Voters to Santa Fe: Do something

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By Sherry Robinson

Standing in the back of the room, as Democratic lawmakers rolled out their jobs package, was a seasoned economic developer with many notches in his belt.
I asked him what he thought of all the proposals we’ve heard so far. He said he doesn’t like to mix in politics, “but if we don’t do something quick, we’re screwed.”
With those inspiring words, let’s look at the proposals.
The governor and state Economic Development Department Secretary Jon Barela offer the New Century Jobs Agenda, which calls for a single sales factor (companies pay tax only on sales within the stat)e; reducing the corporate income tax from 7.6 percent to 4.9 percent; $10 million to help local governments pay for job-creating infrastructure; $4.75 million for the Job Training Incentive Program, which supports new employee training for qualified companies; a reformed capital outlay process; the Spaceport Informed Consent law; and more money for the MainStreet program.
Democrats presented a three-point plan: public works, potential growth areas, and a Jobs Council.
Most innovative is the Jobs Council, which would meet between sessions to develop a strategic plan. Everybody I’ve talked to likes this idea. When we bring up tax reform and other sticky issues, we need a forum to hammer out solutions.
Also innovative are bills to support value-added agriculture. We raise fine crops and livestock here, and they’re transformed into products elsewhere.
Republicans have two practical measures to align New Mexico’s business taxes with surrounding states. The single sales factor is on the books in 25 states, and New Mexico has the second highest corporate income tax in a nine-state region. Some Dems are already trying to turn this into a partisan argument over tax cuts, but they miss the point. This is about being competitive.
Tried and true is the Democrats’ Work New Mexico Act, a selection of urgently needed public works projects. Public spending like this works and works quickly, which is why both business and communities are lined up behind it.
Republicans take a dim view of capital outlay (pork) unless it’s their pork, which is why they play political games with it. Last year, the governor line-item vetoed many requests, and Republican filibusters did in the rest. Accusations flew about political payback, but some of these projects weren’t ready to go or had other issues.
Republicans would reform the capital outlay process to prioritize projects by their importance to the region and state, their potential to leverage federal dollars, and the likelihood of completion. However, prioritizing can mean politicizing. This year, the Legislative Finance Committee did its own vetting and prioritizing and chose the projects in Work New Mexico from among $1.4 billion in requests.
Democrats also want to remove the cap on film incentives, which could easily become a partisan fight, although I’ve heard talk of a compromise.
Listening to the upbeat pronouncements of both sides, I couldn’t help but think, where were you people as the state’s economy was spinning its wheels?
This administration came into office with no plan and didn’t have one for two long years. The Democrats last year offered a package that ranged from somewhat helpful to suicidal.
This year, what both plans have in common is cost. Each side will argue that the other’s plan costs too much, but it’s all about priming the pump, folks. We have to spend some money for any of this to work. Voters have been clear they want lawmakers to come together and do something.