Government Employees: The Rest of the Story

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In its October newsletter, the Legislative Finance Committee claims that the “number of state employees is down 3.4 percent compared with this time last year and is down 12 percent from FY09.” (See graph, taken from the publication, above.)

The LFC appears to be counting state workers outside the higher-education system, but that’s a very dubious approach. Toss in the number of employees (full-time equivalent) for New Mexico’s colleges and universities, and the total number of people on the state’s payroll more than doubles.

But the proper way to count nonfederal “public servants” is to tally both state and local employees. By that measure, labor productivity has been disappointing during the last decade and a half. The chart below shows how little has been accomplished. The peak number of jobs came in 2007. Since then, the number of positions has fallen by just 5.9 percent — not impressive, given the state’s drooping population and the increasing availability of technology that enhances per-worker output.

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This summer, Governing magazine did some computations that should make every New Mexico taxpayer blanch. It found that when all states are ranked, New Mexico has the 10th highest ratio of noneducation public employees to population. The comparable metric for the state’s K-12 schools wasn’t too bad, landing at about the median. But for the colleges-and-universities ratio, the finding was mighty scary. New Mexico fell behind only North Dakota as the state with the most higher-education employees.

The bottom line? Month-to-month — and even year-to-year — analyses of government payrolls aren’t very useful. It’s best to look at the long-term trend, counting at both the state and local levels. Examining how the Land of Enchantment compares with other states is essential as well. When those data are scrutinized, it’s clear that taxpayers in New Mexico can justifiably demand more from the men and women on public payrolls.

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