Governor preps for furloughs as budget standoff continues

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Gov. Susana Martinez has instructed cabinet secretaries to prepare for state employee furloughs that could begin as soon as next week while a budget standoff with lawmakers continues, the Albuquerque Journal is reporting.

Susana Martinez

Heath Haussamen / NMPolitics.net

Gov. Susana Martinez

“Here’s the thing: We shouldn’t even be having this conversation,” Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan was quoted by the Journal as saying. “But the fact is, lawmakers continue to stick their heads into the sand and ignore that we have a crisis before us.”

The conflation of furloughs in the current fiscal year that ends June 30 with a standoff over funding government for the fiscal year that begins July 1 may be a negotiating tactic. The state is limping toward June 30 with a projection that funds will be at or near zero on that date. Martinez has thus far said a hiring freeze she’s already implemented and other possible actions, including furloughs, are an attempt to ensure the state ends the fiscal year in the black.

That’s a separate, even if not unrelated, issue from the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. For that budget year, Martinez recently vetoed funding for higher education, the Legislature, and other agencies. She also vetoed a tax-increase bill that was estimated to raise an additional $350 million to help fund the budget lawmakers approved.

Thus far, House Democrats have held the line against considering additional cuts and Martinez has stuck to her insistence that she won’t OK tax increases, though she says she will consider tax reform. No deal is in place, and it’s not even clear that policymakers are having serious talks. Meanwhile, lawmakers are preparing to sue the governor over her vetoes.

The Santa Fe New Mexican analyzed Martinez’s vetoes and determined they add up to around $3 billion — much more than the $745 million that goes directly to higher education.

“…her line-item markups also eliminated funds for a wide range of programs and services that fall under colleges — including hospitals, agricultural extension offices, the agency that performs autopsies for police and a hotline for poisoning victims,” The New Mexican wrote. “Martinez also struck funding for the New Mexico School for the Deaf in Santa Fe, the state’s School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Alamogordo and the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, which enrolls students from ninth grade through the first two years of college.”

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The vetoes have put the state’s colleges and universities in the difficult position of not being able to plan for the fiscal year that begins in a few weeks — and come at a time when high-school seniors are deciding whether to attend college in state or out of state. Several university presidents and student body presidents from around the state have spoken out against the veto. State agencies, including colleges and universities, are required to submit preliminary budgets for the next fiscal year in early May.

State Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces, penned an op-ed asserting that the vetoes have far-reaching consequences beyond colleges and universities. He wrote that businesses “start and grow where they can find people” educated in relevant fields, “so they won’t start or grow here when those programs vanish.”

“The governor’s veto will obliterate jobs,” McCamley wrote.

Paul Gessing of the libertarian think-tank Rio Grande Foundation took the opposite stance in a recent column.

“Before raising taxes, it is time to make our government work better for its citizens and taxpayers,” Gessing wrote. “But, if we want to preserve the level of government services we have, we need to grow the economy in order to pay for it. The Legislature has repeatedly refused to loosen regulations that would grow the economy.”

Meanwhile, there’s disagreement about whether furloughs and other actions to shore up the current fiscal-year budget are necessary. In the Journal article, House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, was quoted as saying furloughs would be politically motivated. “There’s no need to do it,” he was quoted as saying.

And Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, was quoted as saying it appeared Martinez was trying “to make the crisis bigger than it already is.”

The political director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in New Mexico, Carter Bundy, wrote on Facebook that it is “outrageous that Gov. Martinez is holding state employees’ pay in this fiscal year hostage over next year’s budget.”

“Just straight out bullying and playing with the lives of honest, decent workers and their families. Leave us out of your political games, governor,” Bundy wrote.

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