March 23, 2017

Martinez orders state hiring freeze to save money

Andy Lyman

Gov. Susana Martinez announced a hiring freeze Thursday, which goes into effect Saturday.

The move, announced in a two-page memo to cabinet secretaries from State Personnel Director Justin Najaka, comes as Martinez indicated she will not sign the budget passed by legislators. “It is critical that Executive agencies take immediate action to control spending as we continue to refine the financial impact on state operations due to unprecedented budgetary challenges the State is currently experiencing,” Najaka wrote.

Some positions will be exempted from the freeze, according to the memo, including wildland firefighters at the state Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, law enforcement officers and forensic scientists at the Department of Public Safety, tax collectors and auditors at the Taxation and Revenue Department and highway workers at the Department of Transportation.

Related: NM’s revenue still hasn’t recovered from pre-recession high

The order asks secretaries to cease recruitment for all other positions not listed in the memo and to notify applicants by March 31, 2017 that the advertisements have been closed. Any hires  accepted before March 25 can go forward.

Many state agencies are already operating far below capacity. The New Mexico Department of Health, for example, has 735 vacancies throughout the department. Human Services Department has 426; New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department has 350 vacancies and the Environment Department has 121. Those state employment numbers are from New Mexico’s Sunshine Portal, which was last updated on March 1.

This is the second such hiring freeze in the last decade. In November of 2008, during the Great Recession, then-Gov. Bill Richardson ordered a hiring freeze.

And a federal hiring freeze ordered by President Donald Trump is also currently in place.

After the Legislature last week approved a budget starting this summer that Martinez did not agree with, the governor threatened a partial shutdown of state government.

Related: Martinez, lawmakers end session in bitter standoff over budget

Martinez accused legislators of not doing their jobs during the 60-day legislative session.

“They actually squandered 60 days and cowed to special interest groups,” the governor said in a post-session press conference. “It was reckless and it was irresponsible, and now we are staring down the path of a government shutdown.”

Legislators disagreed and said there is enough money to finish the fiscal year, which ends June 30. Legislators sent a solvency package to Martinez in the early days of this year’s legislative session.

The Martinez administration has said there isn’t enough of a cushion to last until the end of the fiscal year.

Martinez objected to the budget passed by the Legislature because it included tax increases, including on gasoline, diesel fuel and internet sales. Martinez has vowed not to approve any tax increases while she is governor.

Legislators who supported the bill said it was better than Martinez’s proposal to cut the state’s contributions to public employee pensions.

Andy Lyman and Joey Peters contributed to this story.