Swickard: Promise to spend wisely next time

© 2016 Michael Swickard, Ph.D.  There is currently deep despair in New Mexico because budget cuts cannot be avoided and the political football can’t be punted to next year. Things have to change now. Example: New Mexico State University has to cut twelve million dollars from their budget.
            The total budget for NMSU is around $620 million so $12 million is 1.9 percent. In an institution as large as NMSU, with all of their fund-raising programs and hold-back funds, it is a small sum. But it’s a cut and that’s the problem.
            In our current political climate many people think that every government program must be continued or something is seriously wrong. It is inconceivable in the media that budgets can be chopped, in fact, programs can be eliminated in hard times.
            Over the last two decades the state of New Mexico has gone from a very rosy financial status to the budget crisis of today. Who knew the oil and gas business was going to tank?
            The issue is: in the recent years when times were good, what did the people who guide our state do? They spent everything they could. Did they save anything for hard times? Not recent leaders.
            Former Governor Gary Johnson was a fiscal conservative. He constantly vetoed spending bills when he thought they were not wise. It was seven hundred times in eight years ending in 2002. Not all of his vetoes were spending, but many were and the money piled up.
            In January 2003 Bill Richardson took office. There were hundreds of millions of dollars in rainy day funds that he spent immediately on political issues. The eight years of savings were gone in days. Bill Richardson was running for President of the United States. So he spent and spent and spent.
            The last budget of Gary Johnson in 2002 was $3.9 Billion. That number went all the way to $6.8 Billion in Bill Richardson’s quest for the presidency. He was named the nation’s Education Governor for his spending on education, which had no effect on the outcomes for New Mexico students but looked good in the headlines.
            Fast forward to today since there are serious budget problems at $6.2 Billion. The problem is that there has been a large downturn in the oil and gas revenues. The budget is no longer viable and must be amended.
            When talking about reducing spending some people act like there has always been over six billion dollars in the budget. But New Mexico’s budget was under $4 Billion just a few years ago.
            The last time there was an oil and gas bust was 1981. At that time, I remember seeing bumper stickers that proclaimed, “Please God, give me one more oil boom… this time I promise not to piss it away.” Do we have anyone saying that prayer today?
            New Mexico was one of only five states who were not having budget problems in the late 1990s. Then in 2003 the spenders got their hands on our state. Some politicians want taxes to now rise as compensation for falling oil and gas revenues.
            That would be wrong because it gives the impression that government budgets cannot be seriously cut. Not one percent or two percent. Rather, ten percent. New Mexicans will be fine.
            The media will find those people who lose out. But for the two million citizens in New Mexico being fiscally responsible is essential for our future and the future of our children. NMSU is gravely wringing their hands over less than two percent. Seriously.
            Here’s a solution: NMSU and the University of New Mexico have many similar programs. Retrench to one or the other a couple of the programs currently at both universities. Know this: you should not touch the core of NMSU’s Land-Grant mission or the core of the University of New Mexico’s metropolitan university.
            It is time to bring sense back into the spending of the people’s money by government entities. No more spending so that people can be elected with promises. The oil and gas will come back; will we be careful with the money next time?
            Only if the voters elect those who are responsible and prepare for the next coming hard times.



Mary Spence said...

Excellent column, Michael! You are quite right!

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