Sunday, April 2, 2017

The State of the State in New Mexico:  Deja Vu

"State government is in the worst financial condition I've seen since I was first elected to the NM senate in 1988," John A. Smith, Chair, Senate Finance Committee, interviewed by Jose Garcia April 2, 2017

Contributing to the poor condition, according to Smith, is a state financial system, which relies too heavily on oil and gas revenues, creating a shortfall when the price of oil or gas goes down.  But, he said, an aggravating factor is mismanagement, characterized by a failure to respond to warnings more than a year ago that another shortfall was looming and planning for it was critical to ease the pain.

Sound familiar?  Eight years ago Bill Richardson nicknamed Smith "Dr, No" for warning the state, correctly, we could not sustain the gush of dollars flowing from state government, given the likelihood of a drop in oil prices..

But the poor condition is not only financial.  Politically, New Mexico is pretty much where we were during the last two years of the Richardson administration:  impatient for the current administration to end (Yes! Thank God the end is in sight!)  but with little public discussion about what might be done to reverse chronic governance failure.

In early 2009 the state was suffocating under the taint of outrageous corruption and despotic governance.  Our education system was treading water at the bottom of the barrel in performance, even after massive inflows of funds.  Our tax system was a mess.  Taxpayers were subsidizing the new Railrunner to the tune of $16 per passenger (today it is much higher).  Democrats refused to pass tougher ethics legislation, and party leaders uniformly followed the conventional wisdom that voters would move in lock-step to support the see-no-evil, no-idea candidacy of the Democratic Lt. Governor to continue the regime.  The outcome?  Susana Martinez, Republican, became governor.

Eight years later the state is suffocating again under the yoke of exceptionally poor leadership.  Our education system, after countless hours of photo ops of the governor reading to third graders, is still at the bottom of the national barrel.  Higher education is one of the three most expensive systems in the nation, but with dismal performance to show for it in graduation rates and declining quality in programs, to say nothing of the current UNM scandal of paying a coach $1 million for not coaching next year, and the insistence on politicizing the board of regents, possibly to find cushy jobs at UNM's Health Sciences Center for some of Susana's people, just as Richardson did eight years ago.  The tax system is still a mess.  Our bond rating was downgraded a year ago after the administration dipped too far into reserve funds.  Ethics reform is dead.  Worse, as Joe Monahan has pointed out, the best and brightest are fleeing the state and an air of hopelessness has filtered into the body politic.

Candidates for governor:  where do you stand on all of this?  Do you have any ideas? Or, as is the case at the national level, will the citizens have to intervene through town hall meetings and the ballot box to lead us out of this mess?

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