With a budget deficit of more than half a billion dollars looming over the state, there’s a need to “keep an eye on what’s happening” in Santa Fe during this legislative session, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish told a Tuesday morning gathering of business leaders from around New Mexico.
But as efforts to trim the state budget proceed, business people shouldn’t forget the importance of maintaining funding for public education, she said, especially early-childhood education.
“It’s one of the few items in the budget that’s being recommended for extension,” she said. “It really makes a difference.”
Denish spoke at Business Day 2009, which drew about 250 business owners and politicians to the Santa Fe Community and Convention Center. This was the 20th anniversary of Business Day, which is sponsored by the Association of Commerce and Industry and other business groups.
Denish received a standing ovation for her comments, which included a humorous reference to the transitions she has been making recently — the first when it appeared she would fill out the remainder of Gov. Bill Richardson’s term, and the second when he withdrew as the U.S. secretary of commerce designee.
“I’ve been very busy,” she said with a laugh.
In other comments, Denish spoke in favor of bills that would crack down on car-title and payday-lending operations.
“In times of economic fragility,” she said, “we need to help New Mexicans protect their assets.”
For his part, House Speaker Rep. Ben Lujan, D-Nambe, said that while it will take a united effort to deal with the budget shortfall, legislators shouldn’t increase taxes to do so.
“We can’t afford to overburden businesses at this critical time,” he said.
Sen. Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, the Senate president pro tem, said it’s his job to ensure the Senate “is a place where all opinions are heard.”
He also told his listeners “to encourage each and every legislator you know to take a stand on every issue.”
Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said he was proud of the Senate’s unity on a number of issues, including ways to deal with the budget deficit.
“California is $86 billion in debt,” he said. “We’re not there — we’ll never be there.”
The final speaker, Rep. Keith Gardner, R-Roswell, said it’s his opinion that “99.9 percent of what we do here is work together.”
Gardner also discussed health care. As a small-business owner, he said, he knows there’s no such thing as free health care.
“We appreciate your involvement in the legislative process,” he told his listeners. “Stay involved.”
Contact Bob Quick at 986-3011 or email@example.com