Taxpayers deserve something from Neal’s $1M buyout

April 11, 2017 GMT

If there ever was a state teetering on the fiscal cliff and unable to buy out the contract of a top executive, it is New Mexico.

Yet once again, The University of New Mexico is on the hook to pay former men’s basketball coach Craig Neal $1 million in 24 monthly installments so the program can hire someone else. That money reimburses Neal for the remaining years on his contract — and he gets to keep it all, with no strings and no obligations, unless he gets another coaching job.

Other state employees and university professors are probably wondering how they can get the same deal.

I perfectly understand what my sports-world colleagues say about the reasons for a buyout, which lets both the coach and the university out of their obligations. The athletic department doesn’t want a head coach who is unhappy — and making Neal work out the length of his contract brings uncertainty to recruits, who often commit to a program based on coaching style and personal chemistry.

But not only is UNM facing budget cuts and an uncertain future for its academic programs in the wake of state spending cuts; the athletic department itself is operating at a huge deficit and owes the academic side of UNM $1.5 million due to operating deficits and lower ticket sales, according to published reports.

Basically, student tuition dollars, lottery scholarships and taxpayers are supporting the athletic department, which has seen a string of coaching departures and buyouts.

To try and get out of the deepening hole, Athletic Director Paul Krebs told reporters last week he plans to lay off four or five employees and trim other expenses like travel. With a new coach, Krebs also hopes to reverse the decline in basketball ticket sales.

Still, other university employees, students and taxpayers should demand more. At $1 million, 65 students could receive free tuition and fees for a semester. Or an invested endowment of $1 million would yield $50,000 in student scholarships or faculty pay for years to come.

For New Mexico, it’s a lot of money, and paying it to someone for doing nothing is an insult to taxpayers. Neal and others who receive a buyout should be required to give something back to the state.

He can offer coaching clinics to high schools, host skills and training sessions, even advise high-school athletes across the state on college recruitment. Neal is still well liked, and lots of groups would welcome his volunteerism.

In a farewell letter to the UNM community, Neal thanked Krebs, UNM administrators as well as Gov. Susana Martinez, “for her friendship and her passion for improving the lives of our state’s children.”

He also offered gratitude to “community leaders, fellow Lobo coaches of other sports, and local businesses who gave their time, talents, and money in support of our program.”

But he and others at UNM have again failed to recognize and respect those who continue to pay the bills: taxpayers.

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The annual United Van Lines survey of those moving from one state to another in 2016 has mixed news for New Mexico.

Overall, the state is seeing an equal number of inbound and outbound moves, which means as many customers using the large moving service are coming into the state as leaving.

But the snapshot also shows what many in real estate and economic development suspect: The state is seeing more retirees coming, while job-seekers are leaving.

Of those moving for job-related reasons, just 40 percent are coming into New Mexico, while 53 percent are leaving the state. But for those stating retirement as a reason for a move, 18 percent are leaving the state while 27 percent are coming into New Mexico.

The state is also seeing an increase in those moving for a category called “Lifestyle.” Of these movers, 16 percent are coming to New Mexico, while 11 percent moving for lifestyle exit the Land of Enchantment.

The top inbound states for movers were South Dakota, Vermont and Oregon, while New Jersey, Illinois and New York had the most outbound moves. New Mexico along with Delaware and California were the three states with the most balanced number of those moving out versus coming in.

Of the states with the highest percentage of retirees relocating there, all were in the West, including Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Nevada and Arizona, according to United Van Lines.

Read the survey at www.unitedvanlines.com/ contact-united/news/movers-study-2016.

Contact Bruce Krasnow at brucek@sfnewmexican.com.