Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

3-6 Lawmakers Stroll Toward Panic

FRI, 3-06-09

SANTA FE - With two weeks left in the 2009 Legislature, the pace still hasn't quickened much. Next week, the panic starts. In just a few days, lawmakers will wonder where the time went.
The House and Senate will begin trading accusations that the other house is not moving the bills it has been sent. And we will begin hearing the words "train wreck" again. It doesn't take clairvoyance to predict this. I've been watching 44 years and nothing changes. Trust me, next week there will be talk of not finishing on time.
The one wild card in the whole scenario is the fiscal predicament that seems to have caused near consensus on a special session in late spring. But even that won't prevent a panic next week.
The federal stimulus package has money to help ease our fiscal problem but House Republicans indicated that they aren't too wild about using it. They would rather save the money and make cuts now rather than having to make them next year if the collapse continues.
If every state takes that approach, the collapse likely will continue since the idea of the stimulus is to stimulate the flow of money in the economy. The House passed the state budget bill using the stimulus money and sent it on to the more fiscally cautious Senate.
Some of that upper house conservatism was demonstrated in the significant defeat of the domestic partnerships bill. A coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats, similar to that which decided the Senate president pro tem race, voiced the opinion that the bill opened the door to eventual gay marriage legislation.
It still appears that not much will happen with ethics legislation. But the kicker there is that the cap may be too high, more than legislators normally receive. The result would be pressure on big donors to give even more.
Jumping ends of the political spectrum, the California Legislature is reported to be considering legalization of marijuana so it can be taxed. It would be a tremendous revenue generator. In 1933, one of the first acts of the New Deal Congress was to repeal prohibition.
* * *
Randy Saavedra, the director of the Administrative Office of the District Attorneys, was arrested recently on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. It wasn't the first time Saavedra made the news recently. Last month two Albuquerque television stations put investigative reporters on the case of a female employee of the AODA who had been on paid leave for almost a year.
Saavedra replied that she was a problem employee whom he couldn't fire because of the State Personnel Act. Since she was near retirement, it was easier to put her on leave with pay until she retired.
This column criticized Saavedra for not seeking advice on how to handle problem employees since they can be fired for cause under the State Personnel Act. They also can be disciplined and helped to improve. But Saavedra took the easy way out and avoided the issue at the expense of taxpayer money.
How many other state employees do you suppose saw those TV reports and thought, "Aha, there's my way out." It's not a very good example for the office of the district attorneys of the state to be setting.
Upon further sleuthing on my own, I discovered that the state Personnel Office offers training sessions on managerial assessment of employees, addressing of workplace conflict and realigning employee performance.
That training session could have saved New Mexico taxpayers a ton of money. The problem is that the Administrative Office of the District Attorneys is not part of the state personnel system and therefore does not participate in the help sessions that are offered to others.
It sounds as though it would be very wise for the AODA and any other state agency not covered by the state personnel system to find a way to avail themselves of some of those good services.

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