Monday, September 12, 2016

A Chill Up The Spines Of State Employees As 9 Get Axe in Budget Crisis; There Could Be More, Plus: More ABQ Mayor '17 As A Key Decision Ripples Through The Race 

A collective chill went up the spines of New Mexico state employees late Friday as the first of what may be a long round of layoffs struck like a bolt out of the blue. Nine Tourism Department employees who manned information centers in remote locations were given the axe and the centers closed.

Critics of the move wondered why Tourism did not cut administrative costs or the state ad budget to save the $560,000 in annual savings it says will result from the layoffs. One political reason might be that state employees are not very popular with the public and Gov. Martinez's pollsters are probably telling her laying some off isn't going to cause her much harm or evoke much sympathy for them.

The tourism cuts were part of the administration's order that executive budgets under her control be chopped 5 percent across-the-board as the state confronts an historic and what is appearing to be an out of control multi-year budget deficit nearing $1 billion dollars. Unless there is a dramatic rebound in oil and/or natural gas prices in the next two years, that total could balloon even more.

It's not as if government employment wasn't already being targeted by Martinez and the austerity hawks before the budget crisis became full blown in the wake of the energy price crash.

As of Aug. 1, there were 17 fewer full-time positions than a year earlier and 630 fewer than in 2012. Those numbers, however, do not include the vacancy rates in positions that are funded. To avoid layoffs, department heads often leave positions vacant in case budgets are trimmed. Vacancies stand at 14.8 percent throughout state agencies, but are higher in some, including the Taxation and Revenue Department, Regulation and Licensing, the Environment Department and the Department of Workforce Solutions, which are all at or near 20 percent. Despite emergency efforts to hire more prison guards, the vacancy rate in the Corrections Department is 22 percent.

Budget crisis or no budget crisis, the predilection of a GOP administration in any economic environment is to keep government small. The budget debacle only exacerbates the threat of major state government layoffs as the administration refuses to entertain any tax increases and maybe even closing tax loopholes to create revenue to prevent layoffs.

But layoffs aren't going to solve the dilemma. The nine layoffs at Tourism save about $560,000 annually. Let's assume that's about $60,000 per position in salary and benefits. Say you lay off 1.500 state employees and/or realize savings from not filling vacancies, a number hard to imagine. That would net you an annual savings of only about $90 million. But the budget deficit alone for the year that started July 1 is already projected to be $458 million and could go higher.

That's why we need a comprehensive plan that includes new revenue as well as belt-tightening and a set of priorities. Right now we're getting a meat axe, across-the-board approach where all services and needs are deemed equal.


The game of chicken continues. The Governor waits for the legislature's budget plan and the legislature waits for the Governor as a special session looms. No one wants to own this and it seems Santa Fe is simply waiting for what it sees as an inevitable rebound in oil prices to bail them out. But look at the natural gas bear market in Farmington, now in its second decade, and how it is has devastated San Juan County via depopulation, slashed budgets and for many a reduced quality of life.

As pessimistic (and correct) as we have been about the state's outlook, even we did not anticipate the enormity of what we currently face and what we could face going forward. State employees from the university system down to the building janitors have reason to grab the edge of their chairs and hang on.


 Brian Colón
A lot of reader reaction to the decision by the Bernalillo County Commission not to include on the November ballot a city proposal to increase the level of public financing for next year's ABQ mayoral candidates from $362,000 to $630,000. We speculated that probable Dem mayoral candidate and current State Auditor Tim Keller might feel the most impact from the ruling. Reader Michael Corwin says:

While I would have liked to have seen the increase in public financing get on the ballot, I don’t think that Keller is the one who is hurt by the decision. He has high name recognition, not just from being a state senator and state auditor but also because ABQ  will remember his car wash ad against Robert Aragon, his GOP rival for state auditor. That ad went viral. The other Dem candidates, Deanna Archuleta and Brian Colón, do not have that kind of name ID. 

The failure to increase public financing for candidates, says this Keller sympathizer, also will have another impact:

What this also means is that major independent efforts and Super PACs are now inevitable, and will play a major role in City elections.

Those PACS are not bound by any spending limits and could add oomph to any of the campaigns--privately or publicly financed.

Keller is expected to stay with public financing and receive the $362,000. Archuleta is raising private money and Colon is expected to do the same but whether they can raise more than $362,000 and gain an advantage is up in the air.


Republican Celina Bussey, head of the state labor department, is still being mentioned as a possible, with some sources saying she's still looking and others saying a run is doubtful. ABQ adman Steve McKee, an early possible, is now said to be out. Dem Terry Brunner is out. Dem Pete Dinelli is considering. Republican City Councilor Dan Lewis and Republican BernCo Commissioner Wayne Johnson are other names still circulating as possibles. The election is in October of 2017.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (jmonahan@ix.netcom.com)

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here.

website design by limwebdesign