Bigger budget cuts for state executive offices

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By Harold Morgan

A good number of state department executive offices took a larger percentage budget cut in this year’s legislative session than did the activity the office directs. This sends a good signal; the executives suffer more than the workers.
The insight, presented in the continuing quest for better understanding of what state government does, comes from the Legislative Finance Committee’s “2011 Post-Session Review.” See www.nmlegis.gov/lcs/lfc/lfcfiscal.aspx.
The “Reviews describe the actual budget enacted by the legislature and signed by the governor,” the LFC said. In the summary of plans for the state’s general fund for the coming budget year, the Public Education Department, whatever it does, is separate from what is called “public school support.”
The department is set to spend $10.7 million during the budget year, FY 12, beginning July 1. That’s a 23 percent drop from the nearly $14 million for FY 11. Public school support gets $2.4 billion, a 2.4 percent increase and by far the largest single activity, in dollar terms, of our state government. Total public school enrollment has been flat for the last five years.
The general fund is state government’s operating fund and accounts for nearly all state spending. The general fund appropriation is $5.4 billion for FY 12.
Another big spending arena, higher education, shows the same pattern. FY 12 budgeted spending for the department itself, $35.9 million, is down 7.9 percent. Nearly two-thirds of the department’s money — $21.9 million — goes for financial aid. Among the 17 institutions the department tends, the next biggest cut is 7.6 percent for Central New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque.
The New Mexico State University budget is down 4.6 percent, the second largest cut.
Within higher education, athletics eat money. UNM gets $2.3 million; NMSU, $3.1 million; Eastern, $2 million; Highlands, $1.8 million; and Western, $1.7 million. New Mexico Tech gets $204,000 for athletics, a bit more than the $202,000 allocated for aquifer mapping.
Northern New Mexico College in Española gets $197,000 for athletics. Four community colleges get $829,000, led by New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs with $326,000.
By contrast with athletics, nursing program expansions at eight schools get a total of $3.5 million. Priorities, dude, are priorities.
One large-percentage, small-dollar spending cut surely made business types happy, especially those involved in resources. That was the 69 percent, or $90,000, reduction for the Office of Natural Resource’s Trustee. Under the Richardson administration, the office provided well-paid sinecure for radical environmentalists.
A few programs, or at least their money, went away. Balances for the college affordability fund and the economic development revolving fund were moved to the general fund.
The most special special-interest bill mentioned in the report is the expansion, via SB 233, of “the alternative energy manufacturers tax credit to include products secreted by a single cell photosynthetic organism.” Sen. Carroll Leavell, a Jal Republican, brought forth SB 233.
The session’s big accomplishment was to keep public education and Medicaid reasonably whole. The latter was difficult because of the need to replace $280 of federal funds from FY 11 that won’t appear in FY 12.
Some things weren’t done, with the figurative can again booted ahead. Figuring out how to meet state government’s pension obligations was the big one. The topic is complex, but the base reality is simple. The pension funds lack the money to pay the forecast pensions. Better luck next year.
State government wasn’t reorganized. Probably that doesn’t matter much. What does matter is the ten percent-plus decline in the number of full-time state employees between December 2008 and December 2010. State government seems to be operating without them, which makes one wonder what they were doing.

Harold Morgan
© New Mexico News Services 2011