Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cost-saving ideas emerge out of frustration

While lawmakers in Santa Fe are starting to express frustration on limitations imposed on them by Gov. Bill Richardson’s special session proclamation, Republicans are blaming the Richardson administration for not preventing the problem in the first place.

On Tuesday, a group of Republican legislators released a list of 48 budget-cutting items they say the administration can enact without any legislative action, including releasing non-violent criminals three months early, selling the state’s jet and canceling the state’s contract for a float in the 2010 Tournament of Roses® Parade.

“The governor has the power to approve cuts in executive agencies. If he would have taken proactive steps, we would not be spending $50,000 a day debating this problem,” House Minitority Whip Keith Gardner (R-Roswell) said.

The governor’s office was quick to respond to the House Republicans.

“The same legislators who are critical of spending during the past seven years are conveniently forgetting important details about those budgets, including the overwhelmingly support from the Legislature for each of those spending plans,” a message on the governor’s blog said.

Slamming the door on early release?

But the early release of non-violent criminals, to save money, isn’t sitting well with all Republicans.

“We need less criminals on the street,” Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White said. “I would need to know how they define ‘non-violent criminal. Burglars are not classified violent, but we’re trying to take them off the street and reduce property crime in Albuquerque.”

Gardner said he would consider a burglar to be violent too, and said he doesn’t agree with all the items on the list himself.

“Were talking about people who make a ‘knucklehead decision – folks who get sent to jail for contempt of court,” Gardner said.

He said anyone who breaks the law deserves to be punished, but he’d like to consider alternative sentencing or other forms of punishment.

“We should not have people in jail that we’re mad at and need to keep people in jail that we’re scared of. The judiciary is best poised to decide who is or is not a threat to society,” Matt Kennicott a staffer with the Republican House Caucus. “Keep in mind, the point of the list is that they are ideas that the executive could have enacted to help fix the budget before calling the legislature into special session at the rate of $50,000 per day.

Getting the most 'bang for the buck'

Gardner also wondered out loud if the New Mexico Tourism Department’s participation, for the fourth time in five years, gives the state the most ‘bang for the buck?’

NM Tourism Secretary Michael Cerletti has defended the state’s participation.

“It is important that the New Mexico tourism industry does everything it can to take advantage of unique opportunities to reach potential visitors,” Cerletti said. “The exposure offered New Mexico each year is significant.”

In fact, nearly 40 million Americans in 16.5 million households watch the parade on television New Year’s day. The Parade is also broadcast live in 150 countries and territories worldwide.

Will lawmakers settle for a hodgepodge fix?

Gardner said if the structure of government isn’t changed lawmakers would be settling on a ‘hodgepodge fix.’

Lawmakers had wanted to consider a combination of expenditures and revenue measures, but the Governor isn’t willing to consider them until January.

Putting it all on the table

“We needed to have both expenditures and revenues on the table to find a combination would get us to a balanced budget as required by the Constitution,” Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe), the Vice-Chair of the Senate Rules Committee said.

Wirth isn’t the only senator that feels that way. Several of his colleague are echoing his remarks.

“As legislators, our responsibility is to craft a balanced budget. To do that we need to consider all options; we cannot balance the Fiscal Year 2010 budget without somehow generating revenues. That’s why I voted for finding some of the tax measures germane in spite of the Proclamation’s language – something I see as restricting our constitutional duties,” Sen. Bernadette Sanchez (D-Bernalillo), Chair of the Senate Conservation Committee said.

Sounding frustrated himself, Gardner wants the governor to enact cost-saving ideas now.

“We have to quit spending, and we need to decide on more than just taking baby-steps here. We need long-term solutions. We have to act now, “ Gardner said. “Every month we don’t act we add an additional 1/12th burden, because we’ll have fewer months to recover.”

“He (the Governor) has a fiduciary responsibility to help solve this problem,” Gardner said. “He wants to spend one-time dollars, the same as a cash loan, and then he hopes the problem rights itself — if the economy improves.”

No one is making any predictions

At the conclusion of the fourth day of floor debate and caucus meetings, Gardner isn’t making any predictions when the session might adjourn.

“I want to be home by the weekend. Unfortunately, I’m not confident that we will be,” Gardner said. “If we don’t look at long-term solutions then we could get called back into session, or we’ll be dealing with the budget problems big time in the 30-day session (in January).

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