The common agenda
We should all root for the new administration to make good on its central campaign themes of openness, transparency and ending even the appearance of corruption
Governor-elect Martinez’s transition is off to a sound start. Her victory speech on election night focused on eliminating waste, fraud and abuse in government, without scapegoating employees. If she sticks to that in January, she’ll be greeted with support from state employees and their unions.
There are numerous other good-government issues where there is opportunity to preserve and expand on recent advances, and to break new ground. Regardless of party or ideology, we should all root for the new administration to make good on its central campaign themes of openness, transparency and ending even the appearance of corruption.
Tax expenditure reports
One frustration over the last few years was the inability to enact a tax expenditure report into law. Tea Partiers to long-time liberal activists support knowing exactly who is being taxed and who gets special treatment.
Some of the special treatment may be productive; incenting high wage, mobile industries may well make sense, while allowing some out-of-state companies to avoid taxes through accounting gimmicks probably doesn’t.
Transparency and open government
The next administration can build on the Sunshine Portal and go even further. We have the technology to broadcast (and record) every single committee hearing, interim committee hearing, and agency meeting that is open to the public.
Doing so would not only be an obvious way to open up government even beyond where trailblazers like Lt. Governor Denish, Sen. Rue and Rep. Arnold-Jones have taken us. It could also be a way for each agency to save thousands of dollars in travel every month.
One of the most important victories for fiscally responsible government in the last few years was the Legislature’s near-unanimous, bipartisan repeal of double dipping last year.
Any retreat from the double dipping ban will add to both the budget deficit (to the tune of millions of dollars a year) and PERA solvency concerns (to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in the next few years). We can’t afford double dipping, period.
If special incentives truly are needed to fill jobs in certain geographic or job areas (somewhat doubtful in this national recession), then let’s pay for them up front instead of creating future taxpayer liabilities by raiding the PERA fund to sweeten their deals.
The new governor will have the public, press, legislators and even the vast majority of public employees on her side if she resists a return to double dipping.
Reducing political appointees
Both gubernatorial candidates pledged to reduce political appointee numbers to a level below that of Gov. Johnson. Political appointees are needed, and any new administration is entitled to appoint people with whom it has a personal and political relationship, and who share its vision.
There are many excellent political appointees in the current administration whose departure will be a loss to the citizens of New Mexico, yet not every position needs to be refilled.
Span of control guidelines
The Government Restructuring Task Force just reviewed a survey of state workers. While many are trying to do the work of two or three people due to the hiring freeze, there are still pockets of inappropriate supervisor to front-line worker ratios, a measurement known as “span of control.”
Iowa, among other states, has passed legislation giving each agency span of control parameters, and it seems to have helped streamline government and add accountability without cutting back services or causing overtime costs.
In this crisis, New Mexico should borrow best practices from other states, and that includes looking at span of control guidelines.
If there was one overriding theme to the Martinez campaign, it was to end even the appearance of pay to play. So far, the transition team is paying attention. I recently had lunch with a transition team member. While I had assumed that we would go Dutch, it was refreshing when he said, unsolicited, “I’m paying my own way.”
I’ve written before here about California’s law on food and drink: Legislators are limited to $25 a year in food and drink from any source. Why can’t we do that here?
Granted, California pays its legislators handsomely, and we have an unpaid citizen Legislature, so maybe a similar ban here would have to be coupled with an increased per diem. But wouldn’t you rather have legislators buying their own meals out of an enhanced per diem than out of lobbyist expense accounts?
Bucking ideology with pragmatism
One good bipartisan moment in the campaign was Susana’s defense of state-subsidized child care against proposed cuts.
The cuts were due to the unusually heavy demands on TANF funds from families hit by the national recession, so it’s hard to blame CYFD or the current governor. Still, the cuts were notable, and Susana opposed them.
Some right-leaning think tanks and candidates would have criticized the very existence of child care programs. But Susana was pragmatic, understanding that we’re all made richer by enabling others to maximize their potential with a hand up. Martinez showed her pragmatic child care position might not be a fluke when she tabbed two pragmatists to lead her transition.
My overriding criticism of the Republicans’ campaigns in 2010 was their reliance on claiming government was bloated by 50 percent even after three years of dramatic cuts and eight years of population growth and inflation.
Well, that was campaigning, and now the campaign victors are about to govern the state, and I’m sure they already realize that, except for a relatively thin layer of political appointees, there’s simply not a lot more fat to cut.
In it together
Dems are bound to disagree with the incoming administration on some issues, but the early transition from campaign to governance is showing promise for partnership as well.
During this crisis, no one in New Mexico can afford to wish the new administration anything but the best of luck and to offer anything but the most genuine cooperation to ensure that the recession leaves as few scars as possible.
Bundy is the political and legislative director for AFSCME in New Mexico. The opinions in his column are personal and do not necessarily reflect any official AFSCME position. You can learn more about him by clicking here. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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