Friday, January 15, 2010

Report: Efficiency can save state $129 million annually

Facing a nearly $500 million deficit, Gov. Bill Richardson will consider recommendations, by a committee he appointed last month, to make sweeping changes in state goverment, which are all aimed at saving taxpayer money and making New Mexico's government more efficient.

The report, from the Committee for Government Efficiency, which was was submitted to the governor yesterday, identified a total of $129 million in annual budget savings, and calls for merging some state departments, doing away with more than a dozen boards and commissions and changing the public school funding formula.

"These are solid recommendation that make a lot of sense as we look for new ways to reduce spending and cut bureaucracy," Richardson said in a statement released on Thursday afternoon. "I'm ready to pursue many of these ideas immediately during the upcoming legilsative session and by executive order."

In addition to its immediate recommendations to downsize the government, the committee also made long-term recommendations to reduce both the state payroll and the number of the state's colleges, universities, and school districts.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, told the Associated Press some of the committee's recommendations are "heavy-hitters" and would require further study after the legislative session.

"It seems to me that given this legislative session we're going into, people just want to raise money so we can go back to business as usual and pass up this opportunity," Smith said. "We look at the down side because there's no money, but this is a tremendous opportunity for government to redefine itself."

Workforce reductions possible

Smith wants the legislature to look for places to pare back costs and that could lead to a reduction in workforce.

Currently, the state employees the highest number of government workers per capita in the country. In fact, there are 24.5 employees per 1,000 residents, which is 72 percent higher than the national average of 14.3.

But many of those workers are employed by corrections and higher education institutes.

Compared to Arizona, which has about triple the population and only three public universities, New Mexico, the has six four-year universities and at least 18 two-year colleges.

Carter Bundy, who is the political and legislative director for AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, said he believes that state's rural status is the primary reason for the high ratio of government employees.

"If you look at the list of state that have a (high) number of employees per capita, they're virtually all rural states," Bundy told the Albuquerque Journal. It reflects the reality that we have a lot of people in a lot of different places to serve, and we don't the get benefits of economies of scale."

Bundy also reminded the Journal that New Mexico has "fewer classified state employees per capita than it did in 2002.

The committee's recommendations also include merging the Public Education Department with the Higher Education Department and joining the Homeland Security Department with the Department of Public Safety.

The committee suggested a state Commerce Department could be created by joining existing departments of economic development, labor, tourism, regulation and licensing, workers compensation, border authority and the spaceport authority. Additionally, the Environment Department and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department could also be combined.

The recommendations also call for changes to Medicaid benefits and public school funding that could save New Mexico an estimated $110 million.

Considered for elimination would be 18 boards and commissions, including the Governor's Finance Council, the Green Jobs Council, the Governor's Blue Ribbon Water Task Force and some more obscure entities, such as the Interior Design Board and the Storage Tank Committee.

Many boards and commissions have outlived their original purpose or are no longer effective, the committee report suggested.

The committee's members, mostly veterans of state government finance and budgeting, were praised for their by the group's chairman former Gov. Garrey Carruthers.

"This is a very knowledgeable group of people who know state government and know where to look to find significant savings," Carruthers said in a news release. "We look forward to continue to work with Governor Richardson and the Legislature to streamline government and make it more responsive to New Mexicans, particularly during these tough economic times."

The group included New Mexico Tech President Daniel Lopez, former Finance and Administration secretary Willard Lewis, UNM Executive Vice President for Administration David Harris, Chris Krahling, a former architect of the government reorganization in the Jerry Apodoca administration, former DFA budget director John Gasparich, and current DFA Secretary Katherine Miller.

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