Inside the Capitol

Saturday, January 23, 2010

1-22 and 1-25 columns

FRI, 1-22-10

SANTA FE - In these trying economic times, New Mexico state government could use a Maralyn Budke. The tactical genius, who fought cancer for decades, came into New Mexico state government in the early 1960s.
Budke was in her early twenties and rose quickly to head the Legislative Finance Committee staff. That staff worshiped Budke for her intellect, hard work and her ability to outthink and outmaneuver the opposition
When Republican David Cargo became governor in 1967, he quickly picked her as his chief adviser. Cargo had served two terms in the New Mexico Legislature and was quite aware of Budke's reputation.
Following Gov. Cargo's two, two-year terms in office, Budke returned to head the LFC staff until her retirement. In 1987, when Garrey Carruthers became governor, he convinced her to become his chief of staff. Budke agreed to take the job and asked for only $1 a year salary.
Govs. Carruthers and Cargo both were Republicans but the lawmakers Budke worked for on the LFC were Democrats. Back in the '60s and '70s, the New Mexico Legislature was run by Democrats. But the leaders were conservative Democrats, mostly from southern New Mexico, who didn't think much differently than Republicans.
So it was people such as Rep. John Mershon, and Sens. Harold Runnels and Aubrey Dunn for whom Budke performed most of her amazing work. Most of the southern Democrats of those days are now Republicans. Sen. Dunn's son, Aubrey, Jr., ran for the Republican nomination to Congress in 2008.
Surprisingly, there still are two conservative southern New Mexico Democrats who currently enjoy leadership positions in the state Senate. Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, of Roswell, and Sen. John Arthur Smith, of Deming, are fighting for some of the same limited government principals Budke was helping Mershon, Dunn and Runnels with three and four decades ago.
New Mexico's energy boom of the 1970s rivaled our boom of the past decade. We didn't go as hog wild with spending back then but we nevertheless had a period of psychological adjustment to leaner government that will be necessary again.
One subject Budke and the old guard would be sure to address today would be the bloated administrations at the University of New Mexico and other higher education institutions in the state.
Back in the '60s, universities, and especially UNM, were seen as breeding grounds for rebels. Sen. Runnels was instrumental in the creation of the University Study Committee, which was assigned the task of visiting every college campus in the state to find out what was wrong
In those days, lawmakers didn't bring anyone from a university to testify on any piece of legislation. Legislators who happened to have a PhD. never revealed the damaging information.
As evidence of how far we've come from that, David Harris who succeeded Budke as head of the LFC and then was Republican Gov. Gary Johnson's chief of staff now is a UNM vice president about whom lawmakers have the biggest problem concerning his high salary and benefits.
Former Richardson communications director Billy Sparks, who left to assume a top position with UNM Hospital, also causes legislative heartburn.
The flattening of bureaucratic administrations would not stop with higher education. It would continue through state government and public schools if the old-timers had anything to do with it. New laws and regulations today cause many of the extra layers of administration. Decision makers of the '60s would be taking a close look at those causes too.
Another cause for extra layers of government is the creation of many new departments. Between 1975 and 1978, Gov. Jerry Apodaca compressed state government from hundreds of independent agencies into about 10 departments run by secretaries who formed Apodaca's cabinet.
It took all four years of Apodaca's administration to accomplish the feat because it was fought so vigorously by the many fiefdoms in existence. Apodaca won but future governors have double the number of departments.
MON, 1-25-10

SANTA FE - Gov. Bill Richardson's economic development initiatives continue to be his top priorities for projects not to be cut in this legislative session.
Richardson calls them the bold initiatives of which he is proudest about accomplishing during his seven years in office. These are the initiatives that have brought New Mexico into the 21st century, he tells us.
These initiatives have been boldly promoted but their successes in terms of hard numbers are something lawmakers are going to want to see before this legislative session is over.
Economic development is sexy. It's like getting something for almost nothing. But too often, "something" turns out to be almost nothing. And spending "almost nothing" to get it turns out to quite something sometimes.
Rep. Dennis Kintigh and other legislators question the 25 percent rebate and other benefits we give the film industry. The goodies bring in lots of films but might we be giving back more than we get? Neither side seems to have good enough data to prove its point.
All the tax breaks and benefits we gave Eclipse aviation to build a corporate jet for under a million dollars was to produce a huge bonanza. But close to the total investment now appears to be gone.
Spaceport America is another long shot. It could prove to be a major success but it will take years to find out because of the slower than expected advances in commercial space travel.
The Rail Runner already is up and running. It was sold as economic development but railroads are not moneymakers. This railroad gets some state employees to work easier and improves the environment by taking cars off the road. But, unlike a building, it is not something we can sell if it becomes a burden.
Renewable energy is part of the wave of the future but without subsidies, none of it is showing a profit yet.
So what if we had tried to help our industries that already are here? Might we be better off? It's not as exciting as bringing in Sir Richard Branson and a collection of movie stars.
But we know the industries that already are here are likely to stay. They've already chosen New Mexico for various good reasons so aren't going to be fickle when they decide some other state's goodies are better than ours.
What are some of these industries and what could we be doing for them? Agriculture probably is the oldest industry in the state. The state performs quite a few services for farmers and ranchers already but there is more we can do to help develop crops, publicize them and get them to market,
Tourism has been around a long time because New Mexico is such a great draw but we are told that other states without nearly as much to offer spend much more to attract tourists.
The oil and gas business has been a mainstay of our economy for almost a century but we treat it like a cash cow that can't go anywhere else to drill so we'll make as much as we can off it while regulating it as much as possible.
We've always suffered from a lack of refining capacity. Can we help with that while not freaking out environmentalists? The same can be said for helping the mining industry.
People in all sectors of the arts have loved New Mexico at least since statehood. Is there more love we could give them back?
High technology enables many small businesses to operate anywhere they want. Many of them come to New Mexico. We could be giving them more help getting to know the lay of the land, finding financing, and networking.
The loss of Microsoft for want of a $35,000 loan is overdone. We'd have lost them anyway because we didn't have the labor pool they needed. But we should learn everything we can from that.

It has come to my attention that at least at least one paper did not receive these last two columns I sent early this past week.


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