Inside the Capitol

Saturday, August 14, 2010

8 18 Lawmakers Cede Authority to Gov.

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- We learned a lot from the latest round of state budget cuts. The biggest discovery was that the Legislature ceded more authority to the governor than ever before in the state's history.
The legislative and executive branches of government normally are extremely jealous of their powers. They don't want anyone snatching any power from them. Former Gov. Gary Johnson tried to cut his departments once and the Legislature went to court and stopped him.
Now the situation is reversed. Lawmakers gave Gov. Richardson not only the power to cut his own departments but also everything else in the state budget.
The governor's part of the budget actually is very small. Public schools and higher education eat up well over half the budget Then there are the other two branches of government and all the other elected executive agencies.
So this year's Legislature gave the governor the poser to cut everybody in state government. Is that because lawmakers like Gov. Richardson so much and trust him fully? Is it a good idea to get in a snowball fight with Randy Johnson?
The only answer has to be that everyone was in a huge hurry to get out of town from that special session that gave up its power. House Speaker Ben Lujan had a wedding to attend the next day. Other house members were worried about primary election challenges.
Actually Mr. Speaker had a very tough primary election challenge of his own. He just didn't know it at the time.
So everyone raced out of town. But not before clamping one restriction on the governor. All cuts had to be the same. After looking at the early August revenue forecast, Gov. Richardson decided on a 3.2 percent across-the-board cut.
The Legislative Finance Committee seemed all right with that and the state Board of Finance accepted it. Another revenue forecast will be made in November, which might trigger more gubernatorial cuts.
Public schools caught a break. Congressional action approving stimulus funds to prevent teacher layoffs just as school starts prompted a gubernatorial decision not to apply the cut to schools, which would have forced layoffs now that would be reinstated in a month or two.
In other education news, the interim Legislative Finance Committee has determined that New Mexico spends more per capita on higher education than all but one other state. And we don't seem to be getting much for our money.
For the last few years, the Legislature has been looking at the large number of higher education institutions in the state. Arizona, for instance, has fewer higher educations than New Mexico despite having over four times as many students.
Our state's large number of community and junior colleges have been seen as a way to bring higher education to more students since they do not have to travel as far.
But Legislative Finance Committee vice-chairman John Arthur Smith of Deming says it is not paying off in graduation rates or other indicators.
New Mexico public schools ranked in the 40s for decades in terms of expenditure per child. Often we were close to last. During Gov. Richardson's seven years in office, that ranking has climbed into the 30s. Unfortunately we haven't seen test score or graduation rate improvements as a result of that increased effort.
If New Mexico were second in the nation in public school expenditures, would we be seeing an improvement? Probably so, but it is not going to happen. Affluent states pour very large amounts into their schools. Their results are good and they do well at attracting employers to their states.
Research on the effectiveness of providing incentives for economic development indicates that it isn't always the money-saving inducements that attract employers. Often outweighing tax breaks are the ability of schools to provide an educated work force and a quality education for workers' families.
WED, 8-18-10

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



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