April 8, 2003
Bill Paves Way for 4 New Cabinet Departments
By Deborah Baker
The Associated Press
SANTA FE To the cheers of veterans, senior citizens, Indian leaders and the arts community, Gov. Bill Richardson on Tuesday signed a bill that paves the way for four new cabinet-level departments.
They are the Veterans Service Department, the Aging and Long-Term Care Department, the Indian Affairs Department and the Cultural Affairs Department.
Richardson said at a news conference that the constituencies represented by the four departments had been overlooked for too long.
"In the past, thousands of New Mexicans . . . have been left behind, kept away from the table. Those days are gone," Richardson said at a news conference.
The new law authorizes him to elevate the four entities by executive order. He will have to follow up next year with legislation that makes the reorganization permanent.
Richardson, a Democrat elected last November, had promised elevation to cabinet status during his campaign for the Veterans' Service Commission, the Agency on Aging, the Office of Indian Affairs, and the Office of Cultural Affairs.
"It's a new direction, a new day for the veterans of the state of New Mexico," said John Garcia, who will be secretary of the veterans' department, which has 34 employees.
The Cultural Affairs Department which will be headed by Secretary Ruben Smith is the largest of the four agencies, with 550 employees who run the museum system, state monuments, the state library, and the historic preservation office.
The Aging and Long-Term Care Department, to be headed by Michelle Lujan Grisham, has about 60 employees. It will pick up some duties, related to adult services, from other agencies.
The Indian Affairs Department has 10 employees, according to Bernie Teba, who will be the new secretary.
"For too long, tribes have been an afterthought," Teba said at the news conference.
Richardson also signed a handful of bills aimed at boosting economic development in the state.
Among them was a measure that raises from 3 percent to 6 percent the share of the market value of the Severance Tax Permanent Fund that may be invested in New Mexico private equity funds and New Mexico businesses.
That will amount to potential investment of $180 million, up from $90 million, according to state investment officer Gary Bland.
"This provides much needed capital available for new, emerging and expanding businesses and will help jump-start economic development,' Richardson said.
Other bills signed by the governor:
Create a statewide economic development finance program, to offer a variety of taxable and tax-exempt economic development financing alternatives. The New Mexico Finance Authority could issue economic development bonds, offer loan guarantees and enter into loan participation agreements on behalf of eligible businesses.
Change the makeup of the board of directors of the Small Business Investment Corporation to give the governor greater control by appointing more of its members. The corporation makes investments in businesses using a portion of a state permanent fund.
Change the name of the trade division of the Economic Development Department to the trade and Mexican affairs division, responsible for coordinating relations with Mexico and the state of Chihuahua.
Expand the law that allows counties and municipalities to exempt certain businesses with commercial personal property from property tax provisions.