There’s been a thorn stuck between the folds of my cerebrum since Gov. Susana Martinez gave the State of the State speech my first day covering the legislative session. Martinez said “I’ve long said government doesn’t create jobs. It doesn’t – small businesses do.”
We hear this so often in the larger political dialogue, and I find it maddeningly confusing. Wasn’t Martinez a badass district attorney before she became governor, and aren’t the salaries of DAs in this country paid for with taxes? Now she’s governor, surrounded by a staff of state employees. Those aren’t all government jobs?
Aren’t my parents – a public-school math teacher and a national-laboratory computer scientist – government employees? Aren’t fire fighters and cops and garbage men and road workers?
And isn’t that a good thing?
“Yes, but where does the money that pays them come from?” Rep. Dennis Kintigh, of Roswell, said to me when I put those questions to him. I picked Kintigh because he wants to completely end the state’s film-credit program, so he must be hard-core conservative.
“You take it,” he said (of the money). “The government compels people to give it that money. It means they have less money to spend on shoes for kids, food for their families, new cars.”
Right. But taxes pay for services we need.
“Oh, yeah,” Kintigh said. “You have to have them. That’s a fact, but it’s also a fact that we need to minimize” the amount of taxes people pay.
OK, but I don’t think….
This is where something happened which I will admit I wasn’t quite ready for, even though I absolutely saw it coming. Kintigh was getting bugged by his colleagues in the House to get back on the floor. “One more minute,” he told them.
Then he turned to me and pivoted our conversation toward the federal deficit.
“You know how big our national deficit is?” he asked me. I’ve heard so many different numbers on that one, I don’t even bother trying to guess. Doesn’t Sean Hannity say it’s $17 trillion?
“About $1 trillion,” Kintigh said.
“How do we solve that? Tax the rich? Fair enough,” he said. Then he explained to me that even if we took 100 percent of the earnings of people in the U.S. who make more than $10 million annually, that total would come out to less than $200 billion.
And then he was gone, inviting me to find him later to continue the conversation.
So I sought out Tim Lewis, another Republican in the House.
Lewis represents Rio Rancho and is a history teacher at Cibola High School, which is public. He’s also a small-government conservative. He does not see a contradiction there.
“There’s a difference between government jobs: There’s good ones we need, that do great things, and there’s others we don’t,” he said.
When Gov. Martinez said “Government doesn’t create jobs,” Lewis believes most of the state understood she was not talking about teachers or fire fighters or garbage men or nuclear scientists.
So, I asked him, what jobs is she talking about? Let’s eliminate public safety and education and every other job we believe is necessary. What’s left?
“As far as specific jobs, there’s layers and layers of bureaucracy,” he said. “Any job that needs oversight…. In my opinion, those are the jobs and the companies with people in a mindset where government is the answer to everything.”
What specific jobs was he talking about, though? I asked where these jobs were, what departments, or even buildings, so I can go find them and ask why they should still have work when their paychecks are crushing our economy.
“Find those areas of government where there’s layers of bureaucracy,” he said to me, while I scribbled his words and wrinkled my brow.
I have done this before. I really have. Everyone at the Public Education Department or the Department of Tourism or the Public Regulations Commission thinks his or her job serves some necessary function. Big-picture, it makes sense. As far as individual jobs, though? Not to that employee.
Lewis said the government of New Mexico has grown by 50 percent in recent years, a higher rate than the population. I thought growth meant more people were getting jobs – that government growth means more people employed by government.
Again: More people employed.
Government jobs, Lewis said, “don’t add dollars into economic productivity, or bring down our national debt.”
The national debt again.
“I want to fund education,” Lewis said, “but not by taxing people who are producers. I’m not for punishing people’s success.”
Neither am I. But isn’t there a difference between rich and poor people when it comes to putting money into the economy? Isn’t someone who’s wealthy going to save his extra funds, while fire fighters or garbage men are going to spend their much smaller paychecks on rent and food and clothes?
I don’t get to ask that question. Lewis has to get back to the House floor. He leaves me with this: “The best role the government can play is get out of private citizens’ ways.”
Not on trash day.