu of layoffs or furloughs” is reasonable, Bratton told the House chamber a few minutes ago. Bratton referred to the general lack of pension plans in the private sector and argued that an increased contribution rate is a fair proposal for public workers given the economic downturn.
But not everyone agreed. Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, asked Bratton why this wasn’t a tax increase on state workers and public school teachers.
Bratton responded to Chasey by saying that it was “forced savings.”
“This is a bitter pill,” Chasey said.
Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, then joined the debate, asking Bratton “if we are asking anyone in this state to take a pay cuts.”
She specifically mentioned the 20,000 people or more who make $1 million or more a year. During Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration New Mexico lowered the state income tax from 8.2 percent to 4.9 percent. Some advocates have pushed to increase the state’s income tax on New Mexico’s wealthiest residents, something that Gov. Susana Martinez has dismissed out of hand.
Bratton, who is from Hobbs, or the southeastern part of the state known as the Oil Patch, said he came from an area of the state where income is pretty healthy. But, he added, “People have taken extreme pay cuts or lost their jobs” during the economic downturn.
That didn’t deter Stewart from her point.
“It’s shameful that we are not looking in other areas for revenues,” Stewart said.