Responsible spending urged for Legislature

By Andy Jackson: Freedom Newspapers

Area lawmakers are urging responsible spending during the 2006 state Legislature even after record oil and gas receipts pumped the state coffers full of extra money.

The state’s revenue from oil and gas leases jumped by $92 million in 2005 compared to 2004, according to state figures.

Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said appropriating some of the excess money, especially to schools, will be his top priority when the 30-day session starts Tuesday in Santa Fe.

“Oil and gas tax dollars will be my priority, so that District 27 gets a fair portion of that … We need to live up to our promises to the educational system,” Ingle said.

Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis, is also concerned about adequate funding for education and about balancing the budget.

“My number one priority is to make sure the budget passes adequately, and education is probably at the top of the list,” Harden said.

Rep. Keith Gardner, R-Roswell, cautions against spending on recurrent programs from a surplus, which will not be recurring, he said.

“Because of high oil and gas prices we have extra cash not recurrent money,” he said. “If the price of oil and gas goes down the money won’t be there. Plus this is based on mineral extraction, a depleting recourse. We don’t want to grow government faster than the true income of the state,” he said.

Aside from “controlling the bleeding (of funds)” through fiscal responsibility, Gardner said the next session should examine issues such as water recourse availability and illicit drug abuse.

This is the most amount of revenue Sen. Gay G. Kernan, R-Hobbs, has seen come through the Senate, she said, and she cautions it may be an oddity that warrants saving rather than spending.

“This is the first time I’ll participate in a session with so much revenue. It’s a priority of mine to remember that down the road, we may not have this luxury of revenue. … We should save some and budget properly so we don’t have recurring expenses we can’t pay for,” she said.

Rep. Brian Moore, R-Clayton, agrees saving the surplus is perhaps wiser than spending.

“I want to make sure we don’t go crazy. This year we have lots of money, and there’s many requests on my desk,” he said.

“We need to spend wisely and not make commitments we can’t live up to next year.”

Moore recommends, even in a time of surplus, taking extra steps to save money such as buying state buildings instead of renting, he said.

Rep. Jose Campos, D-Santa Rosa, has specific ideas for how he’d like to see excess funds spent in his constituency this year.

“Some top priorities for the next legislative term are the transmission bill for renewable energy, the Fort Sumner treatment facility, the Martin Luther King overpass (in Clovis), the Curry County Civic Center, and the Bella Vista expansion project (in Clovis),” he said.

Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, would like to see the bed tax on senior citizens eliminated. She’d also like to see a successful drug rehabilitation program introduced as an alternative to incarceration.

“I have been working on a drug rehab program for a number of years,” Crook said. “I’m very passionate about it.

“Rather than fill up institutions, I would like to get my program going so we can rehabilitate some of these individuals and let them start productive lives, rather than be a burden to the taxpayer.”