Inside the Capitol

Sunday, January 24, 2010

1-13 Big and Little

WED, 1-13-10

SANTA FE - It's the little things that count. Or is it the big things? It kinda depends on whom you're trying to convince of what. When it comes to balancing the state budget, it is some of both.
Gov. Bill Richardson and the Legislative Finance Committee both have now made recommendations about how to balance our state's budget. Both involve additional cuts in state government beyond what was cut from expenditures in the two sessions last year.
And both leave the door open for a few hundred million dollars to be raised from revenue increases. Actually legislative leaders hedge the possibility of increased revenue by suggesting it all could come from additional cuts. The move demonstrates the deep division among lawmakers about whether the state budget should be balanced with more cuts or more taxes.
If taxes are to be increased, they bring in some good-sized chunks. Gov. Richardson brags that taxes have been cut during the first six years of his two terms by a billion dollars. That's a big chunk. Repealing a fraction of those decreases would easily balance the budget. The problem is that it also would draw a big chunk of voter disfavor.
If any taxes are to be increased, there are some little things voters will be looking at. They are little in terms of the amount of money they would raise but they are big in terms of public perception that some cuts have been overlooked.
The first target is the budget cutters themselves. Have Gov. Richardson and lawmakers sufficiently trimmed in their own backyards? The governor has received quite a bit of scrutiny by lawmakers. His political appointees have been examined and found in need of trimming.
Richardson agreed to trim somewhat fewer political appointees than the Legislature desired. And even with the reduced number, the governor has been unwilling to release any names. He says it is a privacy and dignity matter. Inquiring reporters have managed to get a few names from agencies but nearly all of Richardson's announced cuts still are a mystery.
And as with any incidence of governmental secrecy, the rumor mill has started. The word in the Capitol hallways is that the layoffs are actually transfers to positions covered by the state personnel act, which provides some due process rights before a person is laid off.
Gov. Richardson's airplane also will be discussed. Some would like to see it sold and the governor grounded. Others would be satisfied to see out-of-state travel severely limited for the governor, lawmakers, state employees and all the many members of state boards and commissions.
The state Legislature needs scrutiny too and so far, Gov. Richardson is about the only one asking any questions. True, legislators work hard while they are in session and they are unpaid. New Mexicans spend less of their lawmakers than nearly any other state.
But we are accustomed to being at the bottom of many lists. Legislative leaders have been adamant that everyone needs to feel the pain. That should mean everyone. Legislators included. Let's see some cuts in their per diem and travel expenses. They already have announced some cuts in staff.
University administrations sound as though they should have some drastic pruning - in salaries and number of personnel. The reported 21 vice presidents at the University of New Mexico is outlandish. Maybe we should have a contest to see who can name 21 different functions for which a university might need a vice president.
And the big fat daddies at the top of university administration are due some hefty pay cuts. Those cuts should be a much higher percentage than the little folks, who are making less than a tenth of the big boys and girls,
All these cuts, added together, won't even make a small dent in the state budget deficit. But making the cuts just might make a big dent in whether voters will be willing to accept the service cuts and tax increases that carry the big price tags.



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