In Santa Fe, when it’s cold enough to freeze the ink in a reporter’s pen it’s usually a good sign that not many people are going to show up for an outdoor event of anything less important than the Second Coming. The mere fact that several hundred, from all corners of the the state, filled Santa Fe Plaza on the morning of January 1, 2011 could be interpreted as strong support for Governor Susana Martinez, campaign promise of “No More Business as Usual.” However, it may be difficult for her to deliver on that promise.
What was the central issue of the 2010 election?
Susana Martinez beat Lieutenant Governor Diane Dinesh by a ten percent margin in the November election by constantly reminding voters that Dinesh had been part and parcel of the Bill Richardson administration. Richardson, who spent the second four years of his governorship trying to distance himself from a seemingly never-ending parade of former associates and appointees that were either convicted of, or entered guilty pleas to, millions of dollars of financial shenanigans involving state purchasing contracts and the state’s public employees and teacher retirement funds, became the albatross draped around Dinesh’s neck.
What are the major issue facing Governor Martinez?
Aside from keeping a straight face during interviews, the biggest problem facing the governor, the legislature, and the citizens, can be expressed in a single word: money. Or, perhaps more accurately, the lack of money in the state treasury. After that, she faces a seemingly never-ending battle with incompetence in state government. Consider the following example:
It appears that the management at the New Mexico Department of Transportation isn’t aware that it is considered very bad form to misspell the boss’ name.
On Tuesday (January 4) the State Department of Transportation issued a press release concerning traffic detours in an area north of Santa Fe which bore a heading identifying Suzzana Martinez as the Governor of New Mexico. The Department of Transportation took seven hours to correct this mistake, and then only after it was brought to their attention by a reporter.
Additionally, given the reputation of the outgoing administration, it appears that Governor Martinez must also deal with a state economy which considers a Federal Grand Jury to be a growth industry.
How long has the budget deficit been an issue in the state?
During the rapid rise in oil and gas prices of 2008, the State of New Mexico’s income from royalties on gross production (as well as “at the pump,” per-gallon, taxes) exceeded its operating expenses. The state legislature (with Gov. Richardson’s blessing) went on a spending spree which disregarded the obvious consequences: the extra money would disappear when oil prices fell. Since the sole purpose of holding elected office in New Mexico is to dole out the taxpayers’ money to one’s friends and otherwise chronically unemployed family members, no other explanation is necessary for the budget problems that arose two years later.
The immediate response of the state was, of course, to drastically reduce funding to programs whose beneficiaries were unlikely to vote, such as the developmentally disabled and those that are involuntarily residing within the state’s prisons. When this proved to be ineffective as a budgetary strategy, those citizens that did vote responded at the ballot box.
Since government spending cannot occur on its own, who was responsible for the deficit?
There are 112 members of the New Mexico Legislature. Any given member will gladly point out that it was the other 111 who disregarded his/her warnings of an approaching financial apocalypse.
Will the governor and the legislature work together to solve the state’s financial crisis?
If “the past is prelude,” I wouldn’t advise holding your breath in anticipation. The state legislature is controlled by the opposition (Democratic) party, a party that is not exactly famous for its spirit of bipartisanship during times of crisis. This is even more the case now that no one with a reasonably intact cerebral cortex will believe the members’ favorite excuse for anything: “George Bush did it.”
As mentioned above, the temperature in Santa Fe Plaza struggled to rise above zero by the time of Governor Martinez’s inauguration. The citizens of New Mexico can only hope that the ambient temperature in Hell will not fall to the same level before the state’s financial crisis is resolved.