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You’ve seen it all before

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By Jay Miller

NAPILI BAY, MAUI — What’s happening in New Mexico? I leave it with one regular session of the Legislature expired but not finished. Two weeks later I hear you finished after a false start but didn’t get much of anything accomplished.

You kicked the can down the road, as they say. You passed some minor cuts and some minor tax increases. But those cuts and tax increases may not be real. Gov. Bill Richardson may veto them or ignore them. So we don’t know if they’ve really happened yet.

The Legislature, which once had fits when Gov. Richardson changed its actions, now is telling him that if revenues aren’t enough, he is directed to make more cuts of his own. And, of course, he may veto some of the tax increases, in which case he has to make more cuts. Lawmakers don’t seem to mind that because it makes him more unpopular.

So we’re looking at a Legislature that is going to be back in session in the next few months when the next revenue projections are issued. Because of reluctance to face reality, revenue projections in this down time will always be lower than expected and require another round of agony.

Republican Lt.-Gov. candidate Kent Cravens says this last special session was one of his darkest weeks. That’s easy to figure. Few legislators now in Santa Fe have suffered a tax increase. It has been 15 years since New Mexico had a significant tax increase.

Gov. Gary Johnson stopped them all. So did Gov. Bill Richardson who added over a billion dollars of tax cuts. So looking at a tax increase straight in the eyes is a traumatic experience.

Of course, think of the traumatic experience it would be if massive cuts in government service to the frail, disabled and needy made it a dark week for a legislature. Those lawmakers would have had dark weeks for over a year.

At this point, the Legislature seems to be muddling along a little more fitfully than usual. With a week left in the regular session of the Legislature, I made the prediction I have made the last 23 years.

I said that after a week of predicting a train wreck at the end, legislative leaders would get their act together and work out a budget balancing solution.  They didn’t. They quit with no budget. It was the first time that had happened in about a quarter century.

Tough times call for tough legislators. And we didn’t have them. They were all tied to the special interests that pulled their strings. Sooner or later the governor and the leaders who run our Legislature are going to have to face the fact that little fixes don’t solve big problems.

It may take until next year to solve our problem. Gov. Richardson will be gone then with his notion that he is going to attract enough rich people to this state because it is a tax haven. So far, it hasn’t pulled us out of our economic spiral.

It would have been nice had it worked. I have benefited by it personally, but my beloved state is going down the drain while I’m enjoying my tax break.

It is time we did something like the 1935 Legislature did when it realized that it would take a massive restructuring of our state taxes in order to get out of the Great Depression.

How would New Mexico be doing if we had elected different leadership back in 2002 when Bill Richardson swept to victory? Blogger Heath Houssamen reports from Las Cruces that John Sanchez, Richardson’s 2002 gubernatorial opponent, said he had been elected, New Mexico would be flush with money and would be a beacon on the hill for other states.

It’s a nice thought. But Sanchez could have run again in 2006 and could be running for governor now instead of lieutenant governor and helping pull us out of our mess.