Now is time for libertarian solutions

Freedom New Mexico

Why can’t every state have governors like Gary Johnson? Although a Republican, as governor of New Mexico from 1995-2003, he vetoed 750 bills, not including hundreds of line-item cuts in the state budget. He also advocated decriminalizing marijuana.

Johnson has returned to politics with a new group, the Our America Initiative. The group’s slogan, from the Beatles song “Revolution”: “You say you want a revolution?”

The group’s website says its mission is, “We look to enlighten the population about civil liberties, free enterprise, limited government and traditional American values.”

Given that he also has been traveling to New Hampshire, site of the first 2012 presidential primary, we wonder whether the Our America Initiative is a springboard for a potential presidential bid.

Johnson said that because his group is a committee for nonprofit tax purposes, “I can’t express a desire to run for federal office.” Such groups commonly are used to give a potential candidate a soapbox to test whether his ideas resonate.

Johnson added that, for those seeking the presidency, the time to start a Political Action Committee is next Jan. 1.

Given his background as a deficit hawk in the governor’s office, he said he’s especially concerned about the federal budget deficit and many state budget deficits. This year’s budget federal deficit is expected to be $1.6 trillion.

“Forty-three cents of every dollar spent in the federal budget is borrowed,” he said.

“Greece is analogous to California,” Gov. Johnson warned. “California might be the first state not to pay its debt.” He added that, unless the federal government steps in to bail out California and other states with huge deficits — much as the European Union has bailed out Greece — “the states are, in essence, in default. They will have to buck up and tighten their pension funds.”

California’s deficit, according to the budget update that Gov. Schwarzenegger released May 14, is $19 billion. And that’s after $13 billion in tax increases in February 2009.

Gov. Johnson said New Mexico’s government employee pension funds are in as bad a shape as California’s pension funds. During his time in office, he said he worked hard to switch the pension funds. The existing plan was “defined benefit,” meaning the taxpayers are on the hook for the full cost of the pensions, even if bad investments are made. He tried to bring in defined contribution plans, much like 401(k) plans. But the New Mexico Legislature would not go along.

Now, New Mexico’s pension funds are $20 billion in the red, in a state of 1.8 million people; or a burden of $11,111 for every New Mexican.

Gov. Johnson’s plan to save money: End the Iraq and Afghan wars. Cap Medicaid costs. Means-test Social Security. Raise the Social Security retirement age.

“It’s never going to be easier to address these issues than now,” he urged.

Is the time right for a libertarian president, whether Gov. Johnson, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, or someone else? Only time will tell. But what’s certain is that now is the time for libertarian solutions.