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Martinez: Medicaid, Education Cuts Possible

By Sean Olson
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          Gov.-elect Susana Martinez on Monday nominated Ed Burckle to be her General Services Department secretary, and said one of his first orders of business will be to sell the state's $5.5 million jet, which she called "a symbol of this administration's waste and excess."
        Also on Monday, Martinez acknowledged that net cuts in funding for both education and Medicaid programs will be on the table in January to balance the state budget — a departure from her campaign promises that education and Medicaid budgets would not be cut.
        But she went on to say that if education and Medicaid are cut, she will protect classroom spending and "core services."
        She told a news conference Monday that a growing revenue shortfall in the budget forecast is behind the change in her policy.
        "What we have talked about throughout the campaign, when we understood that the deficit was a little over $200 million, was that we were not going to cut education or Medicaid," Martinez told the news conference. "About a week after I got elected, actually, the deficit grew (by) $252 million."
        Throughout the discussion, she has used education to mean state spending for kindergarten through 12th grade.
        "Only 61 cents of every dollar goes into the classroom right now, and I am committed to making sure that we do not make any cuts to the classroom," she said Monday. "And if there is waste in the administration ... that is something that we will be looking at to make sure we get rid of the waste."
        While she said she will consider unspecified cuts to Medicaid in her budget, she also vowed to continue to protect spending in the Medicaid program for "core services to the most vulnerable" people.
        No deal on jet
        Selling the state jet is a campaign promise that Martinez intends to keep as soon as possible.
        She said the sale would get rid of a purchase that had not been recommended by the state's General Services Department and the state Legislature when Gov. Bill Richardson proposed it five years ago.
        The plane has created headaches for the Richardson administration and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish. Denish, who was defeated by Martinez in the gubernatorial race, was attacked for her own occasional use of the plane, including a day trip to a Gallup parade.
        Denish has said selling the state jet is a bad idea, as there is little demand for it on the open market and the state probably would not get a good price.
        Burckle said Monday that the jet would be only one aspect of his cost-cutting agenda as General Services secretary.
        "I'm looking forward to seeing where the state can save money, becoming not only more efficient, but more importantly to the taxpayer, more effective," Burckle told the news conference.
        Burckle, a retired Air Force colonel, had served as a commander of three acquisition units and later acted as director of acquisition legislation at the Pentagon.
        Burckle also has overseen a private company that provided construction and maintenance for facilities at Los Alamos National Laboratories. Most recently, he served as executive director of the Regional Development Corp., a Santa Fe-based nonprofit group that provides economic development services for local companies.
        In the classroom
        Officials in Martinez's transition team had indicated that there might be a softening of the Martinez commitment on cuts to education and Medicaid, but Martinez had not addressed the question until Monday.
        Also in jeopardy is one of Martinez's primary education proposals during the campaign. She had said her administration would shift $74 million from school "bureaucracies" into the classroom. That money also was slated to pay for several other education reforms Martinez campaigned on, including paying for at least part of the extra resources Martinez said would be assigned to public schools with the lowest student performances.
        Martinez said Monday that the current level of classroom spending will not be cut, but remained unclear about whether money saved through her proposed administrative cuts would end up in the classroom or be used to balance the state budget.
        "We have to be sure, (number) one, to change education and have reform that is going to be long-lasting and that is certainly something we are going to start working towards," Martinez said. "But the budget has to be balanced. That is primary. It is constitutionally required that that happen."
        Martinez's administration will submit its first state budget proposal to the Legislature when it convenes in January. The new governor and the lawmakers will hammer out the final product over the following two months.

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