Transparency, Financial Preparedness Can Help New Mexico Avoid Becoming The Greece Of North America

By Paul J. Gessing, President
NM Rio Grand Foundation

Despite (or perhaps because of) the latest bailout, the nation of Greece remains deeply-troubled. The crisis has manifested itself due to Europe’s single currency, the Euro. Greece cannot pay its bills, but because of the Euro, it cannot devalue its currency either. So a series of bailouts and “austerity” measures have been imposed.

This is a quick synopsis of the Greek situation, but what are the parallels for New Mexico? For starters, in July of 2011, The Economist magazine noted one interesting parallel when an article “Greek Americans” noted which US states are most reliant on transfers from Washington for fiscal support. According to the article, New Mexico was the most reliant US state in the nation by far.

It is true that unlike Greece, the US has a long-standing single fiscal policy and a culture (200+ years) of unified action. Greece could easily leave or be kicked out of the currency union after only a few decades of unity. That is not likely to happen to New Mexico.

Unfortunately, our state shares the Greek propensity to rely on outsiders for financial support along with a bloated government payroll and underdeveloped private sector.

According to Key Policy Data, New Mexico has the second-most state and local government workers per 100 private sector workers of any state in the nation (more than 25).

The proliferation of government employees has helped to create a bloated and under-funded government employee pension system. According to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, New Mexico’s government employee pension system is in the worst overall shape of any public employee pension system in the nation. This is a serious issue that makes New Mexico’s parallel to Greece quite direct.

What can be done? The Martinez Administration has been working hard to convince legislators to deregulate the New Mexico workforce and restrain the growth of government. These are good things, but New Mexico’s Senate needs to help, not hinder efforts to spur private sector economic growth.

For starters, we need a healthy dose of transparency in terms of how much New Mexico relies on Washington dollars to keep our economy afloat. We know New Mexico is too reliant on Washington, but how reliant?

The federal debt is more than $17 trillion, yet there is no easy way for New Mexico policymakers or the public to answer such basic questions as: How many federal grants do our agencies utilize? How many state employees collect a paycheck that depends, in whole or in part, on a federal subsidy? And most importantly, what would happen if this federal money dried up?

Idaho is one state that has embraced the added transparency that we are calling “financial ready.” Simply put, Gov. Martinez should sign an executive order saying that state agencies need to delineate the federal dollars they receive so that lawmakers can be prepared for the next fiscal crisis from Washington, D.C.

We need to know today who will be impacted by the reduction or elimination of federal dollars tomorrow. Will it be seniors who depend on a home food service? Could it be law enforcement agencies, who track down child predators using a federal grant? “Financial Ready” would also include contingency plans to assist lawmakers in dealing with the unforeseen but rather inevitable consequences of Washington profligacy.  

New Mexico has already had a close brush with real consequences from its reliance on Washington. When “sequestration” went into effect in Washington in 2013, New Mexico’s “payment in lieu of taxes” (PILT) money faced a dire threat. Rural communities unable to tax large swaths of federally-owned land faced a crisis situation.

Thankfully, our Senate delegation was able to get $34 million in PILT funding for New Mexico counties, but the consequences of blindly relying on Washington could have been dire.

Significant reforms to New Mexico’s economy are essential – as is tackling pension reform and funding. However, when it comes to relying on Washington, we should start with a healthy dose of transparency so policymakers and the public can better understand the full scope of our reliance on Washington.

Paul Gessing is the president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility

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