State of the State is troubling

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By Carol A. Clark

SANTA FE – Gov. Bill Richardson broke the awkward ice regarding his clouded withdrawal from U.S. Commerce Secretary consideration by starting his State of the State address with a joke.

“Now I know there are some legislators who were looking forward to my departure and not having to deal with me this session. I’m sorry to disappoint. I’ll try to make it up to you somehow.”

The 49th Legislature convened at noon Tuesday in the House Chambers at the State Capitol, kicking off this year’s 60-day session.

“Before I talk about New Mexico, I want to take a moment to recognize this historic moment in Washington,” said Richardson referring to Tuesday’s presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C. “Our nation has a new president, the first African-American elected to our highest office, and has kept a promise made long ago – ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’.”

Back in New Mexico - the state faces an enormous challenge, “the biggest global financial crisis of our lifetime,” he said adding, “A cold financial winter has come, and the state faces a serious budget shortfall.”

“This economic crisis is not of our making, nevertheless it is ours to solve,” Richardson said. “This is our task, and our test. Let us be equal to it. Let's recognize that for the past six years, we've made the wise choices to prepare for such a winter.”

Newly elected state party chair Harvey Yates, Jr., disagreed.

“The Richardson-Denish administration has for years led the way in overspending and over-promising our tax dollars,” Yates said in a statement. “New Mexicans of both parties have grown weary of long speeches and empty promises by those who are now having to explain away irresponsible decisions.”

Yates referred to the $500 million deficit facing the state saying, “This will be the Year of the Belt Tightening.”

Everyone understands why this must be the Year of Fiscal Restraint, Richardson said.

“Our task this session is not just to cut spending, pass two budgets and go home,” he said. “Our task must be to keep building a vibrant, optimistic New Mexico that looks over the horizon with hope and anticipation.”

To accomplish that, the governor proposes a four-part economic security plan this year saying it will do the following:

• Create new jobs;

• build a better workforce;

• renew our role as an innovation state; and

• provide a safety net to catch those who fall.

“The engine of this economic plan is a strong, responsible and balanced budget that targets cuts where we can manage it, maintains services where we need it, and makes strategic investments to create more jobs,” he said.

“My budget does not demand an across the board cut for every agency. And it does not raise taxes, nor cut our most essential services.”

For the last six years, Richardson has staunchly defended a 10-percent reserve or rainy day fund for the state.

If the national economy is the weather, then it’s raining hard, he said, and is proposing that legislators draw down the rainy day fund from 10 to eight percent. This would be enough to preserve the state’s high bond rating and help balance the budget, he said.

He recognized the recent passing of former First Lady Alice King and described her as “a true champion for our children.”

Richardson is serving his second term as governor of New Mexico.

He was re-elected in 2006 with the support of 69 percent of voters, representing the largest margin of victory for an y governor in state history.

Full text of Richardson’s State of the State address is available at www.governor.state.nm.us.

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com, 662-4185 ext. 25 or visit her blog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.