Bill delays agency mergers to 2011

By Steve Terrell: The New Mexican

While legislators have been slow to act on governor’s task force proposals to consolidate state agencies, the House of Representatives on Thursday unanimously passed a measure to set up another task force to make specific recommendations for next year’s Legislature.

Gov. Bill Richardson’s efficiency task force, headed by former Gov. Garrey Carruthers, sparked several bills in the current legislative session to combine Cabinet-level departments. But some of the bills were ruled not germane to this session because Richardson didn’t put them on his call, a necessary step for non-financial bills In a 30-day budget session. Other bills are languishing in Legislative committees.

Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe, said his House Bill 237 would produce “good information for the next Legislature and the next administration.” There will be a new governor in 2011 because Richardson, who can’t run for a consecutive third term, leaves office at the end of the year.

But House Republican Whip Keith Gardner of Roswell, while saying the bill is a positive step, said “we missed an opportunity” by not acting on the bills during the current session.

Gardner asked Varela how much money the state could have saved had it acted to streamline state agencies.

Varela answered the savings could have been about “$25 million in the short run” and potentially $129 million if all the restructuring recommendations of the first task force been followed.

Varela’s bill — which now goes to the Senate — would create a 17-member task force which would meet at least once a month through November and make a report by Dec. 1.

Varela pointed out the number of cabinet-level departments has expanded in recent years under Richardson.

Among recommendations of Carruthers’ panel were combining the Higher Education and Public Education departments and blending the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management with the Department of Public Safety; creating a large Department of Commerce, which would merge the Economic Development, Workforce Solutions, Tourism and Regulation and Licensing departments, Workers’ Compensation Administration and the border and Spaceport authorities; and combining the Environment Department, the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department and the natural resources trustee into a single department.

The first task force also called for eliminating 19 boards and commissions.

Some bills are still alive, such as SB24, sponsored by Senate Democratic Whip Mary Jane Garcia, D-Dona Ana, which would establish a Department of Natural Resources and Environment made up of existing departments. That bill currently is in the Senate Finance Committee.

SB118, sponsored by Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, which would merge the Aging and Long-Term Services Department with the Human Services Department, is in the Senate Public Affairs Committee.