Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

11-9 Where Sh0uld They Cut?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Where are we most likely to see further cuts in state government? They are going to have to be made. Tax increases will not fly unless the public sees them balanced with a leaner government.
By most measures, government has grown close to 50 percent during the Richardson years. It was a grand experiment in spending money to make money. For the most part, it hasn't worked -- yet, at least.
Not many big companies have relocated to New Mexico. The film industry has grown dramatically and provided jobs but we're giving back much of what the state has made in the form of rebates.
A good balance sheet hasn't been developed to prove how much of an asset the film industry has been. But it appears to be the most successful venture of Gov. Bill Richardson's administration.
The Rail Runner commuter train moved at breakneck speed laying track from Belen to Santa Fe and buying more track to reach to Raton. Had it moved slower, it might be a prime candidate for the chopping block. Selling it isn't much of an option since passenger rail is a losing proposition and depends on government subsidies.
The Rail Runner will save on highway maintenance from Belen to Santa Fe by reducing state employee commuter traffic. It also will produce environmental benefits. But it isn't helping the economy.
The slow moving spaceport could be a candidate for cuts. Most of the money hasn't been spent yet. The aerospace industry hasn't grown at the rate many had predicted. It is much less costly than the railroad and could be an economic boon. But if we build it, are they really going to come?
The money designated for highways likely will remain intact. So many of us use those highways that that cutting road improvements would be very unpopular.
Capital outlay projects are the most popular state expenditures of all. Local communities depend on them. They bring jobs. And legislators think it gets them reelected.
But the process for allocating that money is terribly flawed. When the effectiveness of the New Mexico Legislature and state government in general is rated nationally, we usually show up as a dismal low average despite some features that make us proud.
The major problem is our method of allocating that money. Instead of having it prioritized by a state agency on an objective basis, lawmakers compete for it.
Everyone gets a piece of the action but often too small a piece to do any good. And too often it isn't even wanted by the local governments for which it is designated.
The result is a huge pile of unused money, currently estimated to be around $1.3 billion. That would get us out of our hole for over a year all by itself.
Those are the big ticket items as far as projects are concerned. People are the biggest expense in government and Gov. Richardson has wanted to cut pork, not people. So there have been no furloughs or layoffs.
But the governor did institute a hiring freeze a year ago. Many lawmakers have called it a fake freeze because it allows for emergency hiring into critical positions. But there are many vacancies throughout the executive agencies that are under the governor.
Employees are doubling up to take on extra workload. Cabinet secretaries and division directors are prioritizing functions and deciding where cuts can be made. This is eliminating the fat lawmakers and the public wanted to see.
More noticeable cuts also must be made. They aren't the big money savers but they are necessary for good relations. The Legislature needs to make visible cuts to itself and to executive agencies under elected state officials besides the governor.
All political hires must be reduced, not just those under the governor. The double dippers, who draw a government paycheck and retirement check must be reexamined. Outside contractors should be looked at as well as the staffs of the state's many boards and commissions.
MON, 11-09-09

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



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