With a thin record, governor casts herself as budget savior
Accomplishments take time, effort and struggle. Spin is instantaneous and potentially just as good politically.
Take credit for what you did not achieve. Ignore the lack of jobs in your state. Stick to your story no matter what.
So it is with Gov. Susana Martinez. She is as consistent as the desert sunshine in spreading self-serving myths.
a Republican, will stand for re-election next year without many
accomplishments. In the tradition of someone determined to win votes,
she is re-inventing how government works in hopes of receiving credit
where little is due her.
A week ago, after Democrats took turns bludgeoning Martinez at their
state convention, her political adviser, Jay McCleskey, fired back.
McCleskey is a paid mouthpiece willing to go to extremes for his
clients. What is noteworthy in this case is that he only repeated a
gross exaggeration that Martinez herself has made in speeches.
“After closing the largest structural budget deficit in state history,
Gov. Martinez is focused on moving New Mexico forward on a bipartisan
basis by reforming education and passing what has been heralded as the
most significant tax reform in decades...” McCleskey said.
Let’s focus on that bold claim about “the largest structural budget
deficit,” a mouthful of bureaucratic jargon if ever there was one. This
term was invented by spin specialists to make government seem more
mysterious than it is.
A structural deficit merely means a projected shortage, the kind most of
us deal with at some time. You lose that second job that was bringing
in an extra $500 a month, so you cut household spending to make sure you
can pay the mortgage next fall. You just closed a structural deficit.
Now back to Martinez’s claims. She took office in January 2011, joining a
state government that had a balanced budget. But the economy was rotten
and members of the Legislative Finance Committee knew that projected
revenues for the budget cycle starting in July would not be enough to
meet current expenses.
On Jan. 5, 2011, after Martinez had been governor all of five days,
legislators announced their plan to close the projected deficit.
Teachers and other state employees would take home less pay because they
would contribute more to their pensions. Savings from that change would
total about $50 million, or about a quarter of overall spending cuts of
Legislators continued refining their plan and then submitted a budget to
Martinez. She vetoed a couple million dollars in spending from a $5.4
billion budget that was balanced before it reached her desk.
Sure, Martinez had a modest role in that budget, but to claim that she
closed the largest deficit in state history is a fairy tale with her as
“We balance the budget as a Legislature. What she says, I guess that’s
politics,” said state Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe.
Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, in January 2012 publicly challenged
Martinez’s self-aggrandizing comments after she spoke of her budget
prowess in her state-of-the-state speech. No matter, Martinez repeated
her budget story when she spoke last August at the Republican National
“The strategy seems to be that, if she says it often enough, propaganda will be accepted as truth,” said Morales, right.
Morales, 40, is one of a half-dozen Democrats considering a run for governor next year.
He said legislators began painful budget cuts in 2009, when he was a
freshman senator, Democrat Bill Richardson was governor and Martinez was
still district attorney of Dona Ana County.
Banks had faltered, the stock market had plunged and states were
bleeding jobs. In this maelstrom, New Mexico legislators cut about $200
million to avoid a deficit in the current budget year. Then they cut
more from the forthcoming budget to balance it too.
“The state Constitution requires a balanced budget, and that is what we always send to the governor,” Varela said.
But listening to Martinez and her camp, some might imagine legislators
were on long lunch breaks or napping in the Capitol while Super Governor
closed the deficit faster than a speeding bullet.
All the talk about budgets may obscure a hard truth — namely that New
Mexico has not shared in the renewed prosperity that Arizona, Colorado
and Texas have.
Voters will judge Martinez in 2014 on many factors, including her
attempts to improve schools, the quality of her appointments and her
vision for the state. But lack of jobs will be the biggest issue for
Martinez and whatever Democrat ends up running against her.
When voters look beyond the hype to the key issue, they will find that Martinez’s claim of closing an historic budget deficit is a selfish one unsupported by the record.