Special session struggles on

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Session may conclude Thursday

By Carol A. Clark

Democrats are battling Democrats as well as Republicans over what to cut and not cut in the effort to balance a $290 million deficit in the 2009 budget as the Special Session enters its fifth day.

“No consensus has been reached and even though there’s division between the Democrats and between the Democrats and the Republicans on how to balance the budget, most of us feel this Special Session should be over by tomorrow,” said Rep. Jeannette Wallace, R-Los Alamos, Santa Fe and Sandoval counties. “I believe we will pass some kind of budget but whether it solves the problem or partially solves it remains to be seen.”

Gov. Bill Richardson convened the Special Session for what he called, “consideration of issues critical to the economic health and welfare and public safety of New Mexico and its citizens.”

Richard explained that the national economic recession has caused unavoidable and severe impacts to the state’s economy, leading to budget projections indicating that the state faces significant budget shortfalls for both fiscal years 2009 and 2010.  

In this Special Session, the governor has directed lawmakers to consider the transfer of funds from the tax stabilization reserve and the general fund operating reserve to the general fund for the purposes of meeting fiscal year 2009 appropriations.

He also is calling for legislation to balance the state’s fiscal year 2010 budget without altering existing taxation or revenue enhancement structures.  

Richardson has been criticize by legislators for spending too much of the state’s money.

He responded Tuesday through a news release saying that the hiring freeze he implemented last year, as well as other cost saving measures, has saved the state of New Mexico millions of dollars in payroll costs. Biweekly state payroll is down $1.3 million since November 2008 when he implemented the measures, he said.

“I am disturbed that some lawmakers have seriously mischaracterized the results of these important cost cutting measures,” Richardson said. “The truth is, there have been real results and savings to the State of New Mexico. In just the past 11 months, we’ve cut payroll by millions while making sure services to New Mexicans are not affected.”

Today the state has nearly 1,300 fewer employees than when the hiring freeze took effect on Nov. 15, 2008, he said, adding that the freeze is just one of several employee cost cutting measures Richardson ordered through June 30, 2010, others include:

• freezing salaries of all employees;

• a 2 percent pay cut to all exempt employees effective March 2009;

• no exempt comp time;

• no overtime for non-essential employees;

• no exempt buyout of unused annual leave; and

• freezing upward reclassification.

The senate was scheduled to reconvene at 10 a.m. today and the House at 1 p.m.