Committee’s effectiveness doubted

-A A +A

Group is supposed to identify ways to reduce state expenses

By Carol A. Clark

On Monday, Gov. Bill Richardson announced the formation of the Committee on Government Efficiency, tasked with developing ideas to help reduce the cost of operating state government.

Rep. Jeannette Wallace, R-N.M., expressed skepticism that the committee will achieve its mission.

“When you ask the governor to, across the board, make cuts in state agencies and he won’t do it at our recommendation as the LFC — why should we believe a committee will do any better?” she said.

Wallace mentioned last week that she heard a special committee was being created to look at how to consolidate state government to reduce costs.

As a member of the Legislative Finance Committee, Wallace is at the forefront of legislators scrutinizing the state’s finances. She criticized state officials during an interview Thursday for not disclosing sooner the fact that revenues will run about $10 million less than anticipated this year and $53 million less in 2010.

The officials knew the bleak forecast for quite some time, she said, and should have publicly admitted that New Mexico is facing a potential $500-$600 million budget gap next year.

Earlier this month, Richardson said during a news conference that he formed a task force to consider tax-increase options.

Wallace suggested the governor focus on cutting spending rather than raising taxes.

“The spending comes in through the state and that’s part of the problem — they’re spending more than we have and most of us don’t feel it should be set up that way,” she said at the time.

The LFC finished on Tuesday its meeting that began last week, she said.

“We still have disagreements on what we expect revenues will be and on where to cut. We need the governor’s budget,” she said.

Wallace, who also holds a seat on the House Appropriations Committee, explained the LFC compares its budget with the governor’s budget, makes adjustments and presents a House Appropriations Budget when the legislature convenes next month.

“We went into special session (in September) and we didn’t even have a proclamation from the governor so we don’t know when we’ll get his budget. We don’t need it now but do expect it by Jan.1,” Wallace said.

Richardson has appointed eight New Mexicans to his new Committee on Government Efficiency. The committee will review all areas of state government and analyze potential savings through streamlining, consolidating and eliminating certain areas, he said in a news release Tuesday.

Richardson wants a fresh look for savings, given the state’s current economic conditions, he said, adding that a similar cost-cutting effort at the beginning of Richardson’s Administration realized significant savings, such as the canceling of $22 million in unnecessary contracts, he said.

“Over the past year, I’ve taken necessary action to responsibly cut state spending and balance the budget. I’ve established this committee to help identify additional areas for savings and increased efficiency by conducting a top-to-bottom review of state government," Richardson said.

The committee will make recommendations to be considered by lawmakers in the upcoming legislative session set for Jan. 19.

The committee is an independent working group chaired by former Gov. Garry Carruthers. Cabinet Secretary Katherine Miller of the Department of Finance and Administration also was appointed to the committee.

Richardson appointed six other committee members whom he describes as possessing extensive knowledge and experience as executive-level veterans of budgeting for the State of New Mexico:

•Willard Lewis, former DFA cabinet secretary;

•John Gasparich, former state budget director;

•Tres Giron, former chief financial officer for the State Department of Education;

•Dr. Dan Lopez, president of New Mexico Mining and Technology and former DFA cabinet secretary;

•David Harris, UNM executive vice president for administration and former Legislative Finance Committee director; and

•Chris Krahling, administrative assistant to Gov. Jerry Apodaca during the state government reorganizations of 1977 and former cabinet secretary of the Health and Environment Department.