Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

1-5 Crazy Legislative Session Coming

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- The 2009 Legislature will be even crazier than most. Here's the problem. In last June's primaries, when the economy was soaring, Democrats replaced some of their middle-of-the-road guys with what they now call progressives.
You know by now, that's the politically correct term for liberals, which a decade of Republican control at the federal level cleverly rebranded as socialism.
The new Democratic progressives had a bucket full of issues that the old Democrats weren't moving quickly enough. We're talking health care, education, assistance to the needy and the elderly and tiny tots and you name it. We had the money but we weren't spending it on the right priorities.
So now we don't have the money but we have the new progressives with their big social programs. Since the state must balance its budget, something's gotta give.
Will it be a tax increase? That would be a sure way to reinvigorate the Republican Party and silence all that talk about the GOP being next to dead. They might ask all of us to return that $50 rebate check they sent us earlier in the year because our state was so flush with money.
Considering that so many people claim they saw this economic crisis coming over a year ago, we surely did some crazy spending this past year. I wish one of those smart guys would have told me the economy was going to tank back when he first knew it. I'd be sitting pretty now.
We aren't going to dip into our rainy day state funds that we have been saving all these years. Oh, sure, it's raining out there but we've found a better use for those funds. They get us a very good interest rate so we can borrow lots more money and temporarily solve our financial problems that way.
Otherwise, we'll make some cuts here and there, freeze some hirings and slice away some obvious fat to wipe out the $454 million deficit we think we have at this point.
Then comes the harder stuff. One very obvious target is all the pork barrel money lawmakers have taken home over the years that never has been spent.
In some cases, the money wasn't sufficient, or it is waiting for a local or federal match or costs have risen in the meantime. And sometimes the pork barrel project wasn't even wanted by the governmental body for which it was appropriated.
A recent legislative report states that nearly 3,000 projects, totaling $673 million, have seen no activity for over a year. Those figures are the only evidence needed to prove the total idiocy of New Mexico's method of allocating money for capital outlay projects.
The only reason it is done is to help incumbent lawmakers get reelected. It also happens at the federal level. Since the beginning of the administration of Gov. Bill Richardson, improvements have been made to prioritize the money for projects on a statewide basis.
This would be a great time to clean up the rest of the mess while solving this year's budget crisis and getting a start on next year's financial woes.
Our neighbor, Arizona, found a novel method of helping solve the current year's budget crisis. It bought 1,000 cameras to catch speeders and red light runners. Fines for violations were increased to several hundred dollars and the money has been rolling in.
This is strictly a fundraising proposition. Violations don't go on a drivers record and insurance companies don't know.
The method contrasts with the New Mexico Legislature's action last year to speak out against traffic cameras as an invasion of privacy, unfair to poor people and to confiscate from the city of Albuquerque any fine revenue above actual expenses.
On our trips to Phoenix to see family at Thanksgiving and Christmas, police were everywhere on highways and in cities. And the budget is beginning to balance.
MUN, 1-05-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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