New Mexico needs a visit from Santa

By Ned Cantwell

What New Mexico needs under her Christmas tree:
Elimination of the food tax. Done. Starting Jan. 1, we will no longer pay the sales tax on food, a “temporary tax” enacted in 1933. This is a gift for the poor families of our state. They should send thank-you cards to the Legislature and Bill Richardson. Special recognition goes to House Speaker Ben Lujan and Think New Mexico, a think tank that lobbied the food tax out of existence.

No more double dipping. Under current state law, public employees can retire, collect their full pensions, return to work at full salary while retaining full pension pay. Jeff Varela, chairman of the Public Employees Retirement Association, calls it just “bad public policy.” It is.

Originally concocted to open the door to attracting back to the work force critical law-enforcement personnel, the policy opened wide the door to people who had retired and whose jobs could be filled, quite handily, thank you, by new workers. The Legislature gets a chance to amend the law during the upcoming session and if it doesn’t, the New Mexico taxpayer gets another lump of coal in next year’s Christmas stocking.

A water czar. The stuff we drink, water our grass with, grow our crops with, wash our cars with, float our boats on, is in critically short supply in many areas of our state. Maybe someone is on top of it, but that is not readily apparent to the average New Mexican. When we’re told there is “really not a problem” but are required by various laws to water our garden with an eyedropper, something is amiss. Elevate the Water Czar to Cabinet status and initiate a full-court press to get this problem solved.

More illumination of the lobbying business. Legislators are fond of saying “my vote can’t be bought.” Do you think just because a guy goes on a five-day fishing trip paid for by Amalgamated Industries there was any attempt to influence his vote? Of course not! The purpose was to “educate himself” about industry issues. Well, OK. But how about posting on his door an up-to-date list of all the campaign donations or gifts of any kind the legislator accepted?

More gambling. What New Mexico really needs is more of those huge neon signs promising instant riches. Sure, we have casinos dotting the landscape in many of our towns. But why not Raton and Truth or Consequences or other areas with struggling economies? Why put the emphasis on industry that produces and ships products and services when you can install 300 slot machines and watch the money roll in?

Forget the fact that for every 500-buck payoff, 500 dejected people climb into their cars, just having lost the rent money. Here’s the new state slogan: “New Mexico, You Can Bet On It!”

Better promotion of our casinos. You’ve seen the signs all over New Mexico: “Slots, slots, slots, best payout anywhere!” Well, phooey. How unimaginative. Let’s follow the lead of a Florida casino that, according to The Associated Press, “forked over $28,000 … to the owner of a 10-year-old partially eaten cheese sandwich thought to be embedded with the image of the Virgin Mary — and then sent the ‘religious icon’ on a world tour.”

Now, isn’t that a lovely image for this Christmas season?

Ned Cantwell is a syndicated New Mexico columnist. He welcomes response at: ncantwell@charter.net