Inside the Capitol

Thursday, February 25, 2010

3-1 Will Guv Give Another Extension?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Will Gov. Bill Richardson be willing to give lawmakers another extension before he calls a special session? It appears the House and Senate still haven't settled their differences.
Gov. Richardson is antsy to get a budget hammered out. He says he doesn't want to send a signal to financial markets that New Mexico has an unsettled budget situation.
Truth be told, not many states have this year's budget firmed up, much less next year's budget. We're just about all in the same boat except that some states have already started taking much more drastic measures than we have so far.
True, some states are worse off than we are but historically New Mexico has been late getting into economic downturns and late getting out of them. So we should be prepared for things to get worse before they get better.
Just because Wall Street is showing a recovery doesn't mean it extends out into the real world. What we thought was going to be an avenue for financial institutions to start lending more money has instead resulted in the big guys putting all that money in savings and obscene bonuses for themselves.
Meanwhile New Mexico lawmakers still are denying the realities of being in a Great Recession. They barely got a bill passed to sweep up $150 million of unused capital outlay money to use for balancing this year's budget. For awhile the bill was dead in a House committee before being revived. But it passed too narrowly to include an emergency clause so it can be used immediately to pay bills.
Another bill to allow drug users an option of therapy at their own expense instead of prison was killed on the House floor before being revived, only to die on the Senate floor.
Meanwhile the prison budget will get a hefty increase while schools get cut. Our society seems to prefer locking up as many people for as long a time as possible, whether they are dangerous or not.
So far, House and Senate leaders appear to still have their differences. Will they go into session without getting them settled? Gov. Richardson says he doesn't want to interrupt election campaigns for House members. Campaign donations can't be solicited during legislative sessions.
The governor waited until too late for many legislators before calling off the session last Wednesday. Many already were on their way to Santa Fe -- in a snowstorm.
House Republican leaders say they have not been involved in any budget negotiations. But Senate Republican leader Stuart Ingle, of Portales, indicates he may have been involved.
Ingle is quoted by the Albuquerque Journal as saying, ""The dialogue never seemed to get started. We didn't seem to have anything we could agree upon."
The difference may be that Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, a Democrat, was elected to his post by Republicans.
Many lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are upset with Gov. Richardson for not revealing the list of 59 political appointees whose jobs he said he would eliminate.
The conclusion most people would draw is that our governor is hiding something from us. Various investigative reporters have been able to identify about a dozen of those employees who are still in state government, although not in their former positions.
They have transferred to other positions, some at the same salary, some at lower salaries. All are in classified positions. The reports emphasize that they have job security and no longer can be fired.
That is only partially true. They have job security but it doesn't kick in for a year. If they are incompetent in their new position, they can be fired. If they are supervised by a political appointee who won't fire them, that appointee is not likely to be there this time next year.
The information uncovered thus far doesn't appear to indicate anything too egregious. Richardson would have been better off had he not appeared to be hiding something.
Maybe it is an invasion of privacy, but political appointees need to expect some scrutiny in return for starting at the top.
MON, 3-01-10

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

We're escaping the cold until 3/17. Will have computer and phone (505-699-9982).


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