News Column

New Mexico Braces for Shutdown

October 1, 2013
New Mexico Susana Martinez

New Mexico was keeping a close eye on Washington, D.C., on Monday, preparing for a federal government shutdown that, starting today, could close national parks and lead to furloughs and pay freezes for federal employees in the state.

At Carlsbad Caverns National Park, one of the state's 11 national parks or monuments, employees were planning to show up for work this morning -- and then be sent home in the case of a government shutdown.

All roads to the iconic caverns in southeastern New Mexico, along with the park's visitor center, would be closed to the public in the case of a shutdown.

"When it is resolved, we would return to work the next day," said Valerie Gohlke, a National Park Service public affairs officer at Carlsbad Caverns.

As Congress debated possible last-minute deals that could end a budget impasse, state budget officials in Santa Fe were hoping to minimize disruptions to state services.

Highway workers, Medicaid administrators and other state employees funded by federal dollars will stay on the job -- with their pay uninterrupted -- at least through Dec. 31, officials in Gov. Susa-na Martinez's administration said Monday.

A total of 1,804 state government jobs are paid entirely with federal funds, and budget analysts were looking at ways to temporarily pay salaries for those positions.

Overall, they were confident that state agencies, "could carry forward by using appropriations that would get them through the end of the calendar year," Finance and Administration Secretary Tom Clifford said.

In addition, Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, a Deming Democrat, pointed out that lawmakers set aside $17 million in this year's state budget to offset possible federal funding gaps.

A shutdown could also slow the federal judicial system in New Mexico, as civil lawsuits would be largely put on hold and court secretaries, receptionists and translators might be temporarily out of work.

However, criminal cases would still proceed, though possibly at a slower pace, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

New Mexico's congressional delegation braced for a government shutdown in widely divergent ways. All members will remain on the job, but their staffs face different fates. Republican Rep. Steve Pearce plans to shut all of his offices and furlough all his staff during the shutdown while Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Lujan plans to keep all staff working and all offices open.

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, is putting her staff on a rotating furlough schedule, with the number of people furloughed depending on the length of the shutdown. Lujan Grisham's Albuquerque and Washington, D.C ., offices will remain open to constituents.

Lujan Grisham also announced she will donate any pay she receives during the shutdown to a charity that helps military veterans avoid homelessness. Pearce said he would reimburse the federal Treasury for the amount of any pay he receives during the shutdown.

Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, both Democrats, are furloughing 32 and 31 employees, respectively, and closing all offices in the state and in D.C., but all meetings previously scheduled for their D.C. offices will happen as planned. Both senators are keeping a skeleton crew of staffers on duty during the shutdown.

Meanwhile, about 20,000 workers at Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories, the state's two largest federally funded employers, have been instructed to report to work today even if the federal government shuts down.

Independent contractors run the labs for the government, and in both cases they have carry-over funding left from previous years' budgets to keep working for at least a short period of time, management of both labs said last week in memos distributed to their staffs.

The shutdown could also affect paychecks for roughly 2,100 Pentagon-funded civilian employees at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque. Workers at White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo could feel a similar pinch.

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(c)2013 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

Original headline: State braces for shutdown



Source: (c)2013 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)