The state House is considering two measures this session that would create new Cabinet-level departments.
One would take all vehicle-related functions from the Motor Transportation Division of the Department of Public Safety and the Motor Vehicle Division of the Taxation and Revenue Department and roll them into one agency called the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The other, which the Senate approved over the weekend, would create an Hispanic Affairs Department.
The DMV bill (HB146) could be heard today in the House Transportation and Public Works Committee, said sponsor and committee chairwoman Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup.
Lundstrom said she’s carrying the bill so that the Motor Transportation Division gets the attention and autonomy it deserves.
“What happens now is that their budget is being combined with the rest of the DPS budget and we want to make sure they are particularly protected because they provide such a valuable service in terms of ... collecting taxes.”
Members of the MTD are responsible for enforcing state and federal safety regulations and New Mexico motor vehicle law. The agency also enforces size and weight laws on state roads. In the past few years they have netted notable clandestine drug loads as well.
“It’s gives them the autonomy they need. They can set up their policies, hire the people they need,” she said.
The Department of Public Safety is not supporting the bill. A spokesman said it prefers to keep law enforcement officers under one department.
The Taxation and Revenue Department declined to comment on whether or not it supports the bill.
The measure would also put the vehicle-related functions currently done by the Taxation and Revenue Department, such as car registration, in the hands of the new department.
Senate Minority Whip Bill Payne, R-Albuquerque, said there is no need for motor vehicles to be a Cabinet-level department.
“It’s a function of government, it’s not a policy making body,” he said. “MVD doesn’t exist as a separate policy making body ... really they are a service to the community,” he said.
The bill calls for the creation of the department “with attendant costs of additional exempt employees” as well as the infrastructure and equipment to carry out its new duties, according to a legislative analysis. Lundstrom said the new department would need at least a cabinet secretary and a deputy secretary and an attorney.
That growth in government is a sore point with some elected officials this session.
“If you were a normal person looking at the growth in the economy and the growth in the population...state government has grown so much faster than anything else and it’s not justifiable in my mind,” Payne said.” The fact that we have 300 more exempt employees now than we had under the previous administration seems to me like there could be some significant trimming there without affecting services or policy.”
Gov. Bill Richardson in mid-November instituted a hiring freeze, but since then another 24 exempt employees have been hired while another 109 classified people have been added to the payroll.
Paul Gessing, President of the Rio Grande Foundation, said this isn’t the time to create more layers of government. “During tough economic times and with a massive $600 million deficit facing the state, the last thing we need is to hire more highly-paid cabinet-level state bureaucrats,” he said. “The fact that Hispanic Affairs, MVD...are the posts up for consideration is a clear sign that these are not pressing issues.”
Gessing said the state should eliminate “race-specific departments, agencies, and programs, not creating more of them. Besides, we already have a Cultural Affairs secretary.”
The Hispanic Affairs Department would look at areas of importance to the Hispanic community, such as education and poverty, supporters have said. Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, is carrying the bill.
Other offices that have been raised to Cabinet-level stature under Richardson include cultural affairs, Indian affairs, aging and long-term care and veterans’ affairs.
The head of state’s homeland security agency is also a cabinet member.
Contact Kate Nash at 986-3036 or firstname.lastname@example.org.