A brief history of fumbles and foibles

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By Sherry Robinson

Talk of the economy and economic development, as the legislative session gets rolling, makes me think there’s a finger on the playback button. I could dust off old stories and columns and they would sound fresh.
In fact, I will. Here’s my own playback.
1986: New Mexicans studying economic development have produced piles of reports, “usually without any concrete plan for moving from point A to point B.”
Business people told me that year, “Probably the best thing the state could do is create a stable, non-political climate in areas that matter — taxes, education and public services.” They blamed the Legislature for allowing the University of New Mexico to decline and blasted its lack of commitment to higher education.
Said one CEO, “The continuing problems that we have in coming to grips with the kind of university and educational system we want is noticed by others. The state doesn’t seem to have it together.”
1987: “We need to radicalize our business climate,” said up-and-coming economic developer Mark Lautman. “We need to do everything possible to make ourselves better than Texas.”
1988: The administration of Gov. Garrey Carruthers took two years to produce a plan, which had four strategies: Revitalize and diversify the state’s economic base, promote entrepreneurship, invest in education, and invest in infrastructure. Nobody spelled out how to get there.
1994: I joined a New Mexico First Town Hall on economic development. Participants described impediments to economic development: turf issues, egos, politics, lack of business financing, red tape, attitudes against economic development and an underdeveloped road system. They wanted to revise the state’s tax structure, especially gross receipts and income taxes.
1997: In arguments about economic development incentives, critics called them corporate welfare. Even the Wall Street Journal questioned whether they were worth the cost. Nobody knew. We still don’t know.
The same year, a few do-gooders attempted to educate legislators on economic development and tourism by staging a five-hour event in the heat of the session. No lawmakers attended, and they gutted the Economic Development Department’s budget.
2001: Speakers from Texas and Arizona at an economic development summit said collaboration was key. “Either we work together or we don’t get anything done,” the Phoenix expert said.
2002: I wrote that we had a vested interest in being poor because we could rake in money from Washington. “We also have the phenomenon I call ‘First at the Trough.’ In a thin economy, if you back away to let somebody else feed, you may go hungry, so you guard your spot and resist change.”
2010: I suggested a mandatory class for legislators in the workings of local and state economies. That year Tourism Secretary Mike Cerletti’s proposed tax of one quarter of one percent on restaurant food went down in flames. It would have promoted tourism in the state. And budget cutters went after the Tourism Department’s promotional budget. “This is like eating your seed corn, folks,” I wrote.
I also wrote that gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez offered “platitudes, not plans” to improve the state’s economy. “You’d think the Republicans could have rounded up some knowledgeable people to produce a statement that doesn’t sound like Jello thrown at the wall.” The Republicans dumped me from their distribution list.
2011: Many a business cheered the governor’s Red Tape Reduction Act. New Mexico is the only state without a uniform Administrative Procedures Act, so each agency has its own way of making rules. The bipartisan Red Tape bill failed.
2012: Of the “Dueling Job-Growth Plans” making headlines, I wrote: “To have a duel, the guns must be loaded. That’s one little detail Senate Dems forgot.” The Dems did not dump me from their distribution list.
There, folks, you have a short history of wheel spinning and a hint of why we’re economic bottom feeders.