Economic growth top priority for local officials

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

When business owner Bobby Newman moved to New Mexico 50 years ago, the state, he said, was infamous for three things.

“There were three things everybody said about New Mexico: They had the worst roads in the union, we were second only to Louisiana as far as being politically corrupt, and the wind blew all the time. Let’s fix the roads,” Newman said.

Newman was a guest Tuesday at the Association of Commerce and Industry 2005 Roundtable discussion, hosted in conjunction with the Clovis Curry County Chamber of Commerce.

About 50 local officials — from the county, the city, schools and the Senate — attended.

“The ACI is like a statewide Chamber of Commerce. What we lobby for on a year-round basis will be decided by what you say today. This is stage one: Grassroots consultation,” said Jeanette Quintanar, ACI membership sales director.

Legislative and lobbying priorities among attendants varied, but all conceded: Economic growth in the area needs to be encouraged.

Newman said goods roads are a precursor to growth, and others agreed.

Although the duration of the upcoming special legislative session, slated to begin Thursday, is fluid, district senators said a rough agenda has been set.

Sen. Clint Harden, R.-Clovis, said the discussion will focus on price gouging legislation, methods to reduce the cost of natural gas and propane for the poor, and rebates for taxpayers. New Mexico residents are poised to reap the benefits of a $500 million windfall generated by oil and gas taxes, Harden said.

Elected officials may also be called to vote on whether or not to impeach indicted state Treasurer Robert Vigil.

“What I heard today is that people are interested in addressing infrastructure needs rather than eliminating the tax on gas, and they don’t want to see windfall funds on anything except for infrastructure needs,” Harden said.

Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, said the ACI will create a list of the state’s most pressing business needs. Elected officials are provided a copy, which outlines bills that the ACI supports and bills they oppose, so representatives “can get a feel for how the business community feels,” Crook said. A capital outlay committee regularly meets to prioritize community needs, she said.

“I always try to do something for the city and the county,” she said. But the bottom line is “there is never enough money,” Crook said.

Here’s a closer look at lobbying and legislative needs addressed Tuesday:

School officials suggested the state expand funding. Clovis Community College interim president Becky Rowley, speaking as a roundtable spokesperson, suggested the state:
• offer price incentives to develop alternative fuel sources.
• provide economic development planning.
• reduce the cost of health care.
• fully fund all education mandates.

County officials said the state should help improve the quality of life in Clovis. Curry County Manager, Dick Smith, speaking as a roundtable spokesperson, suggested the state:
• help find a long term mission for Cannon.
• help complete the special events center.
• support the revitalization of the downtown area.
• support agriculture and existing businesses, as well as small businesses.

City manager Joe Thomas cited three areas that need to be focused on this year:
• The Ute Water Pipeline Project
• Building a bigger judicial complex
• funding for a vo-tech high school