Inside the Capitol

Thursday, September 22, 2011

9-26 State layoffs no longer a surprise

MON, 9-26-11

SANTA FE � It was another big surprise from the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez. A second round of state employee layoffs eliminated 27 jobs from the Tourism Department and Expo New Mexico, which runs the State Fair. The first round layoffs were in June when 44 employees were terminated, mainly at the Public Education Department.
The two rounds of layoffs were a surprise because Martinez, during her gubernatorial campaign last fall, repeatedly said she didn�t plan any furloughs or layoffs for the following year.
Gov. Bill Richardson had imposed several furlough days for all employees the previous year. On furlough days, employees do not report to work and are not paid.
Richardson also imposed a hiring freeze, beginning in the fall of 2008, which reduced several thousand state employees over the next two years and increased the workload on many employees.
The actions lowered Richardson�s popularity with state workers, who already were upset about his hiring of large numbers of political appointees who often were not qualified for their jobs. And workers were mad about Richardson�s veto of a bill doing away with double dippers, who retired and then went back to work drawing salary plus retirement.
As election time neared, many state employees were heard to say they would vote for Martinez because they were tired of Richardson�s policies and fearful that Democratic candidate Diane Denish would continue them. There even were rumors that Denish would require employees to work on their unpaid furlough days.
When newly elected Gov. Martinez submitted her budget proposal to the Legislature last January, it contained no provisions for furloughs or layoffs. Employees drew a sigh of relief and figured they had a governor they had an understanding governor.
So the layoffs came as a surprise � actually in more ways than one. Terminated employees were given no advance notice. They were told to have their offices cleaned out by the end of the day. Such action is not unheard of in personnel practices but it surely can mess up a person�s day.
Another surprise was that the majority of the layoffs were in the education and tourism departments � two areas about which New Mexicans feel strongly. The cuts were not system wide as were Gov. Richardson�s furloughs. Some of the biggest departments have not had a single layoff. Why would public schools and tourism get the first cuts?
One similarity between the two departments is that both are headed by young cabinet secretaries with big ideas. Hanna Skandera, at the Public Education Department, came to the state anxious to employ successful methods she helped develop in other states. Monique Jacobson, at the Tourism Department, came to the state eager to use promotional methods used in private industry.
One wouldn�t expect either of them to quickly dump a large portion of her staff. But then, maybe they felt some of the current staff was incompatible with the new ideas. That�s not what they said. They pled poverty. Maybe it is easier to fire people based on lack of funding. State employee unions have said they aren�t sure the terminations meet the rules.
The unions suggest just as much money will be spent on temporary employees and contract employees as was spent on longtime state workers. Skandera says her department�s big loss of funding stems from Gov. Martinez�s desire to cut down on school administration. Jacobson says the Legislature cut back her advertising budget severely.
Both Skandera and Jacobson have been criticized for not putting much effort into fighting the cuts. It also should be noted that Jacobson found $650,000 in the budget she inherited to fund the �Catch the Kid� contest. My guess is that the $10,000 prize will be awarded before you read this.
The bottom line is that layoffs no longer should be a surprise. They have happened in two departments where many might have least expected it. And government restructuring may claim many more.
I'll be at UNM homecoming activities through Sunday.


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