Employers' concerns matter

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Business has too many fair-weather friends

By Sherry Robinson

If opening day of the legislature is any indication, business – especially small business – sure has a lot of friends. But some of those friendships are fleeting.
This was evident in an unlikely context. Former Gov. Gary Johnson spoke to a spirited Tea Party rally outside the Roundhouse.
They cheered enthusiastically as Johnson talked about cutting government by 43 percent, balancing the federal budget and reducing taxes.
But as he talked, the crowd cooled, and it wasn’t just the temperature.
There was a puzzled silence as he described the border fence and use of National Guard troops as “a lot of money spent with little benefit.” It should be easy for to get work visas, he said.
Tea partiers had cheered his comments on the free market and his call for eliminating corporate income taxes, but they stop short of the business position on immigration reform held by Johnson and the Association of Commerce and Industry of New Mexico, whose members are also chafing at conservatives’ threats to penalize employers for hiring illegals.
Then there was former Rep. Janice Arnold Jones, who spoke before Johnson.
She has been a well informed, pro-business moderate, but those attributes didn’t serve her well in the Republican gubernatorial primary. So here she was pandering to the tea partiers with half truths and cheap shots at the Rail Runner and the Spaceport.
If she and her audience bothered to check this out, they would find that the central New Mexico business    community supports the train, and the southern New Mexico business and education communities have been solidly behind the Spaceport for at least 15 years.
The tea partiers are all for the private sector until its needs conflict with their beliefs. This will be a problem for the governor, who casts herself as a conservative but also wants to be seen as business friendly. Which way will she tilt?
In her state-of-the-state speech, the governor outlined some interesting business-related proposals.
The best of the bunch is using the unemployment fund to subsidize wages of unemployed workers hired by small businesses for the first six months. Another good idea is for the state Economic Development Department to  open an Office of Business Advocacy to help small business “break through regulatory roadblocks.” She was smart to name the well regarded Jon Barela as Economic Development Secretary.
Many a business cheered her attack on red tape. Each agency “creates its own maze of red tape” with different permitting processes, she said, so she proposes the Red Tape Reduction Act. She already has created a small business task force to review regulations.
This governor wants to send the message that “New Mexico is open for business.” Hey, it was a good line for her predecessor, so it deserves to be recycled.
She had a few false notes, however. The governor appeared to take credit for Union Pacific Railroad’s plan to move its hub from El Paso to Santa Teresa. Wrong. The railroad announced this move several years ago, postponed the project because of the recession, and recently decided to move ahead.     
Like Johnson, she thinks taxes are big factors in company relocations. Wrong again. A company looking over your town has a list in hand that’s usually topped by workforce, transportation, incentives, and – if they’re in a hurry to start up – available buildings. Because it’s a rare operation that doesn’t inconvenience a community somehow – traffic, dust, noise – they want to be wanted. Taxes are farther down the priority list.
Somebody (please!) tell the new governor to stop saying government doesn’t create jobs.
How can she not notice the 30,000 troops and 58,000 family members pouring into El Paso and Las Cruces as Fort Bliss expands?  
Want to speed job creation? Listen to employers’ concerns. All of them, not just the parts that fit your ideology.
Sherry Robinson
NM News Services