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State of the State address emphasizes focused, bold agenda

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By Carol A. Clark

SANTA FE—Gov. Bill Richardson called for a focus on the “biggest challenges” facing the state during his 2008 State of the State address Tuesday to the joint-session of the Legislature. Richardson listed energy efficiency, domestic violence, ethics reform, domestic partnership and expanding health care coverage to every New Mexican as the heart of his agenda. “In this budget session, my agenda is focused and bold,” Richardson said. “In the last 30-day session, the House and the Senate proposed more than 1,600 bills. This 30-day session my agenda is limited to less than 60.”Richardson spoke at length about the skyrocketing price of health care and health insurance premiums and the fact that 20 percent of New Mexicans are without health insurance coverage. “Doing nothing means more uninsured, more expensive health care, more of the state budget dedicated to health costs and less for everything else,” he said. “It also means that those with insurance will pay more to keep it. Some may say we cannot afford to take on this task in a 30-day session. I ask, how can we afford not to?”The time for universal health care coverage is now, Richardson said, and his plan requires at least 85 percent of premiums be spent directly on care – not on overhead, bureaucracy or profits. Coverage should not be permanently denied to those with pre-existing conditions, he said, adding that having conditions like cancer or diabetes should not prevent a person from getting health insurance.“Every New Mexican deserves quality health care and no matter who you are, whether you’re a ditch digger or a bus driver, a teacher or a waitress, you will get covered,” Richardson said. Richardson’s plan also calls for an increase in the quality of care, cost controls and a reduction in errors through the use of technology. He calls for a shift from paper to electronic medical records and transactions. To create accountability and cut bureaucracy, Richardson proposed a new Health Coverage Authority, which he said will act as a single point of accountability, making sure dollars go to health care and not to administration.Richardson came out against placing health care totally under government-control, calling it “unacceptable.”Richardson also said there will be voices calling for the status quo, who prefer an unchecked unregulated health care system, dominated by HMOs and health insurance companies. Also, a proposed system covering only those who can afford it leaves the most vulnerable behind while valuing profits over patients, he said. “We will take innovative and fiscally responsible steps,” Richardson said, “to get quality health coverage that all New Mexicans deserve. We will cover the 400,000 New Mexicans who currently don’t have health insurance.” Richardson proposes several initiatives to strengthen health care providers, especially in rural and border counties, he said. He also wants to increase funding to treat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.“Some may say we cannot afford to take on this task in a 30-day session,” Richardson said. “I ask, how can we afford not to?”Richardson calls education the state’s top investment and proposed an additional $60 million be spent to continue to increase teacher and educational employee salaries. He also wants to create pre-kindergarten opportunities for an additional 2,000 children, invest another $211 million to improve and modernize elementary, middle and high schools, and invest $152 million to build state of the art facilities on university and college campuses.Rep. Jeannette Wallace R-Los Alamos, expressed concern with the amount of money the governor’s proposals will cost. “We are very concerned about the funding,” said Wallace, who is a member of the House Appropriations Committee. “There are great ideas out there but at the same time, we can’t fund everything and go into debt. We aren’t confident in the numbers on health care and we are confident in the numbers on a lot of these bills.”Wallace called the passing of education bills this year with the plan to fund them next year “a poor way to do a budget.”Wallace invited as her guests during the opening session, DOE/NNSA governmental affairs official Donald Ami, Los Alamos County Assessor and long-time GOP leader JoAnn Johnson, and Los Alamos County Senior Firefighter Jimmy Leal. During Tuesday’s address, Richardson acknowledged the death last month of Democratic Sen. Ben Altamirano of Silver City and congratulated new Senate Pro Tem Tim Jennings, a Roswell Democrat.