Inside the Capitol

Sunday, February 15, 2009

2-18 You Can Tell When Times Are Tough

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- You can tell that times are really tough when the governor and Legislature agree that a special legislative session is necessary to deal with an uncertain state budget.
Special sessions are not popular among most lawmakers. Those who work for a living have to take off additional time to tend to an unpaid job. For all legislators, special sessions rank somewhere between a major and a minor inconvenience.
Normally special sessions are called by governors who have something they want to cram down lawmakers' throats. It's often a pet gubernatorial project that didn't pass in a regular session.
But this time, virtually everyone is in agreement that we have almost no idea what the state's financial situation will be come July 1, the beginning of our state's next fiscal year. So a special session will be held, probably in May, when we will have a better idea about state revenues.
Will oil and gas prices have started back up, thereby providing the state with more revenue? How many new jobs will the federal stimulus bill create? And what kind of strings will the feds put on the stimulus money New Mexico receives?
Will lawmakers decide they have to cut state employee pay and benefits? They're already talking about it. There may be some legal complications. Gov. Bill Richardson already has cut salaries of his 470 political appointees. They aren't covered by the state personnel act.
Might lawmakers want to do something about the golden parachutes education institutions have been awarding the presidents and coaches who aren't doing the job?
Legislation has been introduced to stop the practice. You can bet that university presidents, coaches and public school superintendents will have people at the House Health and Government Affairs Committee meeting to testify against it.
Now that the federal stimulus bill has been passed and signed, we should know within a few weeks how the White House plans to administer it. That's when New Mexico decision makers can begin to calculate what it will mean to our state budget.
Also passed by the U.S. House is a bill turning down next year's automatic annual pay hike for House members. All three of New Mexico's House members announced soon after taking office that they would support the salary freeze.
The U.S. Senate, thus far, has taken no action on blocking its pay hike for next year. New Mexico's two U.S. senators have endorsed the idea of a freeze but no one has taken any action.
With no cooperation from the House on the economic stimulus bill and little from the Senate, will President Barack Obama abandon his dream of a bipartisan effort to solve our nation's financial crisis?
That's what President Bill Clinton did a few months into his first term. The resulting partisan rancor led to a GOP takeover of both houses of Congress the following year.
Clinton had to put up with a Republican Congress for the remaining six years he was in office. He got even, however, by borrowing items from the Republican agenda with which centrist Democrats could agree.
His resulting success in achieving numerous initiatives ended up ranking him high among presidents for success in dealing with Congress.
Obama doesn't appear inclined to follow the same path. He says he won't give up on working with Congress. Instead he is using the theme of former President Abraham Lincoln in his second inaugural address: "With malice toward none…" We'll see how it works.
How long will our nation's economic crisis last? Many U.S. economists are saying late 2010. Microsoft's Bill Gates recently shocked many by saying it will be another four years.
Gate's prediction likely didn't surprise the rest of the world, however. During the month we spent halfway around the globe last fall, commentators and analysts were settling on more like five-and-one-half years.
It's usually pretty safe to bet on Bill Gates. We're in this for awhile.
WED, 2-18-09

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



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