District 42 State Senate candidate profile: Gay Kernan

Courtesy photo Gay Kernan is a District 42 State Senate candidate.

Editor’s note: The Clovis News Journal asked District 42 State Senate candidates to answer the following questions in 300 words or less. The answers were edited for spelling and style. The primary is June 3, the general election Nov. 4.

Name: Gay G. Kernan

Age: 60

Occupation: Educator and small business owner

Running for: State Senate District 42

Party affiliation: Republican

Elected offices held: Incumbent District 42 senator (running unopposed)

What type of economic development suits eastern New Mexico best, and how could you as a legislator facilitate it?

Eastern New Mexico is attractive to a wide variety of economic development as illustrated by our current, diversified economy which includes a military base, numerous dairy operations, oil and gas exploration in the southeast and the construction of a prison in the north.
The key to solid economic development is a trained workforce. It is imperative that our local community colleges remain strong through the support of the local community as well as the state. The New Mexico Economic Development Department offers various opportunities for local communities to attract small businesses throughout rural New Mexico.
Continued funding of the New Mexico Finance Authority and other equity financing programs will provide opportunities at the state level and will encourage small business development. It is important to retain various tax credits currently in place that support companies providing higher paying jobs, that are investing in low-income areas of New Mexico and that bring jobs to rural New Mexico. Efforts by the local economic development organizations are critical to the success of any community in marketing the area and attracting new businesses and should receive the continued support of the legislative delegation.

How familiar are you with the Ute Water Project? What can the state Legislature do to move the project along?

The Ute Water Project has been on the drawing board for many years. In fact, Lea County at one time was a participant in the plan to pump water from the Ute Reservoir to various communities in Eastern New Mexico.
The Eastern New Mexico Rural Water Authority has been successful in obtaining funds to continue the design phase of this important project.
With an infusion of over $4 million dollars awarded by the New Mexico Water Trust Board, this phase of the project can continue. Participation at the federal level has been more difficult to obtain. It is encouraging to note that the recent passage of legislation out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is a huge step in the right direction.
Though the journey is still long and difficult, I believe with the continued leadership of strong local officials, the increased support from the State of New Mexico and the continued commitment of our Congressional delegation, that this legislation will continue to move through Congress and the Ute Water Project will become a reality.

What do you propose doing to help New Mexico schools? Is the current funding formula working?
As a member of the Senate Education Committee and the Legislative Education Study Committee, I have been involved in the development of policy issues regarding our public schools.
I served on the Funding Formula Task Force, which devoted two years to the review and evaluation of the current funding formula. The recommendations of the task force were incorporated into legislation that was introduced during the 2008 Legislative Session.
This legislation would radically change the way state funding for schools would be generated and distributed. The proposed new formula would include fewer factors that would be based on indicators of student need.
It would require a greater level of accountability on the part of the Public Education Department and the local school boards. HB 241 did not pass during the recent legislative session and will again be the focus of study and review during the interim.
Each school district will be given the opportunity to present to the Legislative Education Study Committee how the proposed public school funding formula will accommodate the needs of their students. Though many legislators are supportive of the proposed funding formula, questions remain regarding the source of revenue that would be required to fully fund the new formula.
As a legislator, I continue to support efforts to reduce truancy, provide professional development opportunities, encourage the development of reasonable assessment of student performance and parental participation in the educational process.

Gov. Richardson has been pretty adamant about a health care plan, and has gone so far as to threaten a special session. How can health care be improved in the state?

Improving health care is a broad topic that must include every aspect of the health delivery system in New Mexico. We have made progress in providing access to care through Insure New Mexico, which offers coverage opportunities to those who need assistance with premiums or who are denied insurance due to pre-existing conditions. During the 2008 session we increased the state’s share of Medicaid by $91 million or a 13 percent increase over the previous year.
There are approximately 400,000 New Mexicans who are not covered by insurance. Of that number, many are children who are eligible for Medicaid, but who are not enrolled. Some are young adults who are reluctant to pay premiums even when the cost is shared by their employer. Increasing the number of school-based health clinics would reach many children through our schools.
Providing basic, low-cost insurance plans for our college students would reduce the number of uninsured in our state. Incentives for businesses to include wellness programs that encourage healthy life-styles should be supported.
Training, recruitment and the retention of healthcare providers should continue to be a high priority for the state of New Mexico.
The cost of health care must be addressed and tort reform should be a part of that discussion. Before New Mexico embarks on a universal coverage plan for the state, real costs must be determined and the resources to pay that cost be transparent to us all.

Regarding state infrastructure, what areas need the most improvement or repairs, and how can the state pay for such needs?

New Mexico roads are in great need of maintenance and repair. Because of a reduction in federal road funds, New Mexico will be required to absorb a greater share of the cost in maintaining the highway system within the state.
The cost of materials to repair and maintain our roads has increased substantially due to the high cost of oil.
Where to find the resources required to maintain our roads is our challenge as a state legislature.
Shifting road tax dollars from the general fund to the road fund should be considered. How to replace the lost general fund dollars must then be addressed.

What is something you felt the Legislature has not adequately handled, and how would you approach it?

The Retiree Health Care Authority will become insolvent as of June 30, 2014, unless major changes are made to the system. Senate Bill 67 was introduced during the 2008 Session but did not pass.
This legislation was the result of recommendations made by an interim work group that worked to develop a plan to address the dire condition of the Retiree Health Care Authority.
The success of this legislation will depend on the cooperation of the various participating entities of the Authority as well as the education of our legislators on the importance of addressing this issue.