New Mexico Gov Urges Improvement

Following is the full text of Gov. Gary Johnson's Jan. 16 State of the State Address:

Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, Honorable Justices of the Supreme Court, Members of the Forty-Fifth Legislature, distinguished guests, my fellow New Mexicans.

Last year we all celebrated the millennium but the fact is, it is this year 2001 that marks the beginning of a new century. And it's a chance for a new beginning here in New Mexico. It is therefore fitting that we pause for a moment and ask ourselves where we've been and where we would like to go during this new century.

I ran for this office seven years ago because I believed there were important things that needed to be done in our state. We had been laboring under attitudes that were not going to bring us successfully into the 21st century. Some have argued that we were, in reality, stuck in the 19th century.

No matter how far behind you may think we were, one thing is certain: we had a lot of catching up to do. We were at the wrong end of almost every imaginable statistic. I wish I could say all of that's changed but it hasn't. We're still at the statistical wrong end of things when compared to other states. But as you all know, when you're so far behind that you're almost not in the race, you can't expect to jump ahead just because you want to. So, these last six years have been a time of laying the groundwork of preparing to move forward.I believe that time has come. I believe it is a time for a new beginning. But before I tell you what I envision for the next two years of this administration, I want to review what we've done during these last six years to prepare the way for real progress.

It will come as no surprise when I tell you that most things we want to accomplish cost money they require a healthy economy. For years most of New Mexico's growth has been along the Rio Grande corridor, leaving the eastern and western parts of our state to do the best they could without much help from the rest of us.

That's why this administration undertook constructing 500 miles of four-lane highways roads that opened the door for economic development in Roswell, Carlsbad, Farmington, Alamogordo, Clovis, Portales and Artesia.

Because of these highways, products can be quickly and safely moved into and out of most of our state's major areas. This means companies that want to locate in New Mexico can now look at the entire state and not just the Rio Grande corridor. Our Economic Development Department's maquiladora supplier strategy has been communicated to Economic Development Departments statewide and will yield more jobs for New Mexicans.

Congestion in and out of Albuquerque will be brought under control by the Big-I project, which, by the way, is causing fewer problems than anyone had anticipated. In addition, most of our other state roads have been or are being greatly improved. The New Mexico State Highway Department has remained committed to putting as much money as possible into building roads. In fact, last year the Department was recognized by the Federal Highway Administration as the number one Department of Transportation in the country in producing savings for the taxpayers by finding more economical ways of building roads.

It takes money to achieve many of the things we want to accomplish. So, where does money come from? One place it comes from is the kind of economic growth that can now take place statewide. I'd like to pause for a moment here. It's been a long time since people were taught where wealth comes from, so let me state it as simply and as clearly as I can.

Wealth is created when people produce more than they consume, and poverty is created when people consume more than they produce. Some areas of our state have been consuming more than they produce for a long time now. By opening up the state to across-the-board economic development we are making it possible for more and more communities to begin to produce more than they consume. Thus, in a very real way, wealth can be generated.

Next, we've concentrated on educational reform. This has been done on a number of fronts, all of which I believe can and will contribute to the economic well-being of the citizens of New Mexico. I am well aware that many have worked hard to cloud this issue and will continue to do so in the future. But, just for the record, I believe that improved academic performance results in smarter citizens, and smarter citizens are more apt to produce more than they consume, thus, doing their share in creating greater wealth for themselves and for our state.

I have proposed four things I believe will achieve the goal to dramatically improve education in New Mexico.

I have asked the people of New Mexico to look into and to consider a voucher program. Such a program would make it easier for parents to send their children to the school of their choice. Thus, schools themselves would be competing for students and, since academics are important to parents, it would favorably impact our schools giving them a strong incentive to improve.

Second, one of the first things I asked the Legislature to consider back in 1995 was to make the superintendent of schools a cabinet position. This action would increase the Department of Education's accountability to the people of New Mexico. On the positive side, I think that the State Board of Education is doing exactly what needs to be done for education in New Mexico right now. We all owe them a thank you. Congratulations to the members of the state school board.

I have also called for a merit-based teacher pay schedule. This would allow us to reward teachers who are performing well and encourage others to try harder. Because so much hinges on the education of our young people, I'm asking the Legislature to create a system to distribute pay increases based on merit to those teachers who perform at a consistently high level.

Finally, I am requesting that we make it easier to establish new charter schools, thus allowing different areas of the state to offer the kind of education that is best for their citizens.I'll be the first to acknowledge that not one of these ideas has been met with enthusiasm by the Legislature. Nor have I heard alternative proposals from the Legislature that are designed to solve the problem.

Here's the way I see it: New Mexico has been at the bottom of the nation's educational rankings for a long time. But we don't seem to want to change the way things are being done. Usually, we hear that we need more money. But we've been hearing that for as long as I can remember. And in the past, including last year's educational budget, we have consistently appropriated more money. But this has not resulted in the kinds of improvements we need.

I'm sure you're all familiar with the old saying that the definition of insanity is continuing to do things the way you've always done them but expecting a different result. That's what I think has been going on in education for decades. So, it's time to make some changes.If this sounds to you like New Mexico is stuck in the past, I'd agree. We are stuck. Another area in which we are stuck is tax reform. All you have to do is talk to anyone who is considering moving to New Mexico and you will quickly learn how many decide not to locate in our state because of our punitive tax structure. How many of your friends and neighbors have moved away from New Mexico because of high taxes? How many of your new neighbors who have moved here are shocked at our high tax structure? Taxes on food, clothing, services and an 8.2 percent income tax?

This session let's put all of our efforts towards an income tax cut. Nationally New Mexico is 47th in per capita income. The only way I know to change that is to encourage New Mexico companies to remain in New Mexico instead of leaving for a more tax friendly state as so many have done in the past. We need a more realistic tax structure in order to attract new and better paying jobs to our state. This session, let's put all of our efforts behind reducing our personal income tax.

We need to reduce and cap personal income tax at 7.7 percent. Right now New Mexico has the highest income tax rate in the region. It's time to give our citizens a break time to let them keep more of what they earn. Let's implement tax relief that benefits every single New Mexican.

Personal income taxes in our state are among the highest in the nation. Is it a shock that many individuals leave New Mexico and others, looking for a state to locate in, simply don't give us serious consideration? It's time to give everyone in New Mexico a pay raise! Cut income taxes now!

I reminded you of the definition of insanity. Well, here it is again: the willingness to continue being one of the highest taxing states in the nation while expecting economic growth to take place at the same time. We need to get unstuck when it comes to taxes.

One area in which we did get unstuck is in the area of prison reform. As a result of privatizing prisons the state is saving close to $20 every day for every inmate. Yes, I know, you've heard people say the prisons are costing us as much today as they did in the past and that privatization has not helped. Let's reduce it to simple math. Let's say that last year it cost us $100 per day for each prisoner. And, we had 100 prisoners. That would mean a total cost of $10,000 a day. Now, let's say that this year we are spending $80 per prisoner but we have 125 prisoners. The total cost would still be $10,000 per day. So, someone says we're not saving any money. But there are 25 more prisoners. Without the change it would have cost us another $2,500 per day to house those 25 additional prisoners.

Now, regarding this legislative session there are a few things I'd like to see take place to make New Mexico an even better state in which to live. We have an operating reserve balance that allows the state to operate on a day-to-day basis during unforeseen circumstances. Right now, we will see a windfall of money from gas and oil. But since that may not be there tomorrow, we need to set aside at least 8 percent of the state's income for a rainy day, instead of our current 5 percent. We must be conservative with recurring expenditures, as we cannot guarantee that gas prices will remain at their current levels years from now.

After we have bolstered our reserves, let's spend the remainder of this windfall, which is non-recurring, on building schools. Let's address our critical capital needs for education instead of squandering it. It is a conservative approach that will ensure fiscal well-being for years to come. Further, this approach will allow this Legislature to dedicate 100 percent of lottery proceeds to scholarships for New Mexico students, if it so chooses.

In fact, let's prioritize all capital spending. Let this session be the end of "political pork," and the beginning of a reasoned capital appropriation-spending plan.

Here are more ideas that can improve New Mexico today and for all the years to come. First, as I said earlier, the state school superintendent needs to be a cabinet position. This will make the State Department of Education accountable to the voters. Second, the attorney general and the secretary of state should not be elected positions, but rather positions that are appointed by the governor. Why? Because when there is not agreement at the top levels of government, stagnation and political infighting stops all progress regardless of which party is in power. In addition, the state treasurer and the state auditor positions should be abolished and assigned to the Department of Finance and Administration. We will save money and do the same job through this consolidation.

We need to continue to move ahead with plans for statewide telecommunications. Like highways make all New Mexico communities competitive, high-tech access for computers is a necessity that levels the playing field. Just as we need to move ahead with plans for statewide telecommunications, we need to move ahead with electricity deregulation.

On another topic, we need to take serious steps to protect the state's water rights from infringement by other entities. Today, as never before, the State must be proactive in protecting its water. As I speak before you today, storage of water in our reservoirs is substantially diminished due to drought and use of water for endangered species. Reservoirs that were depleted last year may not be refilled for many years. Endangered Species Act litigation may cause substantial water supply problems and legal crisis situations on both the Rio Grande and the Pecos River in 2001.

New Mexicans are faced with the risk that the federal government will take from our limited water supplies. We must defend our water, requiring that the federal efforts to comply with the Endangered Species Act are in accordance with state law and are based on purchase of water rather than its being taken without compensation. Nor should our ability to deliver water across state boundaries, as required by interstate compacts, be diminished. In addition, we must reorganize our water and natural resource departments so they can speak with one voice. These activities need to be conducted within a unified department designed to protect and advance New Mexico's needs. The federal framework under which natural resources and water are addressed has changed dramatically during the last several years. We have experienced numerous threats from the federal government to assume control over our water. Compliance with laws such as the Endangered Species Act present complex challenges. We are struggling to meet these challenges with an executive branch organizational structure which has been unchanged during my administration and which has essentially remained unchanged for many years prior to my becoming Governor. One of the drawbacks to the current structure is that water resource management is spread out across seven boards and commissions, and four executive agencies this presents obvious management challenges. Today, I suggest that we have failed to ask ourselves some hard questions as to how we can improve the way we administer, manage, and protect water, our state's most important resource.

As Governor, I believe that it is essential to examine options for a more modern approach. Toward this end, I will ask the Legislature to consider how to best optimize water resource management throughout executive branch natural resource agencies. In order to better protect this most valuable resource while providing a more predictable regulatory climate for economic growth, I propose that we examine the following specific issues:

  • Reduce/combine boards and commissions;

  • Combine and enhance water-permitting programs (currently crossing agency boundaries); and

  • Establish a clear link between water quality and water quantity management.

    I look to the legislative and executive branches to work together with concerned stakeholders to critically evaluate how we can improve New Mexico's water resource management.

    In the area of Human Services, some modifications to the New Mexico Works Act will further improve our ability to deliver vital employment readiness and assistance services. We will propose simplifying the program and removing bureaucratic barriers through some modifications that better focus limited resources where they can do the most good toward economic independence for these families.

    Recently, the federal government denied the state its waiver to provide behavioral health care services through managed care. We must address this problem and the others associated with Medicaid with the new administration in Washington, and I am committed to doing just that.

    We will also be working closely with the Legislature this session to ensure that they have all the facts relative to the executive budget and our requests for supplemental appropriations. And we have begun working together to modernize the financial systems that support these complex and evolving programs.

    Last session, the Legislature passed performance-based budgeting. Performance-based budgeting is about identifying goals or performance measures for a state agency and giving that agency a lump sum of money with complete flexibility to accomplish those goals. It requires a change from the current micro-managed line-item approach. I believe that performance-based budgeting can bring about significant improvement in government.

    And here's an issue on which I have been greatly misunderstood. We need to reform our drug policies. The goal should be to help those addicted to drugs to find a better way. The answer is not imprisonment and legal attack. The answer lies in sentencing reform, treatment, harm reduction and education. We need policies that reflect what we know about drug addiction rather than policies that seek to punish instead of help. We need a humanitarian approach. The days of the "Drug War" waged against our people should come to an end. Adopt our eight drug reform bills and I guarantee that prison rates will drop, violent crime will decrease, property crime will decrease, overdose deaths will decrease, AIDS and Hepatitis C will decrease and more of those needing treatment for drug abuse will receive treatment. In a nutshell, New Mexico has a chance to lead the nation in drug policy reform that will reduce the overall harmful effects of drugs.

    We've just witnessed the vote counting in Florida. We've talked about the importance of each vote. I'm proposing that the Legislature change our requirement regarding voter registration. Many New Mexicans were denied the right to vote because they had not registered to vote by the required 28 days before the election. But with today's computers and Internet access, we should be able to vote the same day that we register.

    These important issues water, schools, welfare reform, Medicaid, telecommunications, electricity deregulation, drug policy, tax cuts, increasingreserves and prioritizing capital outlay should be the issues of this legislative session. I would like to make it clear to all New Mexicans that it is my intention to work closely with the Legislature during this session.

    I believe New Mexicans are tired of being at the bottom of almost every good list and at the top of almost every bad list. The atomic age was founded here. Personal computers started here. Invention after invention has poured out of Los Alamos and Sandia Laboratories. Great business enterprises have been born in New Mexico. Microsoft was started in New Mexico. Our state has a longer history than any other state in the Union.

    Consider this: In what is now the United States of America, New Mexico once lead the way. We had the first capitol, the first highways, and the first art galleries well, you get the idea a long list of firsts. New Mexico was, after all, settled before the thirteen colonies. And now we are last on many lists. I don't believe that represents our people or what they are capable of accomplishing if their elected officials would simply listen to them. I think the people want a new beginning. We have great cultural diversity to draw upon. We have so much more than most states that it is inconceivable to me that we are not at the top of most lists.

    We've already looked at the insanity of doing the same things as in the past and expecting a different result. It's time to do new things in a new way. Time to do the things New Mexico needs. It's time for a new beginning. And, right here and now, I pledge to follow through and work closely with the Legislature to make good things start to happen.

    I am open to ideas from all New Mexicans, things they think will make our state the great culture and business center that it can be. Things that will maintain our quality of life while also increasing the salaries and opportunities offered to our people.

    I am asking the Speaker of the House, the President Pro Tem of the Senate, the Honorable Justices of the Supreme Court, all Members of the Forty-Fifth Legislature, and my fellow New Mexicans to join me. The 21st century officially arrived just fifteen days ago. So, let's take this new century and use it for a new beginning here in New Mexico.

    I see this new beginning not as a political contest but as right-minded people who care about this great state of ours working together to move this state forward. It's time for a new beginning. I don't see this as liberals versus conservatives, old guard against new guard, people born in New Mexico contending with those who arrived yesterday. It's time for a new beginning. Neither do I see it as old ideas competing with new ideas. What I see are New Mexicans working together to implement the best ideas no matter where they come from. It's time for a new beginning.

    And that's my commitment to you. I want to work with all of those who seek to bring New Mexico to a higher level to get us off of the undesirable lists. It's time for a new beginning.

    People who want to join with us in capturing New Mexico's great potential people who want to do things in an even better way people who agree that it's time for a new beginning.

    Thank you for your attention. May God bless our efforts toward a new beginning here in the land that enchants us, may he bless you personally and may he bless New Mexico.
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