Inside the Capitol

Saturday, February 21, 2009

2-27 Anything Goes in Tough Times

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- The California Legislature's solution to its $42 billion budget deficit likely is an indication of the direction other states are headed. Anything goes.
New Mexico is solving its budget problem in three parts. Take care of the rest of this fiscal year. Make an estimated budget for next year, which begins in July. Then hold a special session in the spring to finalize it when we have a clearer picture of state and stimulus revenues.
California combined those three steps into one. Since it takes a two-thirds majority for budget votes, the governor and legislative leaders evidently figured they didn't want to go through misery three times.
The Golden State has gone many years with no major tax increases. But the rescue plan just passed bumps up income taxes, sales taxes and motor vehicle license fees. Visitors to California will contribute to the recovery by paying an average nine percent sales tax.
Virtually every program except prisons will be cut. Public schools are in for an $8.4 billion hit. The state workforce will be reduced by 10 percent.
Measures of that magnitude don't appear likely in New Mexico but the closing of major businesses around the state in recent weeks may cause more extreme steps.
Talk is beginning about cuts in the number of state payrollers. A more likely solution would be encouraging early retirement, voluntary furloughs and not filling vacant positions.
Bills have been introduced into the Legislature to enforce Gov. Bill Richardson's hiring freeze order, to increase and extend the governors salary reduction for the 740 exempt employees that he has appointed and to severely limit the instances in which retirees can return to work while still drawing retirement pay.
Other pending legislation includes Senate Bill 158, by Sen. Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, to measure the productivity of state employees and House Bill 538, by Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, to prohibit golden parachutes currently used by some universities and at least one school district.
House Bill 317, introduced by Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela, D-Santa Fe, professes to save money by transferring the state Purchasing Division from the General Services Department to the Department of Finance and Administration. At one time, all of GSD was a part of DFA but the Legislature decided such a large department was too unwieldy.
HB 317 also transfers the state Personnel Board and state Personnel Office into the Department of Finance and Administration. Rep. Varela's son, Jeff Varela, headed the state personnel office earlier in Gov. Richardson's term but left under hushed circumstances.
Senate Bill 382, introduced by Sen. Cynthia Nava, D-Las Cruces, has attracted some interest because of being dubbed the "bad actor" bill. Is this a poke at actor Val Kilmer, who is suggesting he might want to run for governor?
Turns out it is a bill that would allow the state Environment Department to deny an air quality permit to an applicant with a bad track record of falsifying reports, giving misleading information or committing felony violations of environmental laws.
As far as I can tell, Kilmer never has been accused of being a bad actor.
Tough financial times seem to be encouraging reconsideration of at least one social issue not normally thought of from a financial standpoint. The death penalty is said to cost more than life imprisonment without parole.
It seems that death penalty lawyers cost a whole lot more than prison guards. And there are other financial considerations, some of which are contested by death penalty proponents.
In New Mexico, the House again has passed a repeal. The bill is in the Senate where it has died before. Repeal proponents are hoping the new Senate members will spell the difference.
And then there's the governor. Richardson has opposed repeal in the past but says he has softened and the chances are about 50-50 he will sign it. Several other states are considering the repeal also.
FRI, 2-27-09

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



Post a Comment

<< Home