This whole darn decade has a year to go

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE — Hooray. We still have a year to redeem the first decade of the 21st century from being a complete bust.

Reader Earl Nielsen, of Alamogordo, recalled that 10 years ago, I participated in the effort to remind the world that the decade, century and millennium didn’t end on Dec. 31, 1999. It ended a year later.

When you count, you start with 1, not with 0. That means our next decade doesn’t start until we finish with 2010. It makes perfect sense. When the Romans began counting years, they started with year 1. They didn’t even know about 0. The Arabs had to teach us that.

But I forgot about that little crusade and let the rest of the world suck me into a premature end of the decade. We’ve already chosen the athletes of the decade, and the movies, and the best and worst of everything. But at least you and I know we still have another year left to straighten ourselves out in this decade.

Gov. Bill Richardson has a year to wind up his term too. But when I predicted that he would remain in office the full year, I heard from state employees that isn’t the word in their hallways.

According to those who contacted me, the governor will leave as soon as the legislature ends to take a job in industry.

Why would a governor, as driven as Richardson is, want to leave before he has the opportunity to finish as many initiatives as possible and shape his legacy?

Richardson knows the Legislature has its eye on many of those initiatives. Has he become depressed and ready to give up? If that is so, he might as well quit now and not endure what is sure to be a very painful budget cutting session.

It is very believable there are big businesses out there that value Richardson’s enthusiasm and contacts. As a former secretary of Energy, he has credentials and connections that would interest a company wanting to get into an alternative energy field, for instance.

But why tarnish his image by doing it now rather than waiting until he completes his term?

If he were to leave at the end of the Legislature, that would be in mid-February, although the fat lady doesn’t sing until 20 days later, which is the deadline for signing and vetoing bills. This past year, Richardson made a habit of vetoing legislative cuts and then imposing his own lesser cuts by executive order.

If he does leave, one legislative mandate that could easily be filled, and even exceeded, is the reduction of political appointees.

A year ago, when it appeared Lt. Gov. Diane Denish would be taking over, she wrote all Richardson appointees, thanking them for their service and suggesting that if they had any plans for future employment in state government, they should contact her office.

It was quite obvious her plans did not necessarily include any of them. As you might guess, she received a large volume of contacts, group lunch invitations and meeting requests.

An early Richardson departure would give Denish an opportunity to place her mark on state government and separate herself from the Richardson administration. But Richardson has never given any indications that Denish’s future is a consideration in any of his plans.

In addition to the huge increase of high-paid Richardson political appointees to agencies throughout state government, some state employees also wonder about the large pay increases they have seen for classified state employees covered by the state personnel act.

Unlike political appointees, whose salaries aren’t controlled, there are set pay rates for employees covered by the personnel act. State rules make it extremely difficult to increase pay for covered employees beyond the set rate.

But under the Richardson administration, there may have been hefty increases above standard pay rates, especially for higher-paid employees, causing the pay gap to widen.

If that is a problem, it is one that hasn’t been brought to light thus far.

E-mail Jay Miller at insidethecapitol@hotmail.com.