SANTA FE (KRQE) - Easy money doesn’t get any easier than this.
The New Mexico Livestock Board, under state law, collects more than $100,000 a year from businesses across the state for doing absolutely nothing. That’s right – nothing.
“I would tell you that the stores and those people that are being charged this fee are not getting what they’re paying for,” said Keith Gardner, Gov. Susana Martinez’s chief of staff. “And so we need to go back and make it reasonable.”
State law gives the Livestock Board – the state’s oldest government agency – the authority to enforce the Meat Inspection Act. In order to do that, the board charges any business that sells or processes meat – packing plants, grocery stores, gas stations, even dollar stores – a $100 annual fee to do so.
It doesn’t matter if the business cuts up sides of beef or just sells beef jerky, the fee is the same.
But here’s the problem: The authority to conduct meat inspections was transferred to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2007. Nobody bothered to repeal the state’s inspection statute or the licensing fee, so the board has pocketed about $500,000 in the last five years from retail outlets it no longer regulates.
“Livestock people are accustomed to paying the Livestock Board to operate for them to be protected,” said Myles Culbertson, the board’s executive director.
That begs the question: Protected from what?
“What we do have is the authority of issuing that license or revoking that license,” Culbertson said. “That’s all the authority we have.”
Culbertson said the board hasn’t shut down any businesses since 2007 for not having a meat license.
So, essentially, the only authority the Livestock Board has over processed meat is to cash the $100 checks businesses dutifully send in every year.
Sen. Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, a rancher, said the situation makes no sense.
“There should be a service provided for whatever you do,” said Jennings, who also serves as president of the state Senate.
His colleague, Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, is a farmer and rancher. Asked if he thought the Meat Inspection Act needs to be repealed, the Senate minority leader said, “It probably does. Because if we’re not going to (inspect meat), then we need to repeal the act.”
Gardner said the meat fee is “very difficult” to justify.
“They’re no longer inspecting – that’s a very difficult sell,” he said. “We’ve actually directed the Livestock Board to go back and assess that and say, ‘Look, this is really unreasonable and it’s not business-friendly.’ ”
The full board is expected to address the fee at its next meeting.
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