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Lt. Gov.-Elect John Sanchez was on a mission Thursday to gather Los Alamos business concerns to take back to Gov. Elect Susana Martinez.
“We’re excited about rolling up our sleeves,” Sanchez said.
A number of local business owners and managers assembled with Sanchez in council chambers and they weren’t shy about voicing their concerns. Chopping programs to balance the state’s estimated $450 million deficit was a major issue on the minds of educators at the meeting.
Assistant Superintendent of Schools Paula Dean encouraged the lieutenant governor to remember that Los Alamos is part of New Mexico.
“Sometimes in the past, the perception has been that there’s New Mexico and then there’s Los Alamos … I want you to know that there are as many needy children here as you’ll find in Santa Fe,” Dean said.
The nonprofit sector also joined the conversation.
CEO Susan Herrera of the nonprofit LANL Foundation told Sanchez that it’s going to take “a lot of soul searching” as the administration decides which cuts to implement in making up the state’s $450 million deficit.
“Education took a 10 percent cut last year and I don’t know how much more it can take,” she said.
Sanchez said that it’s not about throwing more money at a broken system, it’s about finding out why more money isn’t making it into the classrooms.
“Nonprofits are phenomenally efficient at leveraging funds… what I caution you about is being penny wise and pound foolish,” said Executive Director Susan Mack of Family Strengths Network. Mack was referring to cutting programs that affect children who then lose their way and enter the juvenile justice system, which drives up costs even more.
Otowi Station Book Store co-owner Peggy Durbin asked Sanchez to help independent book store owners by creating an analog of the sales tax act in New Mexico. She called for a level playing field in competing with online giants like Amazon.com who don’t pay state taxes. Sanchez said the same issue was raised in Taos and that the Martinez administration intends to look into it.
Other issues raised included the state charging advertising tax. “I don’t understand why I’m taxed on a business expense,” said CB Fox co-owner Dave Fox.
Local builder Stan Primak said his company’s biggest problem is competing with companies that don’t play by the rules. They don’t pay gross receipts tax, they hire undocumented workers and they don’t pay workman’s compensation or unemployment tax, he said. Sanchez said those issues would be addressed.
He also said the state’s unemployment fund was slated for insolvency by August and had to be addressed.
Sanchez said he empathizes with businesspeople because he ran his own business for 25 years and knows the day-to-day struggles just to keep the doors open.
A couple of businesspeople urged Sanchez to keep mass transit going.
Another audience member raised environmental concerns to which Sanchez said, “We’re going to make it clear to every federal installation in New Mexico that we like them being here. Yes, our priority needs to be to protect the public… but what we don’t want to do is give LANL, Sandia, Kirtland, Cannon and Holloman Air Force Base any excuse to not want to do business with the state.”
The Martinez administration is focused on creating an open, honest state government that people feel confidence in and erase the notion that New Mexico is one of the most corrupt states in the nation, he said.
The new administration believes there’s a lot of fraud and abuse to be remedied, he said and they intend to go in and carve it out.
“Local, municipal and state government has the responsibility to spend taxpayer money wisely and the example starts at the top,” Sanchez said. “Within my staff of lieutenant governor, we’re going to do more with less, and within our new administration we’re going to do more with less.”
Sanchez wrapped up his listening session saying, “Let’s make a promise to each other that this won’t be the only time we see each other … I look forward to coming back to Los Alamos and together making New Mexico the best state it can be.”
The Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce coordinated the event as part of Gov.-Elect Susana Martinez’ campaign commitment to help small business. She directed Sanchez to embark on the “small business listening tour,” visiting with businesses in all 33 New Mexico counties.
Los Alamos was the fifth county Sanchez has visited since his tour began on Monday. When he left Los Alamos Thursday, Santa Fe was next on the list. The plan is to run Sanchez through the northern counties before winter sets in, according to a staffer, and to complete the tour in the south by Christmas.