Friday, November 13, 2009

Reality Wins; Guv Gives; The "F" Word Crosses Big Bill's Lips; A Whiff Of Populism, Plus: Readers Blog The UNM Story 


The Guv
Brutal economic reality has been stalking Bill Richardson and it finally forced the chief executive to pronounce the "F" word. He has now laid the groundwork for furloughs of state government workers in the budget year we are in and for the one that starts next July. (Guv's complete budget release here).

It was a major change in tone and substance for the chief executive who has continually said furloughs and layoffs were off the table, even as the budget shortfall skyrocketed to shocking heights.

The mantra was beginning to grate on the nerves of a state where unemployment has soared and business has soured. Richardson's insistence on protecting the government classes, while most everyone else suffered, was becoming politically untenable.

The mandatory five day furloughs cover nearly 20,000 state workers and are to be taken by June 30. However, there will probably be exemptions for public safety and other critical need employees.

It is salaries and other personnel costs that make up the bulk of state spending and where savings will have to be extracted in the years ahead (Yes, we said years).

The Governor started us down that road by announcing that he will permanently keep vacant up to 1,000 positions in state government that have gone empty because of the hiring freeze. Of course, there is no money to pay for those positions, but the Guv's acknowledgment of the need for a permanent downsizing of the state work force was, for him, a step in a new direction. That should be helpful when the Legislature convenes Jan. 19.

However, there was some grumbling heard about the furloughs around the Roundhouse. Wall-leaners point out that the Governor still has under his control $58 million in unspent federal stimulus money. The furloughs are estimated to save about $10 million. Couldn't Bill use some of that stimulus to avoid the furloughs? He probably could, but what about next year?

Lawmakers will have to cut at least $400 million in recurring revenue from next year's budget. While tax increases are in the mix, large swaths of the public is not going to want to shoulder this burden without state government sacrifice. Those furloughs and the 1,000 employee reduction is going to appeal to them. Maybe it will give a couple of tax boosts a fighting chance--even in an election year like 2010.


The whiff of populism in the air also moved the Guv to announce he will kill off some of those hot potoato political jobs, known as "governor exempt" positions. And he previously said he is reconsidering his position on double dippers--workers who get a retirement check, but then go back on the state payroll.

The Alligators and wall-leaners were quick to point out that many of the exempt positions he says he is cutting are currently vacant and that many of their previous occupants have found classified positions elsewhere in state government. And they also note that the several thousand double-dippers currently on the payroll would not be impacted by the Guv's new anti-dipping proposal.

For all his wailing and gnashing of teeth prior to his Thursday budget announcement, in the end Bill agreed to much of what the Legislature passed.

Which brings us to the other key word now in play in New Mexican politics: Flexibility. Richardson is starting to show some--and even if there is really no other choice--it is still welcome.

Call us optimists, but we're still hoping to someday see a photo of Bill and the conservative state Senate leaders congratulating each other on solving the state's budget crisis.


We had some tough love for the University of New Mexico on our Thursday blog as we took a trip down commentary lane. And we received a lot of email in response. Here's a sample:

Virginia: I can only say that your suggestions (instructions) for righting the UNM ship are right-on, and in a perfect world they would indeed set the sailing of the ship on a correct course. But I fear there are too many oars in the water to get them implemented, and the ship will be rudderless until the captains are replaced...Maybe God (Big Bill) needs to reach down and set everything right (make it perfect Bill!).

Sylvia: I so wish that what you suggest could happen. The cancer of conceit, greed, back-stabbing and bald-face lying at UNM is awful! The departure of David Harris, along with Schmidly would be the best thing ever for UNM!!...I cannot tell you how refreshing it was to see the right thing in print! Thanks, Joe, just reading what you wrote eased, for a time, the sense of depression I have about UNM these days.

UNM professor: Thanks for your strong call for change at UNM and for your accurate assessment of where things stand. I agree that a reset of UNM's athletic aspirations are in order and that employing New Mexicans as coaches--and selecting them as players--is a healthy idea. Perhaps that might involve dropping football down to a lower division. Why not have a UNM football team composed largely of New Mexicans?

An issue that arose in the general faculty meeting last week is money taken from general funds to support the athletic programs...We learned of one small but significant item at the meeting: $175,000 for Mountain West Conference dues. You'd think that with all the money the athletic department has to pay coaches, furnish their offices, etc., that they could afford this fee, but according to (UNM) President Schmidly that fee was paid out of “general” university funds.

Anonymous: I have followed you for a long time...I grew up here and knew of you before the Internet. About half the time I don't agree with your politics which I guess is ok, that makes you in the middle...kind of like me. In any case, I applaud and totally support today's position on the University of New Mexico. You are absolutely correct and while they are at it they should get a new Human Resources Vice President.


Loyola Chastain: My father was a Regent for Highlands University from 1968- 1970--back when Regent's were not necessarily political appointees. My father was not a political contributor and was a Democrat, when the governor was a Republican. He was the superintendent of Taos Municipal Schools. Governor Cargo appointed him because Taos was a feeder school to Highlands. He thought a superintendent might have a vested interest in ensuring the University met all standards to educate students from our district. This is how it should be done today. Thank you for your blog. It warms my heart that there are others out there that are not afraid to bring to light what others try to keep in the dark...

Michael Barnes: Great posting. Very courageous. Hopefully you have started what is needed to clean up UNM. Congratulations.

Mike English: I'm with you on the need to clean house, up to but not including your proposal for Alford to serve as Athletic Director and your point about resetting the bar on Lobo athletics. (Alford) would be no good as AD, wouldn't want to do it, and whether or not he's overpaid as basketball coach is a separate issue. But I also suspect you had your tongue in your cheek as you wrote that part.

As far as the expectations of Lobo athletics, I would argue there is an economic base in this growing city for the aspirations of winning programs. For basketball that history is already there. The lavish upgrade of the Pit will be looked at as a good thing. For football, well that's a jaw-dropping train wreck right now, but the potential to build a winning/financially sound tradition exists.

I think that ESPN report on (football coach) Locksley sealed the fate of Schmidly and (Athletic Director) Krebs. The lame cover up was exposed. Local media was embarrassed by getting scooped, and they are mad. There is no more slack in that rope. Your post captures the mood and the reality very well.

Hollie: Interesting analysis. I agree wholeheartedly. There was also an interesting blurb in the news about UNM's graduation rate. Something about a exercise in failure. Have you heard anything? As an employee at UNM, I desire to see the regents become elected, rather than political appointees. The atmosphere is definitely one of fear and distrust among the staff.

The news article Hollie refers to details the latest UNM graduation rate--42.7 percent--and quotes UNM President Schmidly as being "extremely disappointed."

UNM student parent: Really enjoyed your blog on UNM's failures and controversies under Schmidly and Harris. While you call for resignations and clean up of the UNM mess all around, everyone knows nothing will be done as long as Richardson is in office--nor by anyone else in the future. Unfortunately, politics, scandal, and corruption in New Mexico go hand-in-hand, and political cronies, pals and supporters, most of them inept, get the cushy jobs. After all, this is New Mexico.

Arthur Olona: Joe: You hit a major league home run on the problems at UNM! The column was factual, concise and to the point. The only way changes are going to be made is if all of us make noise. I’ve done my part in emailing the Regents, the UNM President, the Athletic Director. and friends of mine in the Lobo Club. Let’s hope your readers do the same. We need to save UNM, a New Mexico treasure. The present scandals make the Ellenberger scandal look like a cupcake in comparison.

Thanks to all who took time to email. We appreciate the insights. UNM has a lot of friends out there.

Have news? A comment? Email it in, anonymously if you wish.

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