Friday, April 02, 2010
No Easter Break For The Bear: ABQ Jobless Rate Breaks 9 Percent; Mayor Proposes Salary Cuts To Beat Back Deficit
They're celebrating the Resurrection this weekend, and hoping for another for this downtrodden economy that keeps buffeting Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico like the annual spring winds. The Bear Market news is now coming in spades. The City of ABQ proposes a three percent cut across the board salary cut for all city employees; unemployment in ABQ breaches the 9 percent mark for the first time in modern history; the state jobless rate hits 8.7 percent, and a 55 year old city bicycle business shutters its doors, costing 16 jobs and encapsulating the drip, drip nature of the downtrend.
ABQ Mayor RJ Berry is perilously close to adding to the unemployment lines by laying off city workers, but his budget proposal sent to the nine member city council for the year that starts July 1st avoids that dreaded option through salary cuts. No layoffs or furloughs, but some city employees are already asking the council to go for furloughs, because they think once their pay is cut it won't go back up even if good times return.
But the paramount concern is not to throw more people out of work. Berry's budget does that. Still, the administration has a long slog ahead. The projected deficit just keeps getting worse as business is slammed by the growing ranks of jobless and the endless recession. The shortfall is now estimated to be at least $65 million in a budget of about $475 million.
City Council President Ken Sanchez says the nine member panel won't be a rubber-stamp for the first budget from the new mayor. He tells us he is considering proposing that some city bond money be moved to the general operating budget. That would resolve some of the deficit and make unnecessary the salary cuts. Sanchez prefers furloughs.
But Berry railed against Mayor Chavez in last year's campaign for raiding bond money to balance previous city budgets. He may be able to hold the five Republicans on the council in voting against such a proposal.
And then there's Berry's rejection of the six percent pay raise previously negotiated for city firefighters and police. The mayor could have a legal fight on his hands.
Berry's plan to cut salaries across the board will probably be seen by the public as fair-minded. It is also a relatively quick and easy solution to the immense budget shortfall. However...
What we still await from this administration is its long-range thinking on the role of ABQ government. What departments should be eliminated or consolidated with others? Have the budgets for the public safety agencies grown too top heavy? How will we downsize? What can we do to lessen our dependence on the unpredictable gross receipts tax? What city property or buildings need to be sold or their leases renegotiated?
Councilor Sanchez says he will seek to have the city hire a forensic auditor to go department by department to answer these questions. With no signs that city cash coffers are about to overflow anytime soon, it's an idea the Berry administration should find easy to sign on to.
If you're in the private sector, you're probably used to the ups and downs of the economy, but government employees are notoriously security conscious. After all, that's why many of them become public employees--they are risk averse. That there is panic among many of them at the city and in the ABQ public schools system where layoffs of 700 may loom is not unexpected.
New Mexico's state and local governments and the thousands who toil in them are embarked upon unprecedented change, and the journey has only begun.
The public still sees too much pampering in the public sector. We told you of the planned double-dipping of the Hobbs city manager that would have given him $235,000 in salary and retirement. The outrage was enough to force Eric Honeyfield to drop his double dipping plans.
HEARD ON THE STREET
From the email:
I wish Bill Richardson would get that movie post in Washington. At least then there would be one job opening in New Mexico!
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