New Mexico proposes cash for state workers’ skipped vacation

Politics - Government

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she will use federal funds to replenish the state’s depleted unemployment insurance trust at a news conference on Friday, June 11, 2021, at the state Capitol building in Santa Fe, N.M. New Mexico’s Workforce Solutions Department that oversees unemployment claims is embarking on reforms aimed at improving efficiency and service, while cracking down on perpetrators of fraudulent claims with help from federal authorities. Agency staffing is being increased by 110 positions. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is proposing extra pay worth up to two weeks of salary for longtime state employees under her oversight who skimped on vacation in 2020 amid the pandemic.

The State Personnel Board is scheduled to consider approval Friday of pay for rank-and-file executive-branch employees and political appointees who have accrued large balances of vacation leave that might otherwise expire.

Under ordinary circumstances, state employees lose without payment any unused vacation leave in excess of 240 hours at the end of the calendar year. State Personnel Secretary Ricky Serna says that expiration deadline for 2020 was delayed under extraordinary circumstances. The proposal from the governor would offer up to 80 hours of salary to people who still haven’t used excess vacation allotments, Serna said. “Their call to duty made it very difficult for those employees to take that leave that they have earned,” Serna said.

State workers could opt out and use excess vacation time by July 9, under the proposal. The proposal arrives as Lujan Grisham ramps up her campaign for reelection, amid a state general-fund budget surplus and pressure from public labor unions to restore proposed pay raises that were reined in by Legislators in June 2020.

Lujan Grisham has not yet released detailed plans for $1.7 billion in new federal relief to New Mexico, from a package approved in March by President Joe Biden. The governor has voiced a commitment to replenish New Mexico’s depleted unemployment insurance trust, at a cost of up to $600 million, to stave off tax increases on businesses.

Serna said the proposal from the governor would recognize extraordinary efforts by many state workers during the pandemic. “There were just a number of state employees at all levels that were just dedicated to being here day-in and day-out. This is a measure that recognizes that level of service,” he said.

Serna said that state financial officials believe agency budgets are sufficient to cover the proposed payments without new appropriations by lawmakers. Estimates were not immediately available on potential spending and the number of likely beneficiaries.

The state personnel secretary also noted that vacation options were limited during the pandemic. Under aggressive public health orders, New Mexico previously shut down its state parks, museums and historical sites and intermittently ordered self-quarantines for travelers entering or returning to the state. Serna also is overseeing the state unemployment insurance system after the departure in May of Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley.

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