Candidates review delegation

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By Harold Morgan

This column is an experiment in enhancing the public dialogue. The six candidates for governor were asked a question about an important policy matter outside the common rhetoric of the campaign. I hoped the topic plus the length of the answer, no more than 75 words, would induce some thought on the part of the candidate. The answers would be printed here without editing or comment, other than if an answer wasn’t germane.  You compare and contrast. Ask yourself if the answers are relevant and useful.

I assumed that all candidates would respond to the request for comment and answer the question and gave them four days to respond. All candidates responded. The comment I requested was on Section 14 of the special session’s House Bill 2, “Authority to Reduce Allotments.” It says that if fiscal 2011 general fund projected revenue is short of the appropriations, the governor “shall reduce general fund allotments” and describes the approach.

This is a highly unusual delegation of legislative prerogative. Is this a good idea? A bad idea? A useful idea, given the governor’s continued lack of leadership in addressing the state’s revenue and spending situation?

Here are the responses:

Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones: “The Constitution places budget-making authority with the Legislature, and the Executive must work within that authority. In this case, 1) The Legislature failed to assure a balanced budget; and 2) illegally abrogates the constitutional authority of the Legislature, under distribution of powers, to the Executive by allowing the Governor to change the appropriation outside of the view of the public’s representatives. This is a dangerous precedent.”

Lt. Gov. Diane Denish: “These times require policymakers to have a variety of tools to make cuts when budget pressures demand – and this is one. My position has been clear: I am against tax increases on middle-class families and I believe every cost-saving measure must be considered. I recently announced a consolidation and reform plan to save taxpayers $450 million over five years without raising taxes – including cutting political appointees. These are decisions that need to be made.”

Pete Domenici Jr: “This could be a good idea because it forces the government to live within its means. Though we are not sure of the political motivations behind this, it does appear to provide political solutions for officials in that it helps them avoid the tough tax increase and budget cutting decisions that would arise when revenues otherwise do not reach projections. This approach also spreads the pain of lower revenues to everyone.”

Susana Martinez: “Providing the governor with more tools to reduce the size of government and cut wasteful spending is always a good idea. However, this does not excuse the mismanagement and growth of government by over 50 percent, which has taken place under the Richardson/Denish administration. As governor, I will work to reduce the size of government and put an end to the frivolous and wasteful spending we have seen over the last seven years.”

Doug Turner: “It’s a bad idea. We’re just now seeing Richardson-Denish’s ill effect of unchecked power of the purse: where grand juries investigate pay-to-play charges and teachers are out of jobs. There was a better way under Gary Johnson, who I worked so hard to help elect. I propose a return to general fund oversight, where the Legislature and executive together curb spending, reduce taxes, improve education, build roads and prisons and make state services more efficient.”

Allen Weh: “If the Richardson-Denish administration were honest with the people of New Mexico, the Legislature would not have had to pass Section 14 to clean up the mess. Now, they are going to balance the budget on the backs of our first responders and our classroom teachers. When it comes to budgeting, it’s important that you fully fund the need-to-have services and let the nice-to-have things absorb the cuts necessary.”