Professionals should run state’s big show

Did it really take more than two years for the state auditor to figure out Expo New Mexico could use some professional management and oversight — when everyone knew that going in?

The State Fair has always been a political plum — the general manager and seven commissioners are appointed by the governor — with no requirements that those appointees know anything about running a state fair or ensuring it is self-sufficient.

And so it is no surprise Expo for years has routinely struggled to meet its obligation to “generate all funds necessary for maintenance, operation of the facilities, and the employment of staff, and production of the annual State Fair.”

Last year fair attendance was down 4 percent, and revenues declined for the fourth year in a row, down 9 percent from 2012, in part because of four rain days.

If it wasn’t for slashing the staff in half and outsourcing jobs, along with back payments and higher rent coming from the Downs casino, there’d be no break in Expo’s financial clouds at all.

Attendance by commissioners is even worse — the panel has met only twice since March 2012.

This month state Auditor Hector Balderas blasted Expo, saying, “I am alarmed by Expo’s ongoing operational insolvency. The fiscal year 2012 audited financial statements show that Expo could only cover 66 cents for each dollar in current liabilities. In addition, Expo’s unrestricted net assets decreased to a deficit of approximately $3 million as of June 30.”

And while a January 2013 Legislative Finance Committee report says the cost cutting and additional revenue mean “the State Fair significantly improved its financial condition,” it is important to note the same report says “the purpose of the state fair program is to promote the New Mexico state fair as a year-round operation with venues, events and facilities that provide for greater use of the assets of the agency.”

Considering state taxpayers pay to maintain and improve fair facilities — from the roof on Tingley to the wiring in the Villa Hispana — it’s past time for some professional exposition management, charged with not just operating but recommending major makeovers.

And considering Expo accounts for 236 acres of prime real estate in the middle of Albuquerque, it’s past time the site became the consistent showpiece the city deserves, rather than a run-down, wind-swept asphalt and dirt home to a 12-day fair and random art, animal and car shows, craft fairs and a flea market.

Having professionals run what should be the state’s biggest show seems like an obvious place to start.

— Albuquerque Journal

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