State overtime increases; cost was $36M in 2013

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Dan Bo yd / Jo urnal Staff Writer Sat, Dec 28, 2013
State overtime increases; cost was $36M in 2013

Originally appeared in the Albuquerque Journal:

SANTA FE – The number of overtime hours worked by rank-and-f ile New Mexico state government employees
has risen steadily in recent years, while the number of workers has decreased.
The state paid out nearly $36.7 million in overtime – representing nearly 1.6 million overtime hours – during the
2013 budget year, according to a State Personnel Of f ice report released earlier this month.
Those f igures were up signif icantly f rom previous years. Just three years earlier, in the 2010 f iscal year, a total
of $24.4 million in overtime – the cost of roughly 1 million in overtime hours – was paid to classif ied state
Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe, said he’s concerned about the trend. He questioned why some state
agencies in Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration have not been using the f ull amount of money appropriated
to them by the Legislature f or f illing vacant jobs.
You can only run overtime f or an individual f or so long bef ore they start burning out,” said Varela, chairman of
the Legislative Finance Committee.
State Personnel Director Gene Moser, however, said the rise in overtime cost and usage is attributable to an
aging state workf orce and a spike in retirements.
Although Moser said the Martinez administration is concerned about the burnout f actor and trying to keep
pace with the high rate of retiring state workers, he added that some employees welcome the chance to make
extra money.
“What we’re seeing in some areas is the overtime isn’t spread evenly,” he said. “Some f olks just want to work
the overtime f or extra cash.”
He pointed out that the 3,090 classif ied employees hired by the state during the 2013 budget year marked a big
jump f rom the previous year, when 2,193 employees were hired.
But the number of workers leaving also increased, f rom 2,332 in the 2012 budget year to 2,962 last year,
according to the Personnel Of f ice report.
Vacancies, overtime
The State Personnel Of f ice said in its report that there is a direct link between state government vacancy rates
and overtime.
“If an agency has a vacant position, someone may be required to do the work that would normally be done f or
that position by working additional hours in response to special circumstances,” the Personnel Of f ice report
“This is acceptable in the short term. However, when this occurs regularly or f or extended periods of time, it
could be an indicator of other issues in the organization.”
The report described overtime as an “unbudgeted liability” that is usually paid with savings generated f rom
vacant jobs. Most employees receive 1.5 times their regular salary f or overtime, which is def ined as any time in
excess of 40 hours a week.
High vacancy rates
With some state agencies having vacancy rates higher than 20 percent, because of the elevated retirement
rates and other f actors, money intended f or hiring employees can be used instead f or overtime. That’s despite
the f act that not all vacant state government positions are f unded by the Legislature.
Meanwhile, New Mexico union leaders say they have heard about many state employees leaving their
government jobs specif ically because of the heavier job burdens.
“It’s great to earn overtime once in a while, but at the end of the day we’d rather see us staf f ed f ully,” said
Miles Conway, communications director f or the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees
union in New Mexico.
Carter Bundy, AFSCME’s political director in the state, said the high overtime and vacancy rates can lead to
longer wait times f or members of the public and potentially dangerous conditions in state-run prisons.
“The services aren’t being provided ef f iciently, and our members end up overworked,” Bundy said. “This isn’t
government working the way it should.”
Employment drops
The $36.7 million spent by the state on overtime during the 2013 budget year occurred while the number of
rank-and-f ile state workers was decreasing.
New Mexico had 17,795 rank-and-f ile employees spread across the state’s various agencies as of Sept. 30.
That’s down f rom 18,253 workers as of December 2012.
Those employees are also known as classif ied workers; they are hired through the state’s classif ied personnel
system and can only be hired under state personnel rules and f ired f or cause. They make up the majority of
the total state government workf orce, which also includes so-called “exempt” employees, who are appointed to
their jobs.
In all, the state had about 22,700 workers as of Sept. 30.
In addition to the increase in overtime, the Martinez administration during the 2012 budget year spent more
than $30 million the Legislature had appropriated f or salaries and benef its on contractual services and other
The administration has def ended such f unding shif ts as important to running government ef f iciently and not
out of the ordinary.