Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

4-18 Gov. Wary of Gaming the System

MON, 4-18-11
SANTA FE � What is Gov. Susana Martinez�s problem with the film industry? It received the only tax or fee increase during the recent legislative session. Martinez promised no increases and held to it except in the case of Hollywood.
Martinez not only signed the cap on the state tax rebate the industry can receive, she championed it We aren�t sure New Mexico receives full value for its tax rebate but we do know that the industry is a proven job producer and that other states and countries offer bigger inducements. Reportedly Utah and Canada already have been in contact with companies planning to shoot in New Mexico.
So what�s the problem? Was Martinez permanently traumatized from seeing Bambi alone in a burning forest as a child? Did former Gov. Bill Richardson leave too big a footprint on the industry? My guess is that Martinez is worried the industry is gaming the system by turning in bigger expense vouchers than they should be.
Martine has mentioned that complaint before. The only instance she can site is several years old and the law already has been changed to prevent a similar occurrence. But as a career district attorney, maybe she is inherently distrustful of everyone.
A similar cloud of distrust hangs over the public schools� reporting of students. More money is allocated to those students with learning disabilities. Schools also receive additional money for teachers who have increased their higher education credits. Increases in those two areas appear to be responsible for more units each district will receive, thereby decreasing the unit value.
School superintendents contend that they should have been informed of this discrepancy long ago because it more than doubles the amount of cuts they will have make to their budgets. Gov. Martinez and her education secretary Hanna Skandera contend that superintendents are gaming the system by declaring that teachers have more training than they really do and that in some cases all students with Spanish surnames are non-English speakers.
Superintendents at a recent meeting with Martinez and Skandera were incensed at the accusations. They accused the two of fostering an atmosphere of disdain and conspiracy.
Martinez comes from a background of prosecuting less than honest people. She seems to be on her guard and suspicious. Leaders need to have a certain degree of that to avoid being scammed but they also need to learn to work with others to solve problems. Politics is said to be the art of compromise. That�s difficult when one is always on the attack.
One school superintendent at the meeting, Cheryl Wilson of Socorro, gave the only explanation she could think of for the abnormal increase in teacher training units. She is quoted as saying that in talking with her teachers about receiving no salary increases and being required to pay for part of the district�s retirement contribution, she suggested they accelerate their college coursework as a way to move up on the salary schedule.
Martinez and Skandera say they will audit the special education and teacher training figures from every district. Superintendents say none of the figures are fudged and that the better path is to work together to resolve the situation.
The governor insists that it still won�t be necessary to make any cuts at the classroom level. From reports I am receiving, those cuts already have begun. Actually the governor has no control over where cuts are made. That is decided by local school authorities.
At the meeting with superintendents, Gov. Martinez offered several times to help schools districts build their budgets. Her feeling is that too much money is being put into administration. It appears some of the administrative costs to which the governor is referring are normally thought of as support services, such as librarians, counselors and nurses.
It really will take everyone�s effort. Some school business officials now predict the shortfall now will be increased from 1.5 percent to almost 4 percent.


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