Charles Sallee promoted to new director of NM Legislative Finance Committee 

Sallee commits to make state budget process transparent, support tribal nations receiving state dollars and expand juvenile justice reforms 

By: - August 17, 2023 2:13 pm

Charles Sallee interviews for a promotion to lead the Legislative Finance Committee on Aug. 17, 2023 at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

A panel of New Mexico lawmakers on Thursday morning voted unanimously to hire Charles Sallee to lead the agency that independently analyzes bills and advises lawmakers and state officials on the state government’s budget.

Sallee had been the Legislative Finance Committee’s deputy director since 2010, after five years as a program evaluator in the Roundhouse.

He was a policy analyst in the Texas legislature and before that, a social worker in Las Cruces.

After a public job interview and further discussion behind closed doors, the legislative committee did not set a salary for Sallee after approving his hire.

Lawmakers also did not mention any of the names of the three other finalists or the dozen other applicants interviewed for the job.

Committee chair Sen. George Muñoz (D-Gallup) said Sallee was the only person who scored high enough on the panel’s rubric to qualify for a public interview.

The process of finding a replacement for former Legislative Finance Committee director David Abbey started in April, Muñoz said.

Muñoz said the questions during the public interview were vetted by attorneys and management experts, and he did not allow any of the lawmakers on the committee to stray from the pre-approved inquiries.

Eight times during the public interview, Sallee talked about how his advice to lawmakers will have the goal of getting results, especially in the areas where the state spends the most, like education and health care.

“If we’re really disciplined as a state for implementing things that research suggests work — or at least being purposeful about developing things that might be New Mexico-specific — and evaluating to make sure that they’re working, to have new ideas come into the system,” Sallee said.

Spending transparency

Three lawmakers, two Democrats and one Republican, asked Sallee specifically about how he would make the state’s budget process more transparent.

Sallee said he wants to demystify the state budget by making it easier for the public to see where money is going.

“We do that internally with a lot of different tracking spreadsheets that we make available in our closed session review; I’m interested in figuring out how to make that information more interactive for the public to be able to use,” Sallee said.

But many New Mexicans have no reliable internet connection, Sallee said, so it will also take joining community organizations to get on the ground and hear about their needs and wants.

Sallee said LFC staff will help support lawmakers in any changes they want to make in order to hold more public hearings as they write the budget during sessions.

Legislative Finance Committee chair Sen. George Muñoz (D-Gallup) said Charles Sallee was the only job candidate who scored high enough on the panel’s hiring rubric to qualify for a public interview. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source NM)

Earmarked incomes

Sen. Pete Campos (D-Las Vegas) asked Sallee for his perspective on restricting certain sources of income for the state government for particular purposes, called “earmarking.”

Whenever oil and gas revenues going into the state’s coffers go down, Sallee said he will recommend lawmakers consider cutting earmarks, before raising any taxes.

“I see over the horizon that a conversation probably needs to be had about whether we need to move towards de-earmarking, in order to provide revenue diversity coming into the General Fund,” Sallee said.

Sallee said he is not suggesting any state programs relying on those revenues need to be cut, but rather they often can’t even use all of the money they are getting.

It would be difficult to cut any earmarks tied to federal requirements, like the ones going into the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, Sallee said.

Money for Native nations

Rep. Derrick Lente (D-Sandia Pueblo) said many tribes have found the process for receiving state money to be in conflict with their planning, available cash flow and capacity building, resulting in large amounts of unspent money.

He said the process is usually one-off, short-term and reimbursable. He how Sallee will ensure that state funding for Native nations will be more stable, sustainable and predictable.

Sallee said the backlog of money is caused by archaic administrative processes.

“There are areas of our state that have significant needs, that we need to figure out how to get over this hurdle, and help accomplish what those communities need and deserve,” Sallee said.

Juvenile justice

Between 2000 and 2001, Sallee was also briefly the executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates in Las Cruces.

He said recent juvenile justice reforms by the state’s executive branch are an example of how when lawmakers invest in evidence-based community services, they can help divert young people “who are starting to get in trouble with following the rules in society from needing to be incarcerated.”

“I think that the work that I’ve done has helped achieve those types of outcomes, and I believe that the work going forward, if I’m selected, would be my main focus,” Sallee said. “I’m very results oriented, and how I advise you in my current role, and I would continue to strengthen that.”


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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.