By Karl Terry: Freedom Newspapers
PORTALES — Sen. Jeff Bingaman told members of the Roosevelt County Chamber of Commerce on Friday that eastern New Mexico has a lot going for it economically these days, but the lawmaker didn’t paint as rosy a picture for the economy nationally.
“I think everyone is aware that the economy is very strong here in eastern New Mexico, and we’ve been very fortunate,” Bingaman said. “There’s a lot of things to be grateful for here in New Mexico.”
The senator cited the new mission for Cannon Air Force Base and the growing dairy industry as signs of the growing local economy.
Saying one of his biggest concerns is the growing federal debt, Bingaman, D-N.M., handed out charts showing its growth from $8.5 trillion in 2005 to a projected $11.6 trillion by 2010.
He recalled a time in the early 1980s when there was a great buzz about balancing the budget.
“That’s off the radar now.” Bingaman said. “We don’t even talk about a balanced budget.”
The senator told the crowd another disturbing trend he sees is the drop in the number of employer-sponsored retirement plans over the last five years. He linked that discussion with a rise of 71 percent in the cost of healthcare in the last five years and a declining number of people in the nation with health insurance, saying the problems could soon amount to crisis for many American families.
Bingaman was also questioned about higher education initiatives. He told the group that he and Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., had both been among those working to get the re-authorization of the Higher Education Act, which includes initiatives such as the Hispanic Serving Institution student aid packages.
“We frankly haven’t been able to get that passed,” Bingaman said. “And I don’t think it’ll be brought back up this year.”
Portales Mayor Orlando Ortega thanked Bingaman during the meeting for his efforts on the “Keep Cannon” initiative. The mayor said Bingaman and Domenici were key to keeping the Air Force Base in the area.
“There were no party lines there and that was very evident,” Ortega said.
Ortega also thanked the senator for his help in recently introducing federal legislation supporting a pipeline for the Ute Water Project and for money for higher education, including the new Communications Center at Eastern New Mexico University and funding to restore the Yam theater in downtown Portales.