Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New Mexico After the Republican Recession Ends

It seems to be time to take a bit more mature view of what New Mexico's future looks like for the next few years.  Naturally, all of the carefully crafted quips about major changes in the complexion of our state government have us all a little unsettled.  Yet, moments of nervous expectations often prove to also be fertile moments for some serious planning -- hopefully, planning based on some realistic parameters.

MeanMesa's prognosis?

The next five years in this state are going to suck.

Naturally, electing a Republican woman whose greatest claim to fame has been politically lubricated with Texas oil money and a Republican lobbyist who has his own history of, well, acting very much like all the other Republican looters could make things even worse, but regardless of who takes the office in the Round House, we are looking a several years of bleak winter.

It's no secret that New Mexico's state operating budget has been the result of a rather amateurish approach all along.  However, we now find ourselves mired at the "hangover" stage of the national economic collapse.  Already on shaky ground, the state's oil and gas revenues are in chaos.  Bobbing in the well crafted Wall Street maelstrom, our equally amateurish investment program looks more like the last moments of the Lusitania. 

Although popular with New Mexicans, the progressive profile of the Richardson administration was not too cleverly designed to remain durable for these far less prosperous times. Now, not even counting the daily revelations of admittedly pedestrian mismanagement, an amazing capacity for all sorts of horrible contracts and irritating cases of outright corruption, we are facing cuts all through the legions of teachers, firemen, policemen and other essential bureaucrats.

Regardless of which administration will be running the state government, our "weather forecast" is not too sunny -- a series of long winters, each followed by  chilly, reluctant springs, summer droughts  and disappointing autumn harvests. Too many New Mexicans are still trapped in the memory of better days which no form of known economic recovery can possibly resurrect. That torment, frustration and suffering will have to continue unabated until all those complaints and comparisons to the past have finally been purged by the steady, new reality inescapably unfolding for a long number of days and nights ahead of us.

You know, like a toothache. A really bad one.

MeanMesa suspects that the current economic collapse may not be as close to passing as the "unbridled optimists" in the national media fraud might like for us to think.  That "unbridled optimism," by the way, was never actually intended to  transport us toward a more positive outlook on things.  Quite the contrary, the "optimism" we are hearing all about us right now is intended to help us forget.

To gleefully volunteer to try it again.

The prospect of a wide spread memory lapse promises to be the most lucrative IPO (Initial Public Offering) for all those little neo-con minds scuttling around wondering what else they can steal.  If voters can just be persuaded to cooperate with our famous American "marble in a mayonaise jar" memory retention, it won't matter how horrible things got from this last mischief of theirs -- we simply won't remember.

Still, with MeanMesa's traditional, Candide-like, "plucky" inclination to always see the good in things, maybe we can brighten our day with a couple of thoughts for the future.

Granted, conditions both for New Mexico and for the nation as a whole -- viewed even in their best light -- are only going to return to some ghostly similarity  of what we have previously been used to in our pubescent acceptance of being an economic giant and a global super power.  Our plutocrat masters have, at the last possible moment, quietly converted those  past "glory days" of rapacious international military and trade colonialism into Swiss bank accounts and Paraguayan villas.

At this chilling juncture New Mexicans must now insist that our state government take steps to fortify the local economy making it less susceptible to the next collapse.  So, what type of realistic planning can New Mexico consider for those  -- somewhat -- happier days after we struggle back to our feet economically?  MeanMesa has posted these proposals before, but here are a few of them again.

State Health Care

The state's obligations for its part of the largest -- and most expensive -- components of the safety net must be reconfigured.  Yes, the  Senate neo-cons sabotaged  single payer in health care reform, but a refreshing glimmer of light remained.  Buried in the health care reform bill was a serious investment ($10 Billion) in regional health clinics designed to provide a very significant amount of "non-hospital" types of health care and preventative health maintenance facilities.

New Mexico will receive some of these.  What we must do is to make certain that our state is actively participating in this program -- expanding it in every possible way.  More than any other opportunity presently in the mix, this move can "recession proof" many of our obligations -- obligations which, right now, are so large that they are crippling our efforts on all sorts of other fronts -- education, infrastructure and economic development.

A State Bank

Looking over the most common calamities this recession imposed on states, there is a very interesting exception.  Across the nation, the "tip of the spear" had everything to do with a "capital vacuum" which emerged when Wall Street began its latest tantrum.  Risk increased and lending decreased.

So much so that many otherwise viable small businesses (Regular small businesses -- not the Republican version.  They made Bechtel into a small business -- even though that corporation has tens of thousands of employees.) simply began to "die on the vine" because they were unable to borrow operating money.

The exception, North Dakota, didn't experience this economic insult.  Why?  Because North Dakota has a state bank which was able to detach itself from Wall Street's vengeance.  In that state, more or less normal lending continued through the economic collapse.  Businesses continued to function more or less normally.  Unemployment and foreclosures didn't skyrocket.

We can -- and should -- do the same thing here.

Sophisticating State Government

In conversations with people who have recently moved to New Mexico, have you ever heard this?

"The New Mexico state government functions incredibly well compared to where I was before I moved here.  It's just incredible!  I never thought a state government could run this well!  It's efficient and thoughtful. Wow! What a wonderful accomplishment!"

Probably not.

In our past, New Mexicans were comfortable with an unsophisticated state government.  They expected as much.  However, that was then.  This is now.  The sophistication level of the state government has remained too much in its own past tradition.  It is no longer in synch with the sophistication level of New Mexicans.

Almost daily we see major parts of our state government caught up not just in corrupt practices, but worse.  Far too many of the things our state tries to do  -- even while on its best behavior and with its best intentions -- collapse into ridiculous, over priced, under designed and poorly executed conundrums -- embarrassments.

MeanMesa sees this problem as one with deficiencies from the distant past -- at least in the distant past of too many state employees.  State employees, just like most Americans after the Republicans converted public education into a campaign tool, have never studied civics.  They have a profound lack of understanding with respect to the responsibilities of good citizenship.

The results are predictable.  Bad decisions are made.  Confusions about "doing the right thing" emerge, not particularly from some sinister conspiracy, but rather from a lack of a fundamental understanding of the responsibilities of governance, a lack of a working knowledge of the ideas in our state constitution.

Rather than post a litany of complaints, let's go right to a possible solution.

A little something needs to be added to the list of our state's subsidized education efforts.  MeanMesa can only speculate about the exact details of this solution, but a two week class on civic responsibility and state administration, one emphasizing the idea that state employees can reasonably be expected to independently augment their own performance at state jobs, might make a huge, cost effective difference.

Build the "campus" somewhere in a place which needs a little economic stimulation.  Include a dormitory where future state workers can actually get to know each other -- even across major differences in job disciplines.  The total class size needn't exceed a couple dozen at a time.

But make graduation from this little school a pre-requisite to becoming a state employee.

The plan isn't nearly as "catchy" as expensive out-of-state conferences at fancy hotels in Hawaii, but it might start providing the next crop of state employees who are much better prepared to run our government far more successfully and a vital cadre of employees who actually know each other and are prepared to work together.


None of these proposals is even a possibility while we remain paralyzed in the "zero budget" which has been imposed by the economic collapse.  However, issues such as these are, in MeanMesa's opinion, entirely relevant questions to  pose to candidates at town hall meetings.

Whether a state government or an individual, living in an endless psychology of "survival mode" never bodes well for the future.  Planning and organization, coupled with a little optimism, will always work out to much better results.

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