Wednesday, January 02, 2013

New Year Hope: Can New Mexico Turn The Corner On Threat Of Fed Funding Cuts? Plus: Reasons 2013 Could Be Better Than '12 

2013 arrives--as each new year does--with renewed hope. But it has been a false hope for our fair New Mexico each time the calender has turned to January the past three years. Still, we don't think we're overly Polyannish to point out some developments that have us thinking that the state could find itself on firmer footing in the twelve months that lie ahead.

First there was that recognition from NM Association of Commerce and Industry (ACI) chief Beverlee McClure that our state can't simply wish away its dependency on federal funding nor should we.

“We are not ready yet to end” the state’s dependency on federal dollars because “the private sector isn’t strong enough,” McClure said.

That's been one of the fundamental beliefs around here. We can, we must and we should fight to protect our status as a national security and energy enclave for the people of the United States. And to that end there's more good news to go along with what we read as the private sector's awakening to the danger of trashing talking government jobs and funding. 

The appointment of Senator Tom Udall to the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee could be a turning point for us. If he takes full advantage of his new power and puts on his boxing gloves, we could see widespread federal funding cuts stopped dead in their tracks.

He would be picking up the spear first thrown by Senator Dennis Chavez, carried forward by Senator Clinton Anderson and then on to Republican Pete Domenici. With a full one third of this state's economy directly funded by the feds (that includes Social Security and Medicare) and, as McClure said, a private sector nowhere near ready to pick up the slack, it is essential that this small state's historic (and often outsized) power be re-established on the banks of the Potomac. (Senator-elect Heinrich's appointment to the all-important Senate Energy Committee is also no batch of small potatoes).

What's at stake with Senators Udall and Heinrich is beating back the paradigm being advanced in conservative think tanks, the similarly conservative major media and the current Santa Fe administration that all is lost and that this state must lie back and be fiscally plundered and not complain.

If our Senators can deliver, the bizarre Tea Party notions that have infected the local body politic can be ignored and we can move forward the business of solidifying our status as a federal outpost and at the same time gradually building that solid private sector economy we all welcome.


Tourism Secretary Jacobson
And how about that announcement that the state Tourism department is going to seek an additional $2.5 million when the Legislature convenes this month? That's another one we've been pounding the table over.

While we don't necessarily share the confidence of Tourism Secretary Monique Jacobson that the new TV spots promoting her department is the chief justification for the increased spending, we're not going to nitpick. (Well, not much. But we do need to be spending our ad dollars on more than just these TV spots.)

These additional funds to promote the state--if approved--are going to draw more visitors here who will in turn boost the many businesses serving those visitors. Heck, we might even see some jobs created as a result.

How special is New Mexico as a dream vacation destination? We all have our anecdotes. Ours comes from Bologna, Italy where over the holidays we attended an art exhibit and started up a conversation with a fellow attendee. It turns out that for a number of years he headed up the Bologna balloon fiesta, had been to ABQ to attend our much larger one and smiled deeply and broadly in remembering his time with us.

The romanticism of the West, the Native American and Hispanic cultures, the mountains, the weather the ski slopes, the unique food. In other words, this is a state that still has the diversity that visitors thirst for in an increasingly homogeneous world. Lawmakers would be well-advised to put up that additional $2.5 million and chip in a million or two more.(Hey, our state reserves are pushing a way too high 15% of our total budget. Time to do some investing in our people and its businesses).


Senator Smith
There's been some other developments over the holiday season that provide more than a glimmer of hope for this brand new year. We don't know if Senator John Arthur Smith of Deming will remain as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, but he sure has had the fear of God put in him as the new Senate jostles over its leadership posts.

Senator Smith has been thanked repeatedly in these pages and elsewhere for his watchful ways when the state treasury was overflowing. He could not do all that much much to prevent the wild spending party that erupted, but he did his best. But those days are long gone. Our economy needs to be stimulated not held back by a strangling austerity. The election results (Obama, Heinrich, Lujan Grisham, the Democratic control of both legislative chambers) tells us that folks are looking for ways of moving forward--not hunkered down in fear. One can hope in this brand, spanking new year that Senator Smith--no matter what position he assumes in the new Senate--will take another long look at those election results as well as the ravaged economy in his own backyard in Luna County.

And, yes, we're still looking for a constitutional amendment to come out of Santa Fe that would ask the citizenry here if they would like to tap the state's large permanent funds to target the educational and social under performance of our children, especially those of Hispanic and Native American backgrounds. Wouldn't it be a fitting legacy for the 71 year old Senator Smith, the entire Legislature and Gov. Martinez--if she would reconsider her position--and let the people vote in 2014 on this potentially transformational proposal?

And there's another twinkle of good news that might perk up '13 for the better. Jay McCleskey, the Guv's influential political adviser--who seems to have more to say on what happens with her than anyone--has been spotted talking compromise. Maybe its real this time because if Susana doesn't get something out of this year's Legislature she's going to have a sparse record indeed to run for re-election on in 2014. And Jay has to be mindful that is his grand strategy for a Republican makeover of Santa Fe was a grand bust and made him even more new and powerful enemies.

We've heard the compromise promise before only to see the Guv get bogged down in the perennial issue of repealing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants and other matters that are about as important to the long range future of this state as what toothpaste you use to avoid decay.

But since we're all getting off to a fresh start this week, let's keep hope alive that we finally resolve the driver's license issue and that when we turn the calender to 2014, it will be on a year that what really mattered to New Mexico topped the agenda.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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