The New Mexico House of Representatives on Wednesday night passed a bill that would allow certain retired police officers to return to work while continuing to collect pension benefits.
The bill, which passed the Republican-controlled House on a 38-29 vote, now moves to the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Proponents of the bill, which is supported by Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry’s administration, say the measure would allow the Albuquerque Police Department and other law-enforcement agencies to fill staffing shortages as they struggle to find qualified recruits. Opponents called the bill a raid on the public pension system in order to solve an Albuquerque problem.
Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, and Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, sponsored the bill.
The bill applies to officers who were retired as of Dec. 31, 2015. It would require the officer and employer to contribute to the Public Employee Retirement Association fund while the officer is employed. It would allow officers to collect cost-of-living adjustments from their pensions. Such adjustments are suspended for all other PERA retirees who return to work, according to a fiscal impact report.
Unfunded liabilities of PERA’s Municipal Police Plan increased to $537.2 million from $491.4 million during the 2015 budget year, according to the report.
Rep. Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, said PERA is “not charged with addressing these labor and management issues” of Albuquerque. Other Democrats said that under the state Constitution PERA has authority to protect its fund.
Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, said, “PERA has said this has no impact on the PERA fund.”
“None. Why? Because they’re receiving $15 million a year for the return to work,” he said.
Fund officials, however, did not support the bill. The Albuquerque Police Officers Association also opposed the bill during a committee hearing. Larrañaga gave House members a handout that listed 39 municipalities that supported the bill. Santa Fe was not among them.
Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, House minority leader, introduced an amendment that was intended to provide funds to municipalities and counties to “recruit, train, hire and retain” local law enforcement officers. The proposal would have delayed for a year the phase-in of corporate tax reductions already enacted into law and appropriated $14 million to the local government division of the Department of Finance and Administration.
“Now the Legislature is being blamed for the problem that I think was mainly created by budgetary problems in Albuquerque,” Egolf said.
House Speaker Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said Egolf’s proposed amendment was not allowed under House rules. Don Tripp, R-Socorro, the House speaker, agreed. Members voted 34-31 to uphold Tripp’s ruling. Egolf’s amendment died.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez put the bill on her call, allowing lawmakers to consider it during the short 30-day budget session that began Jan. 19. Rep. Antonio ‘Moe’ Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said he wished the governor would have put the issue of police shortages on the call instead of just the specific bill.
Justin Horwath can be reached at 986-3017 or [email protected].