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State puts aside plans for furloughs – for now

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico rank-and-file state employees can exhale – at least for now.

A spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez confirmed Thursday that unpaid furlough days for state workers will not be ordered before the end of this month, after an infusion of roughly $80 million in one-time money for the state’s cash reserves was approved during a special session that ended earlier this week.

“Because of the budget agreement, this is no longer something we’re considering at this time,” Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan said Thursday.

Due to ongoing cash flow concerns, furloughs had been floated by the Martinez administration as a possible money-saver if no additional funding was provided before the start of the state’s new budget year on July 1.

However, top-ranking Democratic lawmakers strongly questioned the need for furloughs, citing a recent uptick in state revenue collections. Union leaders also suggested they were prepared to fight against a furlough order.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, on Thursday lauded the decision not to impose furloughs, which haven’t been used as a cost-saving tool in the state since 2010.

“I’m sure the state employees will be relieved to hear the threat of furloughs is gone and they can focus on their work and their families,” Egolf told the Journal.

Martinez, the state’s second-term Republican governor, had in April directed Cabinet secretaries in her administration to come up with employee furlough plans.

While the plans were never formally unveiled, administration officials indicated at the time they were considering ordering most rank-and-file state workers to take at least five unpaid furlough days before the end of the current budget year, which would have saved an estimated $8 million.

Such a move could have meant temporary closures of state parks, museums and Motor Vehicle Division field offices around the state.

Though furloughs have been ruled out for the remainder of the current budget year, the idea could be revisited in the coming year depending on whether revenue meets projections.

Based on the most recent estimates, the state’s cash reserve balance at the end of the coming year will be $24 million – or just 0.4 percent of spending.

That could mean additional budget-balancing – either in a new special session or the 2018 regular legislative session – to ensure New Mexico makes it through the fiscal year in the black.

Meanwhile, the $83 million in one-time money to bolster the state’s current reserves was included in a bill approved by the Legislature and signed into law last week by Martinez. Most of the money comes from a complex bond transaction that frees up short-term cash, while the rest is money taken from nine different state government accounts.

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