Not much urgency seen

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Seven months after his nomination as Economic Development Secretary, four months after his boss and state lawmakers failed to make jobs a priority in the legislative session, and one month after the state posted the first pathetic job growth after 32 straight months of losses, Jon Barela is traveling the state to hold job creation meetings.

He’s hit the ground walking.

It’s also four months after announcing the results of his task force to sound out small business people, which Lt. Gov. John Sanchez had already done back in December. Because the governor couldn’t wait to get Sanchez out of her hair, maybe his report didn’t filter down to Barela.

Meanwhile, the Association of Commerce and Industry, a reliable voice for business in the state, is advancing a jobs plan. Looking at what other states have done, ACI produced proposals, which if passed during the special session, could jump start New Mexico’s economy, said the group’s president, Beverlee McClure, during a recent talk. (See http://www.acinm.org/

They include passing the $238 million capital outlay bill that died on the last day of the session, which will help the hard-hit construction sector; passing the in-state preference bill; offering an 18-month severance tax holiday for new oil and gas wells, which the state did to good effect in 1999; repealing the Environmental Improvement Board’s greenhouse gas regulations, which are the most stringent in the nation. 

Also on the list is the single sales factor, an approach used by 32 states. The state would tax multi-state corporations’ income based on their sales in New Mexico. ACI considers single sales an incentive for companies that sell outside the state to invest in additional capacity.  

Another proposal would allow start-up businesses to avoid corporate or personal income taxes for the first profitable year and receive 50 percent deductions for two years after that. Because access to capital is a hurdle, especially in rural areas, a new business could use money it would otherwise pay in taxes as investment capital for growth and job creation. 

And ACI would like to see a tax incentive patterned after the federal HIRE Act, which ended in December, for any business hiring an unemployed New Mexican.  

These are all proposals that could take the form of bills in the special session. Barela’s jobs tour also has the goal of new legislation, but for the 2012 session instead. While it’s instructive for him to get out of Santa Fe and talk to employers around the state, his response in Roswell is telling.

One company wanted help with permitting, another needed a rail spur, and others complained about construction codes and liquor licenses. The latter is heard with such frequency, it’s becoming obvious that we need another liquor reform bill.

Barela said he would make sure their issues are heard at the state level, according to the Roswell Daily Record. Then he punted: “I can only do so much and the governor can only do so much to try to get our economy moving again in the state. But when you have a wet blanket being thrown on economic development at the national level…”

Boo hoo. Give the Secretary a hanky.

The governor and Barela could do plenty, but they’ve taken a pass. During a speech in May, the governor was long on drama and short on specifics. “Gov. Rick Perry, I’m coming back for our jobs you’ve taken from New Mexico!” 

While the administration has moved on regulation, there’s no sense of urgency on jobs. In June New Mexico was 36th nationally in job creation, but Texas was fourth, Utah was fifth, and Colorado was 29th.

ACI asked, “How do we put people back to work?” It’s a question the governor and Barela should have asked from day one. And answered long before this.

Sherry Robinson

New Mexico News Service