Resetting state government

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By Harold Morgan

The election is pretty much done as I write the weekend before the final day of voting. But not knowing the identity of our new governor doesn’t matter for the immediate purpose.
The campaign ended with neither Susana Martinez nor Diane Denish having provided detailed, substantive ideas for solutions to the state government’s revenue/spending saga.
As the campaign ended, we got news that New Mexico is still in recession, meaning we’re still losing jobs. Employment did increase in September from August, a single item of good news, but not enough to overturn the recession classification.
The Legislative Finance Committee unveiled the newest excess spending number — $800 million. The number means, maybe, that if current Medicaid benefits and current spending levels continue, the state will be $800 million in the hole through June 30, 2012, as compared to forecast revenue. The deficit might be much less, I’m told. The amount is uncertain.
Gov. Bill Richardson leaves us an uncertain mess – quite a legacy.
The future gubernatorial policy slate is fairly clean, more so for Martinez who has said less about actually running state government than Denish.
What to do? For sure, cut spending. What to cut?
Obvious things to cut: start with the successful candidates for Harold’s List of Really Stupid Stuff the past two years. These include the $40,000 per issue newsletter from Game and Fish and the State Parks Division, the “sally port” welcome sign on I-40 at the Texas border and the El Camino Real International Heritage Center.
However, we need to think bigger. A few numbers indicate higher education offers clear opportunity. In 2008, state and local New Mexico governments spent $9,598 per full-time post-secondary student. The spending ranks fifth nationally. New Mexico is second nationally in per capita financial support of higher education.
In California, state and local governments spend $7,177 per full time higher education student. For that money, $2,421 less than our spending, California has four universities in the U.S. News & World Report top 45.
Something good is happening in highly troubled California that doesn’t occur here, where we spend more.
To a fair extent we have left the revenue-spending saga to the legislature and Richardson, who kept demonstrating he didn’t get it.
I’m not sure why we have continued to delegate the problem. Maybe we think our elected representatives are supposed to handle problems, even difficult ones.
An insight came to me recently in a conversation with a businessman who has two regular employees. This man, bright, articulate, with a university degree, eight years in business and surviving, said he simply could not get his arms around the nine-figure deficit numbers.
New Mexico’s geography compounds the problem. The main discussions are in Santa Fe, far from Hobbs and Socorro. Actions in Hobbs don’t happen in Albuquerque.
With a new governor and the revenue-spending mess, of necessity New Mexico’s state government will be reset. The very special interests are already involved. I mean the teachers’ union and the public employee unions. Their objective: protect jobs. That goal, if achieved, means raising your taxes.
My businessman friend and all the rest of us have a responsibility to be involved. We can’t leave the solutions to the very special interests.
Here’s a way to come to the Reset Government Party without much work. Look around. Tune your observational antennae to the activities and requirements of government. You will see activities and/or rules that should be designed for more efficiency or simply eliminated.
Make notes and share your information. Send your observations to: IdeasforNewMexico@swcp.com.
I will use your ideas in columns during the rest of the year. The best comments will be posted at www.capitolreportnm.blogspot.com. It’s our turn.