"The governor has not proposed anything," said Fred Harris, a former Democratic U.S. senator from Oklahoma who teaches political science at The University of New Mexico. "Her projects don't amount to a hill of beans as far as jobs and the economy of the state is concerned."
And lawmakers remain skeptical of another round of tax cuts.
"Richardson tried it, there is no evidence that it works," said state Sen. Gerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque. "It might keep businesses afloat another year, then they lay off people, get bought and they're gone."
State Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela, speaking in support of a bill already introduced by Sen. Peter Wirth, a fellow Santa Fe Democrat, said, "We should reduce the corporate tax, but let's close those loopholes and make it revenue neutral."
Tom Clifford, director of Finance and Administration for Martinez, understands wariness about tax cuts, but says the state's economic sluggishness has a lot to do with its reliance on the government sector and the construction downturn -- while being more competitive will yield long-term benefits. "We really don't know what would have happened in the absence of the Richardson tax cuts," he said.
The governor's initiatives would be paid for with money the state has saved by not filling jobs and from higher oil and gas revenue. In all, a surplus of between $625 million to $713 million may be carried over to the new budget year, 12 percent of the general fund, Clifford said.
State Sen. Tim Keller of Albuquerque, a Harvard business school graduate, and other Democrats want the surplus used for economic stimulus projects that could jump-start the construction industry, where employment is at an 18-year low. Using some $300 million of the surplus, plus $250 million from the regular capital outlay cycle, "would be the biggest infrastructure spending our state has ever done," Keller said.
"There is no way we can improve the economy without creating more jobs," Varela said. "Especially with the needs we have for our infrastructure."
"I don't think that would be an appropriate use," Clifford said. An economist himself, Clifford said it would not be prudent to allow the surplus to drop below 10 percent -- and Martinez wants to target one-time needs, such as replenishing the health insurance premium fund or technology purchases.
Clifford doesn't question the need to invigorate the construction sector and argues there is going to be more than enough capital outlay money -- perhaps $223 million for new projects that are ready and justified. "We're hoping to work with them on a way of prioritizing the projects," he said.
The debate is not unique in New Mexico, as Martinez and Republicans lean on a smaller government sector to grow the private economy -- and that means fewer government employees.
It has not escaped the eye of Varela, who chairs the Legislative Finance Committee, that the Martinez administration has not filled hundreds of state government positions. He claims there are 3,000 fewer people on the state payroll today since Martinez took office, in part because of a hiring freeze initiated by Richardson. That is part of the reason the proposed House budget will have modest salary increases in the range of 1 percent to 2 percent for state employees, many of whom are doing more work because of nearby empty desks.
Wirth is again sponsoring a tax change that Martinez vetoed, which aims to close the corporate tax loophole that benefits multistate corporations. That revenue would be used to lower the corporate rate, not the surplus. "I am encouraged to see Gov. Martinez discussing corporate taxes. New Mexico businesses, large and small, are the big winners if there is a level playing field," he said. Wirth also backs the "Build Green New Mexico" tax credit program as a construction stimulus.
Keller has bills to encourage more technology investment and the hiring of New Mexico college graduates, while Ortiz y Pino backs neighborhood stabilization funding that would stem foreclosures, thereby helping home prices; Democratic House leaders want to tap $100 million a year from the state Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood education.
Yet, there is not a comprehensive Democratic package for the economy and no sense of what should come first.
"The key word is comprehensive," Ortiz y Pino said. "A lot of us individual senators are working on specific ideas, but there is not much of an economic agenda put forth by the administration, either. There's some tax breaks, some tax credits, no real vision and certainly nothing that would produce the kind of turnaround we need."
Wirth said, "My sense is a coordinated Democratic effort on legislative priorities will occur after the House-Senate leadership decisions are made on the opening day of the session."
What Democrats and many economists do agree on is that the biggest boost for jobs would come with a decision that is now squarely before the governor: expanding the Medicaid insurance program to an additional 150,000 residents who are just above the poverty line.
More insured people would bring increased utilization of primary-care services and less reliance on indigent emergency care, according to an analysis by The University of New Mexico's Bureau of Business and Economic Research.
"We estimate that the expansion of Medicaid under ACA will generate from $4.8 billion to $8.6 billion of economic activity in New Mexico [between 2014 and 2020] and create 6,000 to almost 8,500 new jobs depending on Medicaid enrollment levels," according to the analysis by Lee Reynis.
"There is not a whole lot of ways a state government can increase state employment, but doing the Medicaid expansion would do the most," said economist Bradley.
Clifford said the economic impact of Medicaid is a factor as the administration deliberates. The risk, though, is "if they [the federal government] scale back that match, we will have to step in and replace that money out of local tax revenues," he said. "That's the tension we've been concerned about."
Harris added that it's the nature of a Legislature for each member to have his or her own agenda and ideas. But it should be the governor who leads. "She needs to get off the topic of driver's licenses [for undocumented immigrants] and flunking third-graders and get onto jobs," Harris said. "I'm sure the Democrats would back her up."
Most Popular Stories
- Ex-Mobster to Bulger: Just Say Sorry
- Google Stock Split Ahead
- Guns Are Hot in California
- OSH Selling Most of Its Stores to Lowe's
- MillerCoors Taps New Hispanic Ad Agency
- Honda Says Sorry About the Lack of Electric Fits
- El Paso Symposium Offers Help to Startups
- First Person Cured of AIDS Virus Wants to Help Others
- Small Businesses Hiring, but Worry About Expense
- LULAC Convention Starts With Focus on LGBT Youth