The state's Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department, or EMNRD, met with lawmakers at the roundhouse Thursday to ask for a budget increase that could fund 41 new employees – mostly in the Oil Conservation and Forestry Divisions.
Legislators did not voice skepticism over EMNRD's assertions of climate change causing year-round wildfire seasons in New Mexico or the need for more regulatory oversight of oil, gas, and mining operations in the state, but they did suggest pumping the brakes on increasing the hiring budget for those divisions.
Republican Representative Randal Crowder read aloud from EMNRD’s budget summary, noting the department has over 100 vacant positions that are funded at $4.6 million.
Crowder said he had trouble making sense of the request when so much money for payroll is sitting unused. He said the only logical conclusion was “that it’s just incredibly hard to hire people, and you can’t find people.”
Democratic Senator George Muñoz was also critical of the request to create new positions during what he called an “employee crisis.” He pointed to New Mexico's low wages compared to the rest of the region as an added challenge to filling vacancies.
Muñoz then asked EMNRD Secretary Sarah Cottrell Propst how she could be sucessful with personell expansion in light of this employment environment. He said, “This is a pretty bold plan, and my question to you is, how do you expect to get this completed?”
Propst responded that it is easier to staff the Forestry Division because of partnerships with state universities that funnel in workers. For the Oil Conservation Division, one strategy that has been sucessful is to reclassify jobs so they can pay at higher levels to attract applicants.
The total proposed budget EMNRD requested for the upcoming fiscal year is $82,055,700 – a year-over-year increase of $12.1 million and about 17% more than the current year's budget.
Final budget decisions will be made in the upcoming legislative session that starts in January.