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Richardson calls for green energy economy

Jan 21, 2009 - Barry Massey - The Associated Press

Gov. Bill Richardson called on the Legislature Tuesday to look beyond the state's immediate budget crisis and to push forward with governmental programs, investments and tax cuts that can help create jobs for New Mexicans.

"Our task this session is not just to cut spending, pass two budgets and go home," the Democratic governor said in his State of State speech to a joint session of the Legislature. "Our task must be to keep building a vibrant, optimistic New Mexico that looks over the horizon with hope and anticipation."

The Legislature convened for a 60-day session as the state confronts its worst financial outlook in decades: a $450 million budget deficit this year and the prospect of no new revenues to pay for the growth of general government and public education in the next fiscal year.

House Republican Whip Keith Gardner of Roswell said the governor's spending initiatives amounted to a "credit card plan."

"The truth is we've had tremendous spending growth over the last few years but yet the revenues have not grown at that same pace," said Gardner.

Richardson acknowledged the difficult financial times confronting New Mexico and the nation, but he also stressed the need to improve the state's educational system and expand the economy.

"Today, this state faces a new challenge - the biggest global financial crisis of our lifetime," said Richardson. "A cold financial winter has come, and our state faces a serious budget shortfall. This economic crisis is not of our making, nevertheless it is ours to solve. This is our task, and our test. Let us be equal to it."

The governor used his speech to outline a broad legislative agenda - a mix of old and new proposals.

He renewed his support for several measures that have failed in previous legislative session. Among those are ethics reforms, including limits on campaign contributions and an independent commission to investigate allegations of ethical misconduct. He reiterated his support for domestic partnerships to give certain homosexual or heterosexual couples the same rights and benefits as married couples.

Richardson also offered several new initiatives, many of them intended to help New Mexico "compete, attract and create high-paying green collar jobs."

Among Richardson's proposals:

_Establishing a "research applications center" to take technology developed at universities and government research labs and use it to move commercial products in the marketplace.

_Tax incentives for renewable energy development. The governor, for example, proposed expanding the amount of large scale solar energy generation that could qualify for a current tax credit. He wants a five-year extension of an existing tax break for the purchase of new hybrid electric vehicles

_A "green grid" initiative to encourage improvements in the electrical transmission system that will promote the use of renewable power sources, such as solar and wind energy. Initially, the governor proposes a demonstration project, potentially a neighborhood, with an updated grid for monitoring and controlling the flow of power to and from homes and into the main electrical grid.

House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, applauded Richardson's economic development and green energy proposals.

"If we're going to be able to get into this new renewable energy industry, we've got to have some tax incentives for those people to come in here," said Lujan.

Richardson delivered his speech a little more than three hours after President Barack Obama was sworn into office in the nation's capital.

Until earlier this month it appeared this would be Richardson's final State of the State address. Obama had selected the governor to become commerce secretary. But Richardson withdrew his nomination because of a federal pay-to-play investigation into whether a political donations influenced the hiring of a financial firm for work on state transportation bond deals.

The governor insists there's no wrongdoing and says the grand jury investigation would have delayed confirmation hearings and kept Obama from quickly filling his cabinet.

At the outset of his speech, Richardson joked about his situation.

"Now I know there are some legislators who were looking forward to my departure and not having to deal with me this session," Richardson said. "I'm sorry to disappoint. I'll try to make it up to you somehow."

The Legislature's opening day was largely ceremonial and devoted to organizational matters. The House and Senate elected top leaders. There was no surprise in the House where Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, was re-elected. In the Senate, President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, retained his post despite efforts of the Senate's Democratic majority to oust him. Jennings ran into problems with some of his Democratic colleagues because he helped a longtime Republican senator during the general election.


Updated: 2016/06/30

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