Ignorance in high places holds economy back

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By Sherry Robinson

How is it that our economy languishes while every state around us prospers?
One answer is, we elected a career government employee with no understanding of job creation, and some of our legislative leaders are equally clueless. They spent most of the last four years groping in the dark every time the subject came up and didn’t have a flashlight among them until last year.
When this governor took office, the recession had gripped the state’s economy for two years. In 2011, everybody focused on budget cutting, but look at what else happened.
The governor made it clear she would veto any tax increases, which cheered business people — you know, those folks who make hiring decisions — but they had more on their wish list.
One was sensible regulation. A bipartisan Red Tape Reduction Act, blessed by the governor, industry and environmentalists, failed after a Republican added language to eliminate the state cap-and-trade program. Lawmakers also killed an extension of the successful Angel Investment Tax Credit for individuals who invest in startups.
Business also wanted to increase unemployment premiums to stabilize the fund. The governor, who didn’t know that unemployment is insurance and a premium is not a tax, argued against “higher taxes” and vetoed higher premiums. Dems sued and won.
One success was a locomotive fuel tax credit to help Union Pacific Railroad build the rail hub that just opened in Santa Teresa. The bill’s Democratic sponsor had to defeat two attempts by fellow Dems to “improve” the bill by adding encumbrances.
Also in 2011, film was about the only viable industry we had, but the governor railed, “I am not willing — not willing — to give Hollywood a subsidy of 25 percent on the backs of our kids.” She wanted to reduce rebates and cap annual production.
Lawmakers of both parties worked out a compromise, but after the chief executive’s polarizing remarks, Hollywood took its business elsewhere. The administration dawdled in writing new regulations and left the film office without a director for six months. At year end the governor’s spokesman declared that his boss wanted the industry to flourish, and she hired a director the film people like. It took a while for phones to ring again.
2012 was also dreadful.
The governor proposed reducing or eliminating the gross receipts tax for the state’s smallest firms. Lovely, said those of us who qualified, but critics argued that our businesses are too little to hire anybody.
Democrats rolled out a “jobs package” with nothing of interest to employers.
The only thing everybody could agree on was tax breaks for the $1.5 billion Tres Amigas project, north of Clovis, to connect the nation’s three power grids. Texas also wanted the project and has no gross receipts tax. We had to grant credits just to be in the game.
The governor, claiming “wasteful pork,” vetoed $23 million in capital outlay. This was after two years with no capital outlay; a desperate construction industry pleaded for projects. The biggest cuts hit the state’s poorest counties. Consider the construction jobs that didn’t happen, along with the paychecks that would have turned into rent, tires, school clothes and dental appointments.
In 2013, the fourth year of the recession here, everybody finally focused on the economy and the result was a surprise, last-second, tax package. And lawmakers formed a Jobs Council. Both will take time to show results, but bravo!
Legislators, after several tries, overcame resistance to protect an expensive asset, the spaceport, by extending protection against passenger lawsuits to manufacturers and suppliers. But it sunsets in 2021.
This year we got the one-stop online portal, thanks to Think New Mexico, for business transactions with the state.
There you have it: Slow response, wasted time, and a long, expensive learning curve for the people at the top.