By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
SANTA FE – The good news about a possible government shutdown? It won’t affect the vast majority of people in New Mexico, even most state employees.
The bad news? Since the state’s economy is so heavily reliant on federal dollars, a shutdown centered in Washington, D.C., will have more financial ripple effects in New Mexico on a per person basis than in most states.
“We really, really want to be open, but if we have to close, we close,” Chris Judson, park ranger and public information officer at Bandelier National Monument, said on the eve of an imminent federal shutdown. “We will have to close the park completely.”
But as of Monday afternoon, it looks as though state agencies figure to hold up fairly well, despite the uncertainty.
Here’s a quick look at governmental entities that could be affected if Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill fail to hammer out an agreement by midnight Monday:
National Park Service: All 11 of New Mexico’s park and monuments under the NPS would close. At Bandelier, Judson says, nearly all personnel will be sent home except for a “minimal maintenance crew to make sure there are no water leaks in the buildings and such,” as well as some law enforcement rangers to protect the site. A similar setup will go into effect at the world-famous Carlsbad Caverns National Park, which plans to close Tuesday morning.
Carlsbad Caverns took to its Facebook page to warn visitors:
And so did Bandelier:
Both Facebook sites had a handful of political comments about the potential shutdown. In recent days, visitors have voiced their opinions to park rangers.
“They can speak freely,” Judson said. “They know we don’t have any control over it. We can’t really respond.”
State parks: Officials with New Mexico State Parks don’t anticipate any impacts.
Military bases: This sector will be hardest hit.
While active duty military personnel at New Mexico’s bases are not expected to be affected, civilian workers at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, Holloman AFB outside Alamogordo, Cannon AFB outside Clovis and the White Sands Missile Range — under the U.S. Army and U.S. Department of Defense — will definitely feel the pinch.
Especially hard-hit will be the White Sands Missile Range, where Monte Marlin, chief of public affairs, says nearly all of the 2,700 civilian employees will be furloughed. “This affects morale, families and lifeystyles,” Marlin said.
“It affects my blood pressure because I’m a civilian,” joked Arlon Ponder, director of media relations at Holloman. Ponder estimated that 420 civilians at Holloman not listed as “essential” face furloughs, on a day-to-day basis.
The public affairs officer at Cannon, Marcelo Calero, told New Mexico Watchdog in an email that of the base’s 4,800 active duty personnel, “if an agreement is not reached, our highly-valued workforce of more than 400 civilians would be furloughed as a result of a government shutdown starting tomorrow (Tuesday).”
About half of the 2,000 civilian workforce at Kirtland will face furloughs unless a last-minute deal is struck, according to the base’s public affairs department.
Furloughed employees don’t get paid, unless a special congressional appropriation is passed. “We just have to listen and find out what happens as each day passes, I guess,” Ponder said.
National laboratories: Los Alamos and Sandia are two of the biggest employers in the state, but it appears their workers are safe for now.
In a memo published in the Albuquerque Journal, Sandia President Paul J. Hommer told lab employees this: “Sandia will continue to operate in the short term by using unspent, prior-year carryover” money. “Therefore, all members of the workforce should report to work as normal — and in the days that follow — unless otherwise notified.” Most of Sandia’s Albuquerque site has about 9,800 regular employees and staff contractors.
Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan on Thursday sent his own memo to employees, echoing Hommer’s message and telling workers the lab had enough unspent money from fiscal 2013 to keep running. LANL has just fewer than 7,000 regular employees, LANL spokesman Fred D’Souza told New Mexico Watchdog. Add in additional contractors and post doctoral students, and the number rises to 10,000.
New Mexico state agencies: The Department of Finance and Administration officials were taking an inventory of state agencies to check how their revenue streams are affected by a potential cutoff of federal dollars. “The good news,” DFA spokesman Tim Korte said Monday, “is we think most have agencies have enough to last 2-3 months … We’re confident they can last.”
Korte reported there are 1,804 federally-funded term positions among the state’s 22,249 employees.
Mail delivery: No effect.
Social Security and Medicare checks: No effect.
Money for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families: Enrique Knell, spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez, said, for now, the state anticipates having reserve balances that could be used to cover many social welfare programs. But Knell took a shot at Capitol Hill, saying in his email: “The Governor thinks this is a continued display of the dysfunction in Washington D.C. It’s ridiculous that states have to plan for a possible federal government shutdown, while we work hard at the state level to balance the budget and provide basic government services as efficiently and effectively as possible.”
U.S. Forest Service: A memo from the U.S. Department of Agriculture said essential services, such as forest fire-fighting and response to emergencies and disasters, will be maintained across the country. On Tuesday, forest employees “will be directed to report to their supervisors to receive assignments of duties or other pertinent information for an orderly closedown.” This may mean the closing of parts of such popular hiking areas as the Carson, Santa Fe and Cibola national forests.
The potential shutdown highlights a larger issue: How New Mexico’s economy has, for so long, been reliant on federal dollars.
More than 40 percent of the state’s land is held by the federal government, which provides more than a quarter of the state’s jobs.
In 2005, the federal government spent $2.03 on New Mexico for every dollar in tax revenue collected from the state — the highest rate in the country.
“What bothers me the most is that New Mexico could get hit harder and harder” with budget showdowns and federal sequestration, said state Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, a longtime fiscal hawk.
“Sequestration and the like do reflect the over-reliance on federal spending in the state of New Mexico,” Smith said, urging officials to find ways to diversify the economy.
“In time I think there’s going to be a reduction in (federal) spending regardless who’s president. I don’t want our state to be the bug on the windshield.”
Contact Rob Nikolewski at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski
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