Inside the Capitol

Thursday, June 16, 2011

6-20 State employee rolls decreasing

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Last fall, both gubernatorial candidates promised state employees "no furloughs and no layoffs."
We could be pretty sure there would be no furloughs. The furloughs in 2010 were wildly unpopular and, more importantly, they were a budget-cutting tool of Gov. Bill Richardson. Both candidates were running away from him.
At the conclusion of the 2011 Legislature, Gov. Susana Martinez and legislative leaders proclaimed the budget that was adopted would require no furloughs and no layoffs.
But layoffs already have begun. They sometimes are called reductions in force, or RIFs, but the results are the same. On June 10, 44 state employees were told to clean out their desks. They will be paid through the end of the month.
The 44 employees are a drop in the bucket compared to the more than 3,000 reduction in state payrollers as a result of not being replaced when they left state employment.
That hiring freeze was ordered by Gov. Richardson in the fall of 2008 and has been continued by Gov. Martinez except in the case of critically needed personnel.
A spokesman for the governor said the layoffs were made in order to streamline state government. Gov. Martinez said during her campaign that she would take a good look at the work of a committee appointed by the Legislature to make recommendations for government restructuring.
Several bills were introduced in the 2011 Legislature to reorganize state government but none of them got far. It likely didn't matter. The governor's actions thus far indicate she would rather veto legislation and then do it her way. In that respect, she is much like her predecessor.
Some of the agency cuts the governor made were predictable. She had promised to modify or eliminate any state government rules and regulations that hurt businesses. So the cut in the Regulation and Licensing Department was to be expected.
There likely will be more cuts, especially in the Construction Industries Division. Regulations and inspections have been a major target of this administration.
The Construction Industries Commission has repealed the energy-efficient building codes from the Richardson administration. Public hearings around the state indicate homebuilders are split on the action.
It is a short term fix to lower construction prices hoping to get the building market going again. But utility usage will eat into those savings plus require more energy utilization.
Improving public school education was another promise of the governor. So it came as a surprise to see 33 of the 44 cuts last week come from the state Public Education Department. Evidently those 33 employees weren't ones who were going to help bring about changes in the schools.
Soon after Education Secretary-Designate Hanna Skandera was appointed, there was talk of her contracting with former colleagues in other states to help strengthen education in New Mexico.
Some wondered where the money would come from to bring in all those consultants. Maybe we have our answer now. If Skandera's move truly does brig about improved student performance, the questions about her action will cease.
Surprisingly little static has resulted from elimination of the Commission on the Status of Women. The method of eliminating a statutory body by vetoing its funding is legally dubious.
And the idea that the commission has served its purpose may be even more dubious. Does the election of a female governor mean that the status of women now is equal to the status of men?
Tough economic times hit the private sector before they started affecting public employees. The business world coined a phrase to describe the strategy of applying minimal resources to as many projects as possible. It is called the "peanut-butter spread." It means spreading employees as thinly as possible.
So far, businesses have continued the peanut-butter strategy even as they are recovering. Many analysts predict the peanut-butter spread will be around for a long time.
MON, 6-20-11

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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