Tax increases may be inevitable

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE ­— Government efficiency is currently the major focus in Santa Fe. Maybe it was the stern warning from legislative leaders that tax hikes are not inevitable as Gov. Bill Richardson has suggested.

The spotlight on tax increases certainly will return as the Budget Balancing Task Force makes its report to the governor.

But, for now, the talk is about how state government can save money by eliminating waste. The Legislative Finance Committee and state Auditor Hector Balderas are working to find instances of questionable spending. Lt. Gov. Diane Denish has established a Governmental Efficiency Hotline to receive phoned-in suggestions.

And now Gov. Richardson has appointed a Committee on Government Efficiency to analyze potential savings through streamlining, consolidating and eliminating areas of wasteful spending.

The governor’s independent blue-ribbon committee is as blue as they come. It is headed by former Gov. Garrey Carruthers, a vice president at New Mexico State University, who has pitched in to help Gov. Richardson on other top issues.

The eight-member committee is stocked with the best brains in state government, present and past. Katherine Miller, cabinet secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration provides a tie-in to the current administration.

Past DFA secretaries serving on the committee are Willard Lewis, Dr. Dan Lopez and David Harris. Lewis and Harris served under Republican governors Lopez served under a Democratic governor. Harris also was director of the Legislative Finance Committee.

John Gasparich is a former state budget director and is now fiscal analyst for Senate Republican floor leader Stuart Ingle. Tres Giron is a former chief financial officer for the state Department of Education.  

And Chris Krahling was administrative assistant to Gov. Jerry Apodaca during the massive government reorganization that occurred during Apodaca’s term.

Some of Gov. Richardson’s Budget Balancing Task Force members have been criticized for being unseasoned and unfamiliar with state tax policy. That can’t be said of any members of the Committee on Government Efficiency. Gov. Richardson has asked them to conduct a top-to-bottom review of state government.

There aren’t any state legislators on either of the governor’s two committees. One committee is looking at taxes. The other is looking at cost cutting. Both will help formulate the governor’s proposals during the upcoming 30-day, short session of the Legislature.

There is no evidence the governor and legislative leaders will make any attempt at working anything out before the 2010 Legislature convenes on Jan. 19.

Gov. Richardson has attempted to involve a wide variety of representation on his committees but there is one segment that neither he, the Legislature nor state Auditor Hector Balderas have involved.

We’re talking about state employees themselves. They see instances of waste and questionable spending first hand. Many would be glad to talk about it as long as they could maintain some anonymity to protect them from retaliation.  

It appears that some of the suggestions Lt. Gov. Denish is receiving on her governmental efficiency hotline may be coming from state employees.

With all the individuals and groups looking at how to plug the remainder of the state’s big deficit, let’s hope the 2010 Legislature can come up with a balanced plan of cutting spending and perhaps raising some more revenue.

A fiscal crisis can be advantageous. The state budget ballooned by 50 percent during the first six years of the Richardson administration. Some of that had to be bloat.

We know much of it was done in the name of economic development. Some likely worked and some probably didn’t. And some may have been necessary after eight years of the frugal Gary Johnson.

It is now time to take stock of where we are and to work toward a more efficient state government.

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