Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s finance chief plans to leave her post next month, weeks before legislators and state officials are expected to convene to patch a big gap in revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Olivia Padilla-Jackson, Cabinet secretary at the Department of Finance and Administration, notified Lujan Grisham’s administration of her resignation this week and will leave her position for another job in Albuquerque at the end of May, the Governor’s Office said.
Debbie Romero, who is deputy secretary and a longtime department official, will replace Padilla-Jackson as acting secretary.
The resignation comes as the governor and legislators are preparing for a special legislative session to address what is projected to be a massive budget shortfall caused by plummeting oil prices and the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on the economy.
Padilla-Jackson would have been a major player in those efforts. The department will instead be led by Romero, who has been in state government for 38 years — the majority of them at the finance department, according to the agency’s website.
In another staff move, Pam Coleman, director of the State Personnel Office, will now chair the state’s Complete Count Commission, which promotes census efforts. “Both individuals are eminently qualified to serve in those leadership roles, and we look forward to their continued service,” Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett said.
As state budget director, Romero was heavily involved in the budgetary process during the last legislative session. She also worked in the capital outlay bureau of the budget division during the administration of former Gov. Susana Martinez, according to her LinkedIn page, and has been chief financial officer for the state’s Department of Homeland Security.
Key New Mexico lawmakers have said state revenue could fall short of projections by $1.5 billion to $2 billion for fiscal year 2021, as oil prices continue to fall and the outlook for tax revenue worsens.
Legislative finance officials have said that given oil prices and the virtual shutdown of many sectors of the economy by the state’s public health orders, there may not be enough money in the state’s giant Tax Stabilization Reserve to cover the lost revenue. That fund, which could be tapped in a special session, was holding $1.1 billion as of January.
Lujan Grisham and legislators have said repeatedly a special session will likely be held sometime in mid-June.