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Thursday, July 22, 2010NM Gubernatorial race 2010
Candidates Vow To Veto Tax Hikes in 2011
By Sean Olson
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer
With New Mexico facing budget troubles yet again, both of this year's candidates for governor are proposing plans to rein in state spending and say they would reject tax increases in the coming year.
Democrat Diane Denish has a plan that she estimates would save taxpayers $450 million over the next five years and at least $42 million in the first year by eliminating some government jobs, buying out some workers and generally making state government more efficient.
"We can cut government while protecting vital services such as our public schools," Denish said in a statement Wednesday. "It just takes courage and innovative ideas to do it."
Republican Susana Martinez has promised to "restrain" state spending and reform capital project spending, but said Wednesday in a statement that she cannot provide specifics until she takes office and can do a thorough review of agency spending.
Martinez estimates that she can cut at least 5 percent of the estimated $2 billion by which state government spending has increased since Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson took office in 2003, with Denish as lieutenant governor for both of his terms.
"This type of review is nearly impossible at the current time because the administration continues to play a shell game with state finances," Martinez said in the statement.
Spokesmen for Denish and Martinez each said Wednesday that their candidates would veto any tax increase legislation sent to them by the Legislature in 2011.
Also, neither candidate would cut education spending, the candidates said in interviews earlier this month.
In theory, the candidates would not have to deal with the projected $200 million shortfall for this year's state budget. The Legislature has required Richardson, who leaves office at the end of the year, to adjust state spending based on revenue projections. The new governor will come into office halfway through the budget year, but the Richardson administration actions are supposed to remedy the shortfall problem before then.
The new governor could still be affected by depleted reserve funds and more expected cuts in the next budget, especially to fill gaps left by expiring federal stimulus funds and possibly Medicaid money.
Denish's budget plans include:
• Offering a one-time buyout with a $1,000 per year worked payout bonus to any employee with more than 5 years experience. The buyout would cut state staff without the need for layoffs, she said.
• Creating a government accountability position in state government that would be responsible for locating wasteful spending.
• Consolidate state agencies, such as combining the Departments of Tourism, Cultural Affairs, State Parks and Economic Development to save money on administrative costs. Numerous governor-commissioned committees would be disbanded.
• Cutting the state's car fleet by 10 percent and using teleconferencing equipment to reduce state travel spending and per diem expenses.
• Offering to cut insurance costs for employees who live healthy lifestyles. Denish says this will lead to the state saving on overall medical insurance costs.
Martinez's budget plans include:
• Eliminating enough exempt, or political-hire, positions to return to the number on the payroll in 2002, the last year of Republican Gary Johnson's two terms.
• Reforming capital project spending. Martinez has said she wants to make it more efficient and less wasteful, but has not proposed specific reforms.
• Implementing "zero-growth" budgets that would prevent most agencies from increasing spending, even if higher revenues are projected.
• Requiring every state agency to justify each dollar of its budget. This audit would form the foundation of Martinez's plan to eliminate waste.
• Creating jobs to increase state tax revenues and eventually cut taxes.
Denish has proposed to cut 100 more exempt positions and require capital project funding to be returned to state government after two years.
Denish says job creation will be important in raising state revenues.
The two governor candidates were adamant that tax increases should not be necessary to balance the state's budget in the coming years.
"We have to make sure we are as lean as we are going to be before we can even start talking about tax increases. This is not the time," Denish said.
"I oppose raising taxes to solve the budget mess, as it will hinder economic growth and instead support cutting wasteful spending with real, noticeable belt-tightening in state government," Martinez said on her campaign website.