SANTA FE — New Mexico's net job losses during the recession total 41,700, and it is the only Western state not showing economic recovery, economist and former governor Garrey Carruthers told legislators on Friday.

Carruthers, 73, met with lawmakers for the first time since his hiring 12 days ago as president of New Mexico State University. He told the Legislative Finance Committee that it could take until 2019 for New Mexico to match its pre-recession level of 1.11 million jobs.

In a wide-ranging overview of public and economic policies, Carruthers touched on schools, as well as job losses.

He said New Mexico has too many four-year colleges and universities — seven compared to three in Arizona, which has triple New Mexico's population.

Carruthers also criticized larger districts for building mega high schools for thousands of students. He said high schools of 500 to 700 students were the most effective academically.

As for business development, he said the state would profit from a thorough analysis of its workforce.

For instance, Spaceport America has no plan for the precise workforce it needs to excel in space travel and transportation, Carruthers said. The Spaceport in Sierra County is a $209 million venture built by tax dollars.

In terms of attracting more jobs, Carruthers cautioned against baiting companies with tax incentives.

A Republican, Carruthers said these programs can backfire. Help one company or one business sector and you may disenfranchise others, he said.

Legislators seemed to get a different message from city and state specialists in job creation who testified after Carruthers.

Jon Barela, state secretary of economic development, told the committee that Austin, Texas, and Baton Rouge, La., had used tens of millions of dollars in incentives to attract tech giants Apple and IBM, respectively.

Competition between states for companies drives tax incentives, Barela said.

He applauded legislators for approving a last-minute tax bill in March that critics called a giveaway.

Barela said the bill would create 200 jobs immediately and more over time. In addition, he said, the bill had kept two Albuquerque companies from moving out of state. He said he could not identify these companies.

Two features of the bill saved jobs, Barela said. One reduces the corporate income tax rate from 7.6 percent to 5.9 percent across five years, starting in 2014. The other phases in a tax break to manufacturers that sell most of their goods and services outside New Mexico.

Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, said he was worried that the bill would hurt the economy, based on state finance secretary Tom Clifford's recent public apology because he mischaracterized the measure's financial consequences.

Clifford said he erred when he initially told legislators the bill would be a plus for the state in its first five years. Now he says it will cost the state more than $70 million in revenue in 2017.

"We're going to blow a $71 million hole in our budget, and we're going to get 200 jobs (in the short term)," said Candelaria, one of eight senators who voted against the bill.

Barela declined to comment on Clifford's new projection. But, Barela said, jobs created and jobs saved by the measure will fatten property tax collections and other streams of money to the state, offsetting other lost revenues.

Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort, R-Sandia Park, and Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela, D-Santa Fe, defended passage of the bill.

Beffort said all elements of it were "well vetted" over the years, so the last-minute vote was really one made after ample study, she said.

Thirty-one of the 112 state legislators were newcomers this year.

Moreover, even veteran legislators such as Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said the bill was rushed through without proper consideration.

The tax bill reached the House floor in the last 17 minutes of the session and did not contain the standard financial analysis by legislative staff.

Then House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, blocked debate on the bill so that a short filibuster could not kill it before the session deadline. Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, said the tax measure was the only bill during the 60-day session in which Martinez refused to permit debate.

Although the Legislature was receiving public criticism for its handling of the bill, Varela said he still believed it was the right decision and that time would prove him correct.

If there are flaws in the bill, "We can always go back and change it," Varela said.

Carruthers said he did not favor tax incentives for businesses for a reason other than potential unfairness in dealing with one company to the next.

"I don't think we have proper accountability," he said.

Milan Simonich, Santa Fe bureau chief of Texas-New Mexico Newspapers, can be reached at msimonich@tnmnp.com or 505-820-6898. His blog is at nmcapitolreport.com.