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On the budget, Denish leaves Martinez in the road

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By Sherry Robinson

Last week the Legislative Finance Committee warned that the state could see another revenue shortfall, even with the combined cuts and tax increases delivered in the last legislative session, even with federal stimulus money. The governor is presently ignoring the committee’s Nervous Nellies and waiting for consensus estimates by government economists.

You will recall that if we see red ink, the ball – tossed to him by legislators – is in the governor’s court.

The good news is that taxes and royalties on oil and natural gas are up, and from visits to Santa Fe and Ruidoso, I see tourism is rebounding. (Thank God for oil, gas and Texans.) The bad news is that certain Legislative leaders and the governor counted on 6 percent revenue growth, a number many questioned at the time as overly rosy.

What do our candidates for governor have to say? Republican Susana Martinez has three paragraphs on her Web site. Democrat Diane Denish has six pages. Six pages!

Of her three paragraphs (susanamartinez2010.com), Martinez spends the first one complaining about the current administration’s “wild spending spree.” In her second and third paragraphs, she wrote that she would oppose raising taxes to solve budget problems, cut wasteful spending, tighten belts, put money in a rainy-day fund (we already do this), rebate tax dollars during good years, eliminate programs that don’t work, and balance revenue and spending.

For the most part, these are platitudes, not plans.

Martinez is a smart lawyer, but as a district attorney she hasn’t had the same kind of exposure to state budget issues that Denish has enjoyed (if I can use that word) as lieutenant governor. Even so, you’d think the Republicans could have rounded up some knowledgeable people to produce a statement that doesn’t sound like Jello thrown at the wall.

(I have a feeling defeated Republican candidate Janice Arnold-Jones, a state representative, wouldn’t be so unprepared.)

Denish (dianedenish.com), on the other hand, offers a plan she calls, “A New Way of Doing Business” that puts a number to each element; the total is $450 million in savings during the next five years. It’s so beefy it can’t be adequately described in this space.

Briefly, Denish would cut another 100 political appointments, return the number of exempt positions to pre-2002 levels, and offer one-time, voluntary buy-outs to state employees who are not in high-demand or hard-to-recruit position. She would require agencies to meet performance standards and as those standards revealed inefficiencies, eliminate them.

Under the heading of accountability, she proposes a series of measures to gauge the benefits of tax credits. Now that the state’s checkbook is online, Denish would implement an expansion of the Sunshine Portal to allow citizens to report waste.  She would consolidate all agency inspectors general and fraud and abuse staff in one Office of Government Accountability led by a Chief Performance and Accountability Officer who answers to the governor.

She would eliminate at least four cabinet-level positions, cut or consolidate at least 100 boards and commissions, and reduce the state’s auto fleet.

She has a seven-step plan to reform New Mexico’s truly awful capital outlay process. It includes a strict use-it-or-lose-it policy that returns unused capital outlay money after two years on the books, a state Capital Outlay Planning Board that drafts and maintains a five-year plan, no use of long-term bonds to finance short-term projects and property, help for local governments to prioritize projects and a limit of three a year on their requests for funding.

Finally, she calls for a culture of customer service in state government to be achieved, in part, by training and new, customer-friendly hours.

It’s painfully obvious that one candidate has given the state’s budget a great deal of thought. The other? The dog ate her homework.

Sherry Robinson is a syndicated columnist.

© New Mexico News Services 2010