Jobs, budgets and charlatans


Albuquerque lost nearly 14,000 jobs last year, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.



Two weeks ago, a plant making gypsum board near Bernalillo, a manufacturing staple in the area, closed its doors. The construction downturn left it little choice, company officials explained.

It was the latest in a string of once-thriving business to bite the dust.

Virtually all major job markets in the nation lost jobs last year, fostering a national unemployment rate reported last week to be 9.7 percent. New Mexico’s December reading came in at 8.3 percent, but even that was higher than anything the state has experienced in more than two decades.

At least one of the state’s smaller banks has been taken over by the feds; others are reporting staggering quarterly losses.

This “Great Recession” has been going on for more than two years now, but the stimulus policies President Barack Obama initiated after taking office have mercifully stemmed the perilous economic free fall that was evident a year ago.

That said, only Pollyanna could pretend we’re close to full recovery, which is why the budget-making processes underway in this country right now are critical.

From the Roundhouse to the White House and Capitol Hill, officialdom is wrestling with budgets that could make or break economic recovery.

In Santa Fe, Gov. Bill Richardson and state lawmakers have had to balance a budget that was decimated by diminishing revenues occasioned by this recession.

The state Constitution mandates a balanced budget and their choices were as bleak as they were inimical to economic recovery.

They could raise taxes, thereby taking money out of consumers’ pockets that might otherwise be spent on goods and services to the economy’s benefit. Or they could cut spending, thereby reducing the flow of government dollars into the economy.

Worse, other states, many with far larger economies than New Mexico — California, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio — are doing the same.

All of which only intensifies the rock-and-a-hard-place budget-making pressures on the president and Congress back in Washington.

On Feb. 1, President Obama unveiled a $3.83 trillion budget for the upcoming 2011 fiscal year, which New Mexico’s senior Sen. Jeff Bingaman calls “a good budget for New Mexico and the country.”

Bingaman’s Senate colleague, Democrat Tom Udall, issued a press release describing “the administration’s recommendations (as) a good start for New Mexico and the nation.”

This is a budget that funds two wars Mr. Obama inherited from his predecessor, provides the wherewithal for ongoing operations of government, along with economic recovery and jobs programs, including tax credits for businesses that hire new workers, and aid to hard-pressed states facing rising unemployment costs.

It would also impose a three-year spending freeze on many agencies beginning next year, even as it projects a deficit of $1.5 trillion.

Predictably the political harpies and the charlatans screeched in unison.

We’re “sinking into a fiscal quagmire,” cried New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, ranking Budget Committee Republican, as others in his party joined in a chorus of wails.

The hypocrisy is staggering. These are the very people who turned a nearly $400 billion surplus into a $1 trillion deficit by cutting taxes on the wealthy, refusing to pay for the two wars they initiated, while enacting a seniors prescription drug program without funding it.

Worse, it was their own reckless economic and deregulation polices which fostered this crisis. And now they feign to be deficit hawks.

It will take a long time to recoup even a share of the roughly 7.5 million jobs lost in the last three years. Nor can we begin to reduce our deficits until unemployed Americans are back at work.


©2010 New Mexico News Services