Under the Dome

Part-time legislature makes legislative assistants full-time employees

Earlier this year, the Senate made all of its legislative assistants permanent rather than temporary employees, meaning that when the legislature is not in session they remain full-time employees and on a full-time schedule.

Is that a sign that legislative leaders are loosening the purse-strings within the walls of their own world, three years after Republicans took control of the General Assembly?

Not really, according to budget and employee figures from the Legislative Service Office. Employee figures going back more than a decade show the General Assembly has fewer total employees today than in 2001.

The budget to run the General Assembly has not substantially changed since 2007-08, just prior to the Great Recession, although Democrats cut the budget in 2010-11, the final year in which they enjoyed legislative majorities, and Republicans followed with two years of cuts in their first two years in power.

This year’s General Assembly budget calls for spending $52,087,986, a sum that covers all operations for running the legislative branch, including paying salary and expenses for legislators, permanent staff and partisan staff. The figure represents less than a 1 percent increase from the previous year. That increase followed four straight years in which the General Assembly budget had fallen after reaching a high of $54,859,786 in the 2008-09 fiscal year.

The Republican-controlled legislature had reduced that amount to $51,674,630 by the 2012-13 fiscal year. Total legislative employees were also dropping during the same period that the budget was falling. In 2008-09, the total number of legislative employees stood at 639, with 327 classified as permanent and 312 temporary. By 2012-13, the number had dropped to 597 total employees, 310 permanent and 287 temporary. The numbers rose slightly in current fiscal year, to 608 workers, and the shift of permanent status to all Senate legislative assistants put the number of permanent employees at 341.

Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, said legislative leaders tried to be careful with their budgeting for legislative staff and operations, knowing it would be watched.

“We definitely didn’t want to exceed what we had before,” Apodaca said. “We’re trying to hold the line.”

But he said attracting qualified employees to the partisan jobs in the legislature was not easy when Republicans first took over, and that pay for some jobs was increased as a result. The applicant pool for those partisan jobs has grown, on the Senate side, as the GOP has become a more established entity there, Apodaca said.

Although overall employees have dropped or held steady in recent years, the trend toward more permanent employees at the General Assembly goes back to at least 2001.

Today, there are 80 more permanent employees than in 2001. While the budget has dropped slightly since 2008-09, it rose steadily from 2002-03 until that year. In 2002-03, the budget for General Assembly operations stood at $36,899,614. It had risen by almost $18 million six years later. The increases during those years averaged 6.7 percent.