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State hiring freeze first of many likely budget cuts

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – After spending much of the past year trying to fill vacant positions across New Mexico state government, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration is now putting hiring on ice.

With the state facing an increasingly dire budget situation due to the coronavirus pandemic and falling oil prices, Lujan Grisham said during a Wednesday news conference that a state government hiring freeze will be enacted, with a few exceptions for critical positions.

“That’s the responsible thing to do,” the governor said.

That means state agencies dealing with chronically high vacancy rates will likely have to continue to make do – at least for the foreseeable future.

State government’s ranks increased last year, with the Lujan Grisham administration holding several rapid-hire events around New Mexico that helped boost the size of the rank-and-file state workforce to 16,762 employees, according to the State Personnel Office.

But the statewide vacancy rate was still 21.7% as of December, and several state agencies were still struggling to fill long-vacant positions.

That includes the Corrections Department, which had a 28% vacancy rate, and the Taxation and Revenue Department, which reported a 26.8% vacancy rate.

Lujan Grisham suggested the hiring freeze would be one of several cost-cutting moves to be implemented, though she did not provide additional details.

“We should expect that we’re going to have to reduce expenditures between now and the end of June,” the governor said during Wednesday’s news conference.

But she said that furloughs or layoffs of state employees are not on the table – at least for now – as part of the state’s budget-balancing efforts.

“I think we’re going to be able to make shifts that don’t cause us to dramatically cut both our state investments in local businesses and the economy, and stop essential services in both state and local government,” Lujan Grisham said.

The governor is expected to call lawmakers back to Santa Fe for a special session in mid-June to address the state’s budget situation, which has changed considerably over the past two months.

She said it’s too early to say specifically what budget adjustments might have to be made, but said a revenue hit of as much as $2 billion could be particularly problematic for her administration’s efforts to expand early childhood education and make changes to the state’s health care system.

“We expect that our revenues could be dramatically reduced and we’re going to have to have a whole different set of strategies for education, health care, economic investment and the like,” Lujan Grisham said.

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