Making budget cuts, kind and otherwise

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By Sherry Robinson

Sometimes a statistic knocks at your door.

This one was an attractive, well-spoken, 40-something woman.

“My husband and I were laid off last month. I can do cleaning, and he can do yard work,” she said, handing me a flyer.

I could have used her help, but like a lot of other self-employed people, I’ve seen my work thin out lately.

So it’s hard to rustle up much sympathy for state workers whose morale is reportedly suffering after the first of five furlough days. They still have jobs and regular paychecks. The woman at my door, one of 25,400 people to lose a job in New Mexico in 2009, would like to have their problems.

That said, I think Gov. Bill Richardson should have exempted the lowest-paid state workers and allowed those who would welcome the time off to volunteer.

This is just one swipe at state payroll and will save about $8.1 million. Budget cutters are also looking at political appointees, double dippers and UNM’s imperial presidency.

When 59 of the governor’s chosen get the ax on Jan. 8, the state will save another $8.3 million. (And 47 exempt positions are still vacant.) During the recent special session, a Republican bill would have cut 281; a Democratic bill, 180. The governor vetoed the surviving bill and promised to get rid of 84.

There’s an assumption that the 59 are cronies, but one was Bruce Kohl, director of the Securities Division, who worked 15 years under three administrations investigating securities fraud and educating the public about finance. Kohl, wrote retired law professor Theodore Parnall, “is among the best and most well respected of the country’s securities regulators.”


The governor’s pruning is still limp-wristed, when you consider that exempt positions ballooned from 167 in the beginning of Richardson’s administration to 470 early last year – and 1,222 of them were making $70,000 or more, up from 248 at that level in 2003.

Curiously, the governor took a pass on a third cut that would be the easiest of all – double dippers. He vetoed a bill that would have prevented retired state workers from returning to work and getting both a paycheck and retirement benefits. He would snuff the practice for future workers but not touch the 2,000 current double dippers.  

This is the kindest cut of all. Nobody loses a job. During better times there was an argument that it was worth the extra cost to preserve expertise and experience in government. Now, it makes no sense to pay somebody twice, when many good, experienced people are out of work.

We also note that UNM President David Schmidly has said he could do without one or two of 19 vice presidents costing some $4.5 million. We’re humbled by his sacrifice.

Now, how about those two state employees, Ace and Echo? Like many other working dogs, they went home at night with their handlers until the Corrections Department decided to enforce an old rule that required them to remain in kennels. The dogs – surprise, surprise – showed signs of stress.

“What idiot thought that would be a good idea?” This is from the K-9 unit in my house, who goes by Wendy. She can be a little blunt.

“This is what government does,” says another household member who works in government. “They make a rule that flies across the board and apply it, whether it makes sense or not.”

Animal Protection of New Mexico pushed to retire the dogs. Wendy and the governor agreed.

What about taxpayers? The department invested thousands in training these dogs, who were performing well, pre-rule enforcement. Now we lose their services, and the state will invest thousands more to acquire new drug-sniffing dogs.  All over one inane rule.

Surely budget balancing will be more logical. Surely.

© New Mexico News Services 2010