A New Mexico program that taught personal finance to high school students is the latest victim of layoffs linked to the state’s budget crisis.
The New Mexico State Treasurer’s Office has trimmed six positions with approval from the State Personnel Board — including two employees who ran a financial literacy program for youths, Deputy State Treasurer Sam Collins said on Tuesday. The layoffs come even as the agency seeks more funding next year to fill top accounting posts.
The Treasurer’s Office is struggling with an 8.5 percent budget reduction during this fiscal year, as New Mexico seeks to close a stubborn budget shortfall linked to downturn in the oil and natural gas sector and the nation’s second-highest unemployment rate.
Democratic State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg said it was sadly ironic that he had to cut a program that he lobbied for during his 2014 election campaign aimed at teaching young people how to make responsible decisions about savings and debt as they prepare for college or to enter the workforce.
“How do I teach financial literacy if I’m not fiscally responsible myself?” he said. “I can’t tell you how saddened I am to cut that program.”
Despite making the cuts, the agency is asking lawmakers and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez for a budget increase in the upcoming fiscal year to add a chief risk management officer and a chief investment officer because it says new investment challenges loom.
If approved, salaries and benefits for the two positions would cost the state about $230,000 a year — erasing savings from recent layoffs. Collins said approval by the Legislature is unlikely given the state’s fragile finances.
“We’re trying to make sure that we fulfill our statutory responsibilities, which is to be fiduciaries of the cash reserves for the citizens of the state,” Collins said. “It’s just a matter of priorities.”
Before being dissolved, the financial literacy program provided lessons to about 5,000 students at public schools, from Deming to Española. Eichenberg said he hopes to resurrect the effort if state finances improve.
The remaining 29 full-time employees at the Treasurer’s Office represent a tiny portion of a state government workforce that employs nearly 22,000 people. The office oversees billions of dollars in the state general fund investment pool, where balances have been shrinking this year at a rate of $58 million a month.
“The balances are declining month-to-month, so the trick is making sure we have liquid funds to meet the state’s obligations,” Collins explained. “Historically we would invest over a longer time horizon” that provides greater opportunities for earnings.