The state and labor unions representing workers in agencies possibly facing furloughs are clashing over the process of the potential forced days off. State Personnel Director Justin Najaka sent a letter Monday to Connie Derr, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 18 asking her to meet with him “to discuss the proposed statewide furlough plan.”
AFSCME represents employees at the Motor Vehicle Division, which Gov. Susana Gov. Susana Martinez has said could face the unpaid days off along with museums and state parks. Najaka cites state administrative code stating that the plan “identifying organizational units to be affected by the furlough may be presented to the State Personnel Board for approval or may otherwise be implemented.”
Najaka then listed this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as dates he could meet with Derr. He ended the letter by stating that if he didn’t hear from Derr soon, “the State will proceed with the implementation of the proposed statewide furlough plan.”
But in a letter sent to Najaka today in response, Derr said the meeting would be an empty gesture without adequate information showing a need for furloughs. “Without such data and narrative, we have reason to believe this will be merely a pro forma and substance free meeting,” Derr wrote, citing provisions in the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the state.
The Legislative Council’s attorney in the lawsuit against Gov. Susana Martinez is stepping down from the case, just a day after the state Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments on the case. The case is challenging Martinez’s line-item vetoes to a state budget passed last month by the state Legislature. Late Monday, Thomas Hnasko filed a motion to withdraw from the case, which lists Martinez and Department of Finance and Administration Secretary Duffy Rodriguez as defendants. Hnasko is recusing himself because of a “perceived conflict of interest” and a request from the Risk Management Division of the state General Services Department. The motion says other attorneys at Hnasko’s firm, Hinkle Shanor LLP, “have been retained by [Risk Management] to defend designated state entities and employees against monetary damage and equitable claims asserted against those entities and employees.”
In a joint statement, Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, and House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said they believed there was no conflict.
The latest New Mexico revenue projections appear to be convincing economists and state officials there is enough money to finance state government through June without resorting to government furloughs. “Based on the projections we see, yes, I think there are adequate funds,” Deputy state Treasurer Sam Collins told NM Political Report. New Mexico State University economics professor Jim Peach recently gave the Santa Fe New Mexican a similar answer. But Gov. Susana Martinez, who has been threatening furloughs for a month, had a different take. Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan warned that the state still may not have enough cash on hand to avoid furloughs and is calling on the state Legislature to fix this in a special session.
The New Mexico Supreme Court scheduled oral arguments in the lawsuit filed by the state Legislature against Gov. Susana Martinez over some line-item vetoes she made to the state budget. The oral arguments will take place May 15 at 9 a.m. Ahead of this, the court ordered the governor’s office to submit a response to the suit by May 5. The Legislature will be allowed to file a reply by May 10. Also, the court asked the New Mexico Council of University Presidents to file a brief as part of the lawsuit by May 5. At issues are two large line-item vetoes Martinez made to the budget, one cutting the entire higher education budget and the other cutting the entire budget of the Legislature.
Gov. Susana Martinez’s veto of the entire higher education budget is getting national attention. First, the Washington Post covered the veto earlier this week. Now, the Chronicle of Higher Education weighed in with a story. Martinez has said the veto was necessary to balance the budget, even as she says the budget—including higher education funding—will be addressed in an upcoming special session. The Washington Post analysis said the veto meant “nothing good” for students, adding the impasse could lead to “significant tuition increases at public universities.”
The newspaper cited a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that found, when adjusted for inflation, higher education funding in New Mexico dropped by 32.2 percent since the Great Recession, the third-largest such drop in the nation.
State budget troubles are prompting the New Mexico Higher Education Department to make cuts to a program local students use to attend colleges in nearby states for programs not offered at home. New Mexico pays into the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE) Professional Student Exchange Program that allows local students to go to dentistry and veterinary schools outside of the state at a reduced rate. To qualify for the loan for service, students must sign a declaration of intent to return to and work in New Mexico once they finish school. Currently, 67 students from New Mexico benefit from the WICHE exchange program. By next fall, that number will drop by six students.
A teacher from a rural New Mexico school district is suing the state over its policy on teacher absences. The teacher says the Public Education Department’s policy of punishing teachers on evaluations after their third absence should be changed. PED has since amended that punishment to six school absences per school year. PED Secretary Hanna Skandera responded to the lawsuit with a very short prepared statement. “We received the lawsuit,” she said.
The New Mexico Legislative Council voted to sue Gov. Susana Martinez over some of her controversial budget vetoes and is planning for an extremely rare extraordinary session. “Following the legal briefing given by attorneys to the Legislature, the Legislative Council has made the decision to officially begin the legal process necessary to ensure the state constitution is upheld,” Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen said in a statement. “As legislators we take our oath to support the constitution and the laws of the state seriously. A strong system of checks and balances is crucial to the success of our democracy.”
It’s unclear how individual members voted. Democrats hold a 9-7 advantage on the panel, which is made up of members of both chambers.
Even the woman in charge of higher education in New Mexico didn’t have input on the governor’s veto of the entire higher education budget. Higher Education Department Secretary Barbara Damron said Gov. Susana Martinez did not consult with her before making the vetoes, according to the Albuquerque Journal. Damron made the remarks in a speech to the Economic Forum of Albuquerque this week. The governor vetoed the entire higher education budget, saying it was necessary to balance the budget, which became unbalanced when she vetoed a package that would have raised some taxes and fees. Martinez said the higher education budget could be solved in a special session.