There is no money.
The message was plain and simple Wednesday morning as area legislators listened to the wish lists of community leaders.
“There isn’t any money, there really isn’t,” a somber Sen. Clint Harden of Clovis told a group gathered at Wells Fargo Bank for the 2010 annual Legislative Breakfast.
“It’s Christmas time, but you need to know it... revenues are down.”
Harden’s message was echoed by the other four legislators gathered to hear presentations on area needs.
“We’ve all got the same message, we’ve got no money,” Clovis Rep. Anna Crook said.
“I really do hate to bring bad tidings; the list you have is ambitious... we’re all going to have to tighten our belts, we haven’t got a barrel of money.”
The message from the group of Republican legislators followed presentation of a list of projects area leaders were hoping to get state funding by the legislature.
The state is scrambling to find ways to plug a $650 million hole in the budget as the 2010 session — set to start Jan. 19 — approaches.
Among the local wish list:
• A new fence around Clovis High School.
• A wellness and youth center for Clovis.
• Road projects in the city and county.
• Courthouse improvements.
• A communications center.
• A new animal shelter.
•A solution to the jail’s growing population.
All valid but unfundable needs given the current financial climate in the state, they said unanimously.
“We’re in tough times and it will be a few years before we see it change,” said Sen. Gay Kernan of Hobbs, echoing
Harden’s sentiments that state regulatory issues need to be corrected to help loosen up commerce and industry and get things flowing again.
“I know I’ve been buying a PowerBall ticket everyday, but I haven’t won yet,” said Rep. Dennis Roch of Tucumcari, provoking laughter from the crowd and adding comic relief to the serious energy bloating the room.
But on the flip side of gloomy financial forecast, legislators seemed to agree the problems facing the state won’t be solved by more taxes and more regulations.
“You’ll hear our governor say we are under-taxed. I believe we’re in this position because we overspent,” Roch said.
“I’m kind of hoping 2010 is the year of common sense.”
The senior-most legislator in the room, Stuart Ingle of Portales, said he has seen trying times before. Ingle said he knows the state will work through the issues at hand.
But, Ingle said, right now legislators are fighting just to keep projects already on the table as they move through the existing fiscal challenges.
“This is not good what’s happened here. Our economy has been hurt. Every revenue source we had fell... (And) it’s real hard to talk about raising taxes because it’s not there,” Ingle said.
“There truly is no money. Hopefully we can keep some of the projects that are so vital to our counties and cities.”
Ingle said the future is promising, however, stressing a message of optimism particularly for the eastern part of the state.
“Our economy is growing, it will continue to grow... The cuts that we’re making, some of them needed to be made,” he said.
“We’re (eastern New Mexico) growing, we take care of things here, we love each other, we love ourselves and we love our kiddos.”
Ingle’s comments were in keeping with an earlier message of financial and industrial growth attendees heard from a representative of Tres Amigas.
Senior Advisor Frank Barber gave a presentation detailing the significance of a planned national power hub in Curry County.
The addition of the power station is expected to bring almost 14,000 jobs and $2.6 billion to the community over a six-year construction phase and a long-term benefit of 1,400 jobs and $130 million annually to local economies over a 20-year period, Barber said.
He said it is also expected to prime the area as a seat for cutting edge renewable energy development.
“Essentially New Mexico has the most to gain,” he said.
“Once this transition is made, New Mexico won’t find itself at the perimeter, once the transition is made, you will be the hub.”
Announced in October, officials said the project is to be placed on public trust land — located northeast of Clovis, south of Curry Road 19 and west of N.M. 108 — and will create the nation’s first renewable energy trading hub using the latest power grid technologies, including DC superconductor power cables, HVDC voltage source converters and energy storage systems.