By Tracy Dingmann
When Gov. Susana Martinez wrote an executive order on Jan. 1 halting all pending state regulations and creating a “Small Business-Friendly Task Force” to review them, the group had 90 days to come up with a plan.
Ostensibly, the task force was to consider each regulation and rule on its merits and then submit a fair and balanced report to the governor by April 1, detailing which rules the state could keep or scrap.
Except that’s not what’s been going on.
Meeting in Secret, With an Agenda
The members of the “Small Business-Friendly Task Force” were named in secret and have been meeting in secret. Only by filing an open records request under state law have we been able to find out who is on the task force and what it is meeting about.
Through documents gained from our request, we learned the task force does not represent New Mexico’s small business community. Instead, it is packed with large-business people and lobbyists from industries that gave big to the Martinez campaign – and who have been fighting back hard against pending state regulations.
The internal documents show members were never inclined to keep any of the regulations – in fact, they are focused on devising tactics the Martinez administration can use to eliminate each one.
The Mid-Point Report
Our request turned up one particularly fascinating document – a “mid-point report” dated Feb. 18 that, based on its unguarded language, was decidedly not intended to be shared outside the Gov’s office.
From the preamble:
“The task force does not wish to present a laundry list of problems to the Governor but develop solutions (sic). The goal is to provide the Governor and/or agencies cover when repealing or revising a rule or regulation thus avoiding litigation if possible.
The final report to the Governor will include a road map of short and long-term tactics and strategies, including the use of executive orders and legislative strategies. Each troublesome regulation identified will be accompanied by a recommendation on the best way to remove their negative impacts (sic).”
The report says the task force decided to focus on two areas of regulation: construction and the environment. Specifically, the task force wants to focus on regulations in the Environment Department, the Energy, Natural Resources and Minerals Department and the Division of Game and Fish, as they are “having the most impact on economic development and the will determine (sic) the best approach to rescind or revise the troublesome rules/regulations.”
Singled out as examples of “onerous legislation” are the “Pit Rule” and the “Enforcement and Compliance Rule,” both of which apply to and have been extremely unpopular with the oil and gas industry in New Mexico.
Here’s what else is in the report:
- The task force doesn’t want New Mexico to do any more than what’s required by the federal government.
From the report:
“The first motion of the Small Business Task Force was to propose that state rules and regulations across the board be no more stringent than federal requirements and to correct any rule or regulation that requires more regulation than federal standards.”
- The task force recommends that the Economic Development Department develop a secret “whistleblower complaint log and phone-based hotline” for businesses who want to complain privately about NMED enforcement of rules and regulations.
From the report:
“Companies often do not want to be seen as “troublemakers” by filing public complaints. If they do have complaints about NMED, this would ensure that companies would have confidentiality if they make complaints about departmental policies or practices through the whistleblower program. The EDD Office of Business Advocacy would administer this program and investigate complaints.”
- In what sounds awfully ominous for mid-level classified employees, the task force says it has found that even in cases where exempt department heads have been removed, those pesky classified employees who have to actually enforce the rules (and who can’t be fired without cause) are undoubtably going to let their “anti-business agenda” stand in the way of the kind of rollback they are looking at. The task force plans to come up with ways to “mitigate” that, the report says.
From the report:
“Beyond changing a rule or regulation is the enforcement and handling of regulations and rules, particularly with permitting, by mid-level classified employees. An overarching theme we have observed is working with mid-level classified managers at NMED and other departments who still have an anti-business agenda despite changes in leadership at the department level. The committee is looking for ways to mitigate this situation.”
Here are the other recommendations from the task force:
- Removing New Mexico from the Western Climate Initiative, a group which advocates for a coordinated Western effort to reduce carbon emissions.
- Removing the New Mexico only “cap-and-tax.” This refers to a set of carbon emission rules that the state adopted late in the Richardson administration after an advisory board considered nearly two years worth of public and expert testimony.
- Working with other western governors to “delay the adoption of new air standards.”
- Having the New Mexico Environment Department develop a fast-track environmental permit process to mitigate complaints from businesses
- Repealing, modifying or replacing the regulatory amendment implementing the collective bargaining wage rate scheme for prevailing wages provided for in 2009 amendments to the Public Works Minimum Wage Act, also known as SB 33.
- Looking at state building codes to identify ways to “bring compliance back down to the levels of international code.”
- Combining and reducing the number of construction permits required.