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State Auditor Launches Investigation into PERA Raises

The New Mexico State Auditor's office has launched an investigation into the massive, and possibly improper, pay raises given to Public Employees Retirement Association employees over the past five years.

State Auditor Brian Colón told ABQReport on Thursday that his office was proceeding with the investigation that had started out as a fact-finding effort under previous auditor Wayne Johnson.

“There is an ongoing investigation by the office of the State Auditor,” Colón said.

In 2018 alone, PERA employees got $630,000 in salary increases. Those pay hikes, which in some cases amounted to 30 and 50 percent, come directly out of PERA investment funds, not the state's general fund. And those increases come at a time when PERA's funds are facing a $6 billion long-term shortfall, and when the PERA staff and board are considering a solvency plan that would cut cost-of-living-adjustment increases for three years to PERA's 40,000 retirees.

On Tuesday, PERA's 12-member board voted unanimously to launch an investigation/audit into the raises. They're particularly concerned about a 2 percent pay hike that PERA Executive Director Wayne Probst gave to himself last year. The hike was approved by the state Legislature and was intended for rank-and-file state workers. But Probst is an exempt employee who serves at the pleasure of PERA's board, and only the board can increase his salary. Probst gave himself the 2 percent raise apparently without taking it to the board for approval.

Some of the raises over the last five years are indeed eye-popping. Employee Kristin Varela went from making $20.90 an hour as a financial analyst in fiscal year 2015, to making $61.88 an hour as the agency's deputy director in FY18. That's a 196 percent increase.

It will be interesting to see how PERA board members react to questions from Colón's staff. During an executive session meeting on Tuesday, several board members were angry that details of the raises, which are public record,dd were published by the ABQReport. Some board members accused their colleagues of leaking the public information to this publication.

The previous stories I've writen about the PERA raises are posted below.

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