An addition, but think subtraction

March 12, 2019

With the addition of an Early Childhood Education and Care Department, a longtime dream is being realized for many advocates who say the key to improving kids’ futures depends on state government getting its act together.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has said she will sign the legislation, which creates a department to oversee programs for infants and young children — everything from home visits for families with new babies, help with child care to prekindergarten. It’s a big achievement, introduced by state Sen. Michael Padilla of Albuquerque and co-sponsored by Santa Fe Rep. Linda Trujillo, both Democrats.

Of course, creating the department is just the first step. As in everything, execution is what will matter.

Unless the department truly does create efficiencies and improves services, what New Mexicans will be left with is yet another bureaucracy that doesn’t deliver on its promises despite millions being spent. It’s less a matter of saving money — although that would be a plus — and more a matter of making sure the money being spent is spent well.

In a state where families are poor and working parents are struggling, reliable child care and assistance preparing children for kindergarten is an investment that will pay off.

Children who show up at school ready to learn will graduate from high school on time, be able to attend college or vocational school and become contributing members of society. Improving life for small children in our state is a goal all New Mexicans should support.

The accomplishment, however, would add another Cabinet-level agency to the 22 already in place, not including the secretary of agriculture, a position appointed by regents of New Mexico State University. That is too many, as we have said before and most recognize.

Last week, Sen. Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, proposed creating a Cabinet reduction task force. However, the Senate Rules Committee agreed instead to develop an interim committee to consider the issue; both proposals start with the task force appointed in 2009 by then-Gov. Bill Richardson to study improving government efficiency. A new look at the sprawling structure of government is overdue.

Let’s hope that this time, such efforts aren’t just more bureaucratic doublespeak — say you’re doing something while actually doing nothing.

We need a thorough review of the existing executive structure with a view toward streamlining upper bureaucracy and, yes, saving money — Richardson’s task force was asked to reduce spending by $50 million. The recommendations and subsequent legislation went nowhere. Then-Gov. Susana Martinez, despite criticizing the size of government, also did not do any downsizing.

The addition of another Cabinet department is the perfect opportunity to rectify the inaction of the past. The interim group is scheduled to deliver a report by Oct. 21.

By 2020, the Legislature and Lujan Grisham should have developed a Cabinet structure that combines like departments and eliminates duplicated services. There should be fewer Cabinet secretaries, fewer deputies and more money to spend on programs and people. Target the needs of early childhood, yes, and in the process, create a New Mexico government that is more nimble, able and focused.