In the realm of state budgets, $10 million usually wouldn’t be considered as an exorbitant request, given that this fiscal year’s spending is predicted to total about $6.2 billion.
That said, lower oil prices mean there won’t be a lot of money for new spending this upcoming legislative session. New Mexico depends heavily on oil and gas revenues, which account for about 19 percent of the state’s annual general fund.
Against this backdrop, state agencies and others are busy shopping their 2015 legislative wish lists, which collectively will far exceed what will be available in new revenues: $141 million and heading downward at the last estimate. That compares with a $285 million forecast before the price of oil started its nosedive.
Among those making presession pitches is the Children Youth and Families Department, which says it needs an additional $10 million to pursue reforms that partially arose out of deficiencies in the massive system that emerged after the tragic death of 9-year-old abuse victim Omaree Varela. Sweeping reforms were ordered last year by Gov. Susana Martinez in response.
In past years, CYFD has struggled with staffing shortages and excessive caseloads, and that has led to difficulty in attracting and retaining caseworkers. The agency wants 93 new full-time positions in the Protective Services Division to reduce caseloads and worker burnout.
The funding request also would establish several child advocacy centers staffed by caseworkers and law enforcement agents around the state and four more support sites to provide short-term intervention for families with three or more referrals related to abuse or neglect.
There is no doubt these reforms are critically needed and CYFD’s staffing and outreach efforts should be beefed up. No one wants another Omaree Varela tragedy.
Even though new money is limited, legislators should rank CYFD reforms as one of their top priorities for funding – along with an expanded closing fund desperately needed to help New Mexico transition away from an economy overly dependent on federal dollars.
There will be many valid requests. But these two have important long-term effects.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.