Public sector continues winning

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By Harold Morgan

The central political battle of our time is between the public sector, public sector unions in particular, and the private sector.

The battle is over “who defines the work and institutions that make a nation thrive and grow,” in the elegant words of columnist Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal. Easterners seem unhappy with the public sector dominance. Scott Brown’s Senate victory in Massachusetts is the prime example.

New Mexico’s public sector continues winning.

Day two of the current session of the Legislature brought HB 9, an immediate 1 percent surtax on “wealthy” single people earning more than $133,000 per year, with higher limits on couples. Democratic heavies in the House introduced the bill, starting with Rep. Ed Sandoval of Albuquerque, chair of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee.

A side note. While $133,000 is much more than I make, people earning that much, though doing nicely, aren’t wealthy. A bunch of them, in truth, work for the government at national laboratories and universities. Others own small businesses.

More tax proposals are expected.

The Legislature’s left has even created a formal “Working Families Caucus.” The group, perhaps the Legislature’s first formal caucus, is aghast at spending cuts.

The pro-tax message has connected, as I suspected it would.

Alternative messages don’t connect. Gov. Bill Richardson’s Committee on Government Efficiency got a 34-word mention in the State of the State Message. The movie subsidy got 301 words.

“By consolidating agencies, as well as boards and commissions with overlapping functions, we can save at least $25 million,” Richardson said. The committee’s obvious proposals for saving another $104 million went unmentioned. For your convenience, I have posted the committee’s report at www.capitolreportnewmexico.com. Look under “Documents” for “Efficiency Committee 1/14/10.”

The business message fails to connect. No wonder. The message comes from “business.” Certainly, the term doesn’t include the 75 percent of New Mexicans with wage jobs and not working for the government. The image, if anything, is of some small group running things from, well, a corner office. In politics, I learned long ago, the message must touch people’s lives. Corner offices don’t inspire.

Pitching ideas that are both possible and true would also help the business advocates’ image. Beverlee McClure, president and CEO of the Association of Commerce and Industry (ACI), the statewide chamber of commerce, uses 114,000 as the figure for statewide unemployment. This is more than half again the usually quoted 75,000 for November, but probably accurate if you throw in everyone.

McClure said that the only way to put all 114,000 back to work is to recruit new businesses to the state. Apparently she thinks existing businesses won’t ever hire, which is incorrect. My entirely cursory search found a new staffer at Home Safe Software of Albuquerque, which now has six people and, notice, is a technology firm.

One problem with McClure’s claim is that a good many of the 114,000 aren’t going back to work at all, in part because their jobs have disappeared.

A second problem is that the idea that recruiting firms will provide 114,000 jobs simply isn’t going to happen. To lay the entire solution to employing New Mexicans on the very capable shoulders of business recruiters around the state is simply unfair.

Republican candidates for governor offer little. The Albuquerque Journal asked the five for solutions to the $500 million current-year deficit. Four spouted the usual conservative pabulum. Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, the only one with actual state government experience, suggested the clever notion of inviting ideas from randomly selected employees from each agency, not from department secretaries.

For now, anyway, New Mexico’s political establishment and the public sector unions are well ahead. That’s not good.

© 2010 New Mexico News Services