SANTA FE (KRQE) – Tim Eichenberg knows the state’s money numbers all too well.
“We’re down over $550 million — year-to-date, from last year to this year — in cash.”
Like directors at other state agencies, he’s seen his own budget, slashed, too. But Eichenberg has still managed to give sizable pay hikes to nearly a dozen employees in his first year on the job. In some cases, the raises boosted salaries by 20 percent. The treasurer increased his chief financial officer’s salary by 46 percent in just ten months.
But while staffers whose take-home pay has risen over the last year are happy, two-thirds of the office’s employees are doing the same work for the same pay. And some jobs that were vacant when Eichenberg walked in the door are still unfilled.
In an interview with KRQE News 13, Eichenberg said he plans to stick with his strategy of rewarding employees with raises for extra work, extra training or extra value to taxpayers.
“We’ve done 11 in my first 15 months. I hope to do 11 more in my next 15 months,” the treasurer said. “My staff has stepped up in so many different areas over the last year when we were so shorthanded, (so) we’re still looking at raises. The people that I have are good people and I don’t want them leaving.”
The treasurer said he walked into an office that had a quarter of its jobs vacant on January 1, 2015, including several senior positions such as the chief investment officer, state cash manager and chief financial officer. While Eichenberg said he’s worked to fill those empty desks, he has been focused on keeping key employees. As of this week, ten of the 40 positions in the treasurer’s office are still vacant.
In the case of the CFO, Leo Marquez II started work on January 3, 2015 at a salary that would pay him $72,000 a year. Over the next ten months, a series of four raises boosted his pay 46 percent, to $105,000 yearly.
Deborah Bransford, an administrator who served as Eichenberg’s campaign director and now as his right-hand woman in the office, started her job the same day as Marquez at an annual salary of $68,000. In June, 2015, the treasurer bumped her salary to $72,000 a year. Last January, she earned an even larger boost to $82,000.
Both employees occupy their positions by political appointment instead of through a competitive application process. Eichenberg compared Marquez and Bransford “to Mastercard: They’re invaluable.”
Marquez came to the treasurer’s office from a job in Rio Arriba County. Eichenberg said that while he proposed — and Marquez agreed to — a starting salary of $72,000, he quickly realized that Marquez would be earning about $10,000 a year less than other division heads. Thus, Eichenberg said, the first raise to $82,000 annually.
As Marquez completed various training classes, the treasurer said, he earned pay raises to $86,625 and just shy of $91,000 in June and July. Finally, after his deputy treasurer left, Eichenberg said, he gave Marquez some duties that had previously been handled by his second in command. The final raise for Marquez came October 10, 2015, to $105,000.
When Eichenberg hired a new deputy treasurer, the starting salary was lower, roughly by the same amount as Marquez’s final raise.
Bransford has handled legislative issues for Eichenberg, a former state senator. She has also developed a financial literacy program that the treasurer hopes to bring to New Mexico high schools. As Bransford has taken on more responsibility, the treasurer said, she has earned more pay.
The treasurer also pointed to raises he’s given to five classified employees — those who have to compete for their job. One employee received a 15 percent bump after taking on additional duties, two others had their pay raised by 20 percent and another had a 22 percent raise in the last year. The fifth employee’s raise couldn’t be immediately verified.
“And that is how we do salaries in the treasurer’s office, is the value that they provide not only to the treasurer’s office, but to the State of New Mexico,” Eichenberg said.
Eichenberg said he’s on track to come in under budget for the second straight year. And he said he’s worked within the framework set out by the state. “Our budget is approved, just like everybody else’s budget, by the legislature. And then approved by the governor, because the governor … has veto power.”
While agency heads like the treasurer, state auditor or attorney general can propose raises for specific employees regardless of whether the legislature has approved broader pay hikes for all state workers, they must get approval from the State Personnel Office.
Elected by voters in 2014 to handle the state’s bank accounts, Eichenberg and his staff manage the money that comes in to the state through taxes and fees. The office makes sure the money is secure, liquid and, ideally, that it earns a little interest along the way.