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New Mexico governor takes stock of first 6 months

Jul 10, 2019

Credit Office of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

  SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham says her administration inherited many challenges when she took over at the beginning of the year and her goal is to rebuild the capacity of state government so it will be better armed to solve problems.

Flanked by her cabinet members, the Democratic governor on Tuesday provided a progress report on her first six months in office.

She acknowledged there's work to be done to restore the public's faith in government, vowing repeatedly that she and her administration will be truthful and transparent.

'We're creating a brand new baseline and a brand new set of expectations," Lujan Grisham said.

Without mentioning her predecessor, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, Lujan Grisham took several swipes at the previous administration, saying vacancy rates across numerous agencies were high, state employees were demoralized and the public wasn't being adequately served.

Many of the problems stemmed from New Mexico being forced to tighten its belt due to an economic downturn that included a steep decline in the oil and gas industry, which provides a significant portion of funding that the state uses for public education and other social programs.

Now, Lujan Grisham and the Democrat-led state Legislature are enjoying a financial windfall from the current boom in the form of back-to-back $1 billion budget surpluses that have erased much of the fiscal pressure.

That means agencies are hiring workers again. Officials with the state personnel office say they are looking to put a dent in the 22% vacancy rate.

The administration also is piloting programs aimed at boosting access to mental health services, citing a vacuum that was created several years ago when the previous administration froze Medicaid payments over allegations that tens of millions of dollars were overpaid.

Lujan Grisham said Tuesday the 2013 shake-up had ripple effects throughout the health care delivery system that included less access to care and higher costs in the private market.

The governor acknowledged some of the problems her administration is facing have been decades in the making and have proved vexing for politicians on both sides of the aisle. That includes the persistent challenge of jump-starting the economy and attracting revenue-generating enterprises beyond the oil and gas industry.

Economic diversity will be the key to ensuring state government can serve the people, whether it's having the staff to quickly process business licenses or ensuring access to mental health care, Lujan Grisham said.

Members of her cabinet pointed to the burgeoning hemp manufacturing industry and the potential for renewable energy investments.

The governor said her cabinet will be organizing town halls around the state beginning next month in hopes of increasing public engagement.