Watching Heads in the Sand: The NM Legislature’s 30 Days of Avoidance Strategy

Watching quite a bit of the 30-day New Mexico Legislative session online has been a bit like watching a long-running TV series in which the actors already know the show’s been cancelled. It has also reminded one of any family situation when things are economically tight. In other words, the acting on nmlegis.gov is tired and the conversations tend to be about anything other than money.

Late last night was a double-barrel downer of nitpicking a proposal to formalize/legalize Uber as a taxi service and a lengthy debate over whether to join other states in a national constitutional convention to overcome perceived excessive centralization of political power at the federal level. The Uber rankling included old politico Raymond Sanchez, speaking on paid behalf of Yellow Cab and a bunch of discussion that really seemed better suited to the body created, and elected, to talk about such things: the Public Regulatory Commission.

The constitutional convention discussion sounded rather a bit like an extension of the ideas leading to the Oregon wildlife refuge takeover, but with all the guys wearing suits and Democrats included to further whine about “how things have gotten in this country.”

The effect of watching both somewhat simultaneously, muting one and bumping the audio on the other (then the other, then the other) was numbing for those seeking a “better Burque.” How will we overcome the unwillingness to move our economy forward in a time of fast-changing technology and climate change?  How can we possibly do so with ridiculously short 60 and 30-day sessions of the Legislature?

But does the length of session really matter when the biggest determinant to our revenue coffers, and thus the source of its greatest lobbying, are fuel sources spiraling into antiquity?  There has been rightful concern and cackling over the NM Senate’s unwillingness to create an ethics commission. We need such a commission. But even much more than such a commission is a need to quit gambling on coal, oil and natural gas like a broken down racehorse as if it’s just “going through a bad streak.”

The latest profile analysis on New Mexico from the U.S. Energy Information Administration sums up the current and long-term trend well:

“Coal-fired generation in New Mexico is declining as federal air quality regulations have tightened and California has decided to stop purchasing electricity generated from coal. Shutdown of two of the four coal-fired generating units at New Mexico’s largest power plant is scheduled to occur by 2017. Several other older coal-fired units in the state are slated for shutdown in the next few years.”

Then there’s the oil and natural gas side of things, first natural gas:

The state’s share has slipped in recent years, as the output from shale gas wells in other states has grown and New Mexico’s total natural gas production has declined. New Mexico’s output from coalbed methane wells increased sharply from 2000 to 2007 but has since declined.

And as for oil, the news would seem to be good, but that’s bad:

Oil production in the state, which had been relatively steady, has more than doubled since 2009, and proved reserves in the state are increasing. New production has come online as a result of the use of advanced drilling and oil recovery technologies in low-permeability formations in both the oil-rich Permian Basin in the southeastern part of the state and in the natural gas-rich San Juan Basin in the northwest.

Why is increased production and reserves bad? Take a look at the price at the pump, and, just as importantly, at economic analysis by Sen. John Arthur Smith, resident budget guru at the Legislature. A few days back, Senator Smith was quoted by the New Mexico Political Report as saying:

“We don’t have any potential revenue streams that can offset the oil and gas revenues.”

and…

“Not being able to predict the end on this one is where it’s more difficult.”

So that’s where we are. We have no ideas for other ways to raise revenue and we’re just gonna wait out the boom/bust cycle.  Like we’ve always done. Until then we’re gonna have 30 and 60-day legislative sessions where everybody talks as little about money as possible, eats political ramen and hopes there ain’t any bills in the mailbox today.

We can do better. Obviously. But can we do better when this mindset, a mindset forged heavily by the lobbying efforts of dying industries and an institutional inability to react quickly to….anything?

One more full day of nmlegis.gov. The state might need to collectively look through its couch and see if it can gather up enough change to buy some Zoloft or something. It’s real depressing right now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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