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Martinez reacts to budget gap

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By Carol A. Clark

During a laboratory tour Friday, Governor-elect Susana Martinez was still reeling from Thursday’s new estimate that the state’s fiscal-year budget deficit is closer to $450 million rather than the $260 million originally reported.
Martinez minced few words about having to deal with a nearly 75 percent higher deficit than she was led to believe. She accused Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration of not being honest with New Mexicans about the budget crisis.
“We have asked for documentation in reference to that information and we hope to get that soon, unfortunately, I don’t think this administration has actually been forthcoming not only to the transition team but also to the legislature who needs to make the tough decisions, and if they’re not getting the proper information then they can’t figure out where to make the cuts,” Martinez said.
Martinez and her transition chairperson, former Rep. Heather Wilson, toured Los Alamos National Laboratory Friday morning and made her feelings clear during a press conference at the Radiological Laboratory/Utility/Office Building (RLUOB) Atrium.
“I’m frustrated, I think it’s very frustrating and it’s frustrating to New Mexicans not to know the depth of the deficit of our state government,” she said.
Recently re-elected Rep. Jeannette Wallace, R-Los Alamos, Santa Fe and Sandoval, serves on the Legislative Finance Committee.
“I tried to make it clear to people during the campaign that it was worse than thought but it was difficult for them to understand because we are dealing with two budgets,” Wallace said. “We may have to pull $250 million out right now and another $400 million to $450 million out of this next year’s budget.”
Richardson’s Finance and Administration Secretary Dannette Burch disclosed the higher deficit figure to the Associated Press and said Medicaid costs account for nearly $400 million, adding that Medicaid provides health care for about 25 percent of New Mexicans.
Following Burch’s disclosure, Martinez issued a news release stating, “The revelation of a near half-billion dollar deficit is far worse than expected and confirms our suspicions that the Richardson/Denish administration has been hiding the ball all along with respect to the true budget deficit.
“This clearly has very serious implications for all New Mexicans. I will work with the legislature to make the tough decisions necessary to balance the budget by getting spending under control.
“The long-term solution to our budget crisis is to get our economy moving again and that is why I will oppose efforts to raise taxes. We must put an end to the financial shell games that have been played for far too long.”
The governor-elect vowed during her campaign to not raise taxes or touch Medicaid or public education budgets.
Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos issued a statement saying that it’s not surprising Martinez “doesn’t understand the state budget and the growth of Medicaid since she ignored it during the campaign and has not yet accepted our offer for a thorough briefing.”
Reports this week that Richardson political appointees are getting transferred to classified positions within the state government in an apparent effort to protect them from termination in a new administration, and higher salaried personnel receiving pay hikes while a majority of state employees are taking forced furloughs and pay cuts have also rankled the Martinez camp.
Wilson addressed the issue during Friday’s LANL visit saying, “What we don’t want to see is someone who’s a political appointee move into a job they’re not qualified for and try to keep their same high-level salary – that’s just not right and it’s not fair.”
To help address New Mexico’s financial crisis, Martinez has nominated former congressional budget official Richard May, 56, as her cabinet secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration.
May is a manager at Sandia National Laboratories and worked in Washington, D.C. for 25 years serving as Republican staff director for the U.S. House of Representatives Budget Committee 1993-1997.
His nomination must be confirmed by the State Senate.