Rep. Jim Hall reports on Special Session

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We are now a few days into the Special Legislative Session.  Before things get really busy, I would like to update citizens of House District 43 on my experience to date and first impression as a new legislator.
In general, legislators are legally obligated only to attend one legislative session a year, but actually work year round.  During the period between sessions legislators are assigned to interim committees and work with constituents on various issues.  Unfortunately, less than a month after I was named to my House we experienced the fire, a huge challenge for the people in District 43.  The fire tested all of us, and I found myself immediately working hard with constituents and state and federal agencies to track the disaster and mitigate its impact.
The Interim Committee experience has been important, but much less dramatic.  During the interim I have been assigned as a voting member to rhe Tobacco Settlement Oversight Committee, the Science, Technology, and Telecommunications Committee and as a advisory member to the Land Grant Committee and the Radioactive & Hazardous Materials Committee
Interim committees meet about once a month and provide an introduction to other legislators and legislative responsibilities. Before the next legislative session, I will describe my interim committees and the issues that have come forward during the past year.
During this time I have also been working to understand major issues facing New Mexico.  Two have become immediately apparent.  
The first strategic issue for New Mexico is growing our private sector.  It has been said that “the business of New Mexico is government”.  To a large extent this is true.  Government has been a great business, especially the federal sector.   The differential between taxes paid to the federal government and federal spending in New Mexico is now greater than in any other state.  Over the last twenty years the differential totals to between $175 billion and $200 billion. From my calculations, about one third of New Mexico’s total economic product now comes from the federal government.
Now the biggest contributor to New Mexico’s economy, the federal government, is facing budget challenges. Cuts in many federal programs are almost certain. Such reductions will further threaten our already low standard of living (we are 43rd in per capita income) unless we aggressively encourage private sector entrepreneurship, investment and employment.
How do we do this?  Two strategies seem appropriate. First, identify and implement policies that grow those businesses already here in addition to attracting businesses to come to New Mexico.  Second, compared to other states, we have lots of small employers, a few large employers, but not many medium size employers.
So let’s focus on creating new businesses and keeping and growing existing businesses, as well as attracting businesses to come into the state.  This will require helping existing businesses find capital and skilled workers and assisting them in dealing with the complex federal, state, and (often) local regulatory environments.
This is much easier to say than do. After owning a small business in New Mexico, working for a small business here and working to change how Los Alamos County deals with small business, I understand many of the challenges.
We will have to overcome these challenges.  New Mexico’s fiscal future is about growing the private sector, expanding and diversifying our employment base.  
The second strategic issue is health care spending.
In health care, New Mexico is locked into Medicaid, a federal entitlement program that is overwhelming our budget. With current policies and growth in costs, we cannot afford a health care future that continues our current policies.   Health care costs are up by 82 percent.  
The second largest growth in state spending since 2003 has been K-12 education — up by 32 percent since 2003.  Every major general fund category decreased between 2008 and 2012 except health care.
Right now, health care costs are inexorably crowding out all other state services.  The future is even more uncertain, as major changes in federal health care policy will impact state budgets and policies in ways that are still being evaluated.
In the near future I will describe the first days of my first session as a Legislator and discuss other major issues we face as a State.   You are welcome to write or call me about these and other issues.  Jim Hall at jhall@newmexico.com.

Jim Hall
Representative District 43