State government has shed more than 100 employees each month since the fiscal year began in July, according to a new analysis by the Legislative Finance Committee.
It means the ranks of state employees have shrunk to the lowest level in almost a decade as government agencies slash spending and freeze hiring in response to a budget crisis.
The number of state employees has declined 3.4 percent since this time last year and 12 percent over the last eight years, the Legislative Finance Committee reported Tuesday.
Much of the recent decline was caused by state agencies leaving jobs unfilled.
Budgets for staffing at New Mexico’s 20 largest state agencies have remained steady during the past couple of years, but the number of employees has fallen, the Legislative Finance Committee found.
A total of 15.7 percent of jobs in New Mexico government are vacant. That’s up about 1 percentage point since the beginning of July.
The State Personnel Office reported the government payroll included about 21,800 people in August, the lowest number since at least fiscal year 2008.
A spokesman for a union representing various state employees described several agencies as “heavily impacted by short-staffing,” including Department of Health facilities, the Children, Youth and Families Department, the Corrections Department and the agency responsible for processing food stamp applications.
“The work is getting more difficult as more and more work is loaded onto each individual worker,” said Miles Conway of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “Turnover becomes a major factor.”
Conway accused Gov. Susana Martinez of seeking to run New Mexico “on the cheap.”
“Gov. Martinez is taking big risks with our state’s infrastructure in order to abide by an unrealistic vision,” he said.
Others disagree, saying shrinking the state bureaucracy is only appropriate in the face of a budget shortfall. A report last summer from the conservative Rio Grande Foundation argued that advances in information technology and management reforms should allow state government to scale back its payroll.
Mike Lonergan, a spokesman for the governor, disputed the suggestion staffing has fallen to dangerous levels at agencies such as the Department of Health and the Human Services Department, arguing the agencies have met or exceeded goals in recent years.”
“No matter what the union bosses may say, we’re committed to prioritizing staff and services that support improving health and quality of life for New Mexicans who need it the most,” Lonergan said.