ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New recommendations aimed at saving taxpayer money and making New Mexico’s government more efficient call for merging some state departments, doing away with more than a dozen boards and commissions and changing the public school funding formula.
A committee on government efficiency submitted recommendations to Gov. Bill Richardson on Thursday. He appointed the committee last month with the goal of finding ways to streamline state government.
The committee did not undertake an in-depth analysis of an overall government restructuring but identified $129 million in potential savings by considering what it called “low-hanging fruit,” or changes that would be relatively easy to make.
Richardson said the recommendations make sense as New Mexico looks for ways to limit spending and trim bureaucracy.
“I am ready to pursue many of these ideas immediately during the upcoming legislative session and by executive order,” the governor said in a statement Thursday.
The recommendations include merging the Public Education Department with the Higher Education Department and joining the Homeland Security Department with the Department of Public Safety.
A state Commerce Department could be created by joining existing departments of economic development, labor, tourism, regulation and licensing, workers compensation, border authority and the spaceport authority.
The Environment Department and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department could also be combined.
The recommendations also call for changes to Medicaid benefits and public school funding that could save New Mexico an estimated $110 million.
Considered for elimination would be 18 boards and commissions, including the Governor’s Finance Council, the Green Jobs Council, the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Water Task Force and some more obscure entities, such as the Interior Design Board and the Storage Tank Committee.
Many boards and commissions have outlived their original purpose or are no longer effective, the committee said.
Sen. John Arthur Smith, a Deming Democrat and chairman of the Senate committee that handles tax and budget issues, said some recommendations are “heavy-hitters” and would require further study after the legislative session.
Still, lawmakers need to start thinking about possibilities, he said.
“It seems to me that given this legislative session we’re going into, people just want to raise money so we can go back to business as usual and pass up this opportunity,” Smith said. “We look at the down side because there’s no money, but this is a tremendous opportunity for government to redefine itself.”
Smith said when comparing New Mexico to its neighbors, there are places where state government can be pared back.
The report backs him up, noting that New Mexico has a substantially higher number of full-time employees per thousand population than Arizona, California, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah. In fact, New Mexico’s 24.5 employees per thousand is much higher than the national average of 14.3.
New Mexico also has higher levels of state employment in higher education and corrections than surrounding states.