State insurance superintendent reverses his story about pay raises
New Mexico Insurance Superintendent John Franchini offered a new account Wednesday of whether he tried to give himself and fellow executives large pay raises.
Franchini, right, previously denied any knowledge of a budget
maneuver to increase his salary and those of select employees that he
Public Regulation Commissioner Patrick Lyons in May publicly accused
Franchini's deputy, Jolene Gonzales, of attempting to add the raises to
the state budget in a backroom maneuver.
At the time, Franchini said he was unaware of any planned raises until
Lyons complained about them during an open meeting of the PRC.
"I was surprised. I didn't know anything about it, and I'm stopping it," Franchini said in an interview that same day.
Franchini changed his account Wednesday when appearing before the
Insurance Nominating Committee, the body responsible for hiring a
superintendent of insurance as the division is broken apart from the
PRC. Franchini is one of five finalists for the job undergoing
He told the committee that insurance division employees are underpaid,
and that he had authorized a review of salary increases for "a budget
Franchini said the pay scale for his staff was "immorally and disgustingly too low."
Then he told the committee that Lyons, right, engaged in political opportunism
by complaining about raises that were justified. Franchini said Lyons
turned the salary issue into "a political tool at a meeting."
The budget plan that Lyons uncovered in May showed Franchini would have received a $19,000 raise, to $120,000 a year.
Gonzales listed herself for a raise of $6,000, Lyons said. That would have made her salary $90,000 annually.
A handful of Franchini’s other executives also were listed for salary increases, Lyons said.
Lyons said certain insurance division employees deserved raises, but
that Gonzales and others at the top end of the pay scale were looking
only to help themselves.
The budget plan from the insurance division contained proposed salary
increases that were in Gonzales' handwriting, Lyons said. Moreover, he
said that Franchini's executive staff hoped any increases would not be
noticed during the agency's transition from the PRC to that of a stand-alone agency.
After Lyons complained, Franchini said he ordered that any raises be removed from the insurance division budget.
For her part, Gonzales said that the controversial budget draft was
prepared in concert with the PRC's chief financial officer, Matthew
Lovato. But Lovato said that he played no part in proposing any salary
increases. He said the insurance division staff did that on its own.
The job of state insurance superintendent has opened because of the
division's new status separating it from the Public Regulation
Other finalists are Howell Palmer, Kent E. Paul, Milton R. Sanchez and Kimothy Sparks.