State must begin transition now


February 15, 2023

Term limits can be incredibly liberating, as former Republican Gov. Gary Johnson demonstrated when he professed his love for marijuana shortly after winning reelection in 1998.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has the twin advantages of not having to run again, and going into her second term with financial resources that are beyond the wildest dreams of her predecessors.

The state exceeded revenue estimates by $3.6 billion during the last fiscal year. The proposed $9.44 billion budget now under consideration is up by $4 billion from when Bill Richardson started his second term in 2009.

Unfortunately, that is due primarily to the unrestrained greed of U.S. oil companies.

Between them, Exxon ($55 billion), Shell ($40 billion), Chevron ($36.5 billion) and ConocoPhillips ($18.7 billion) made more than $150 billion in profits last year. That was more than the gross domestic product for the nation of Hungary.

While that is enraging to drivers, it is enriching to the state. More than half of the state’s budget is expected to come from a windfall in oil and gas revenue.

Lujan Grisham made early childhood education the primary focus in her first term, and was able to pass meaningful changes that will benefit the state long after she is out of office. The primary focus of her second term should be ending, or at least reducing, our dependence on gas and oil revenue.

She isn’t there yet. Her agenda this session includes cutting the gross receipts tax and increasing support for film production, but there’s nothing to create new economic opportunities.

Clearly, no one thing will fill the void. It will take both the growth of existing industries and the creation of new ones. Last August, the state reported that it had collected $22.7 million in taxes following the first six months of legal cannabis sales. It’s a start.

While the governor is not yet leading the effort, Las Cruces lawmakers are proposing solutions. In the Senate, Bill Soules has introduced bills to help state universities obtain more research funding through grants and study the feasibility of a high-speed railway running the length of the state.

Joseph Cervantes has sponsored a bill that would create a new fund and council specifically dedicated to “prosperity and economic resiliency.”

Carrie Hamblen has introduced legislation to allow Las Cruces to establish a redevelopment zone in the El Paseo-Solano area.

And, Jeff Steinborn is co-sponsor of a bill that would create a new division in the Economic Development Department for “creative industries” like art, entertainment and media.

In the House, Angelica Rubio has sponsored a bill to create a new division in the Economic Development Department to help workers transition from jobs in the oil fields. And, Doreen Gallegos has sponsored a bill that would provide technical support and public resources to entrepreneurs.

Gas prices are down by more than $1.50 a gallon from their peak last June.

This opportunity won’t last long. The governor needs to join lawmakers in this effort.

Walt Rubel is the former opinion page editor of the Las Cruces Sun-News. He lives in Las Cruces, and can be reached at:

[email protected]


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