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Monday, February 18, 2019

Big Energy Bill Of Session '19 Draws Debate; Enviros Celebrate New Renewable Standard But Critics Complain Of A PNM Giveaway 

Are enviros giving away the store to PNM because they relish the prospect of a bill passing that would dramatically increase the amount of renewable energy required to be generated in New Mexico? Or is the chief critic of the proposal, the enviro group New Energy Economy (NEE), an out of touch outlier? Let's take a deep dive into SB489:

Environmentalists at the Roundhouse are ecstatic over this major piece of legislation that has won the support of the Governor and just about every major enviro group--except one--and that is the thorn in the side of the Energy Transition ACT (ETA).

ETA would put New Mexico on an ambitious course to generate 50 percent of its energy needs from renewable resources by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040, all in the name of fighting climate change. If approved, those would be some of the strongest standards in the nation. But there is a catch. . .

In order to help get rid of all that nasty carbon pollution PNM has to finish shutting down its Four Corners coal-fired San Juan Generating Station. That's an expensive proposition but under the ETA consumers would step up for the the electric company by paying off bonds that would be floated to cover costs of the closure.

That brings us back to the thorn in the side. Enviro group New Energy Economy says ETA is a blatant bail out for PNM and will end up costing consumers dearly on their monthly bills for years to come. Here's how the ETA will work when it comes to PNM as described by its enviro backers:

The ETA provides low cost financing to pay off coal plant costs and close the facilities, often referred to as “securitization,” a tool used by environmentalists in many states. . . The lower interest bonds will reduce the overall cost of closing coal plants by as much as 40%. . . and pay for things like economic transition funding for displaced workers and communities. For New Mexico, securitization is a fair way for utility customers and shareholders to move away from coal and share in the responsibility of doing so.

The main sponsor of the ETA is ABQ Dem Senator Jacob Candelaria who took heat last year for another bill that was deemed a bail out of PNM for closing San Juan and that was ultimately shot down. But this time he has the Guv and major enviro groups like Conservation Voters NM and the Sierra Club on his side.

LET'S DEBATE IT

Sen. Candelaria
Let's debate the key environmental bill of 2019 with Candelaria and Mariel Nasani of NEE. First up is Sen. Candelaria:

This bill is supported by the leading environmental groups in New Mexico including Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, Western Resource Advocates, and NRDC.

It’s arrogant of NEE to suggest that these dedicated professionals can’t evaluate both the securitization and Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) separately on their own merits, and support each proposal on its own merits. But that’s exactly what the broad group of stakeholders supporting this bill has done, including the building trades council and AFSCME.

We should not financially punish utilities that step up to close coal plants. The ETA shares responsibility of coal plant closure between ratepayers and shareholders. PNM shareholders currently earn about $16 million per year on its investment in San Juan. Through securitization the bonds are issued and the plant is paid off, the shareholders receive zero profit. And the savings from the low interest bonds benefit rate payers so they have lower monthly bills than they would if PNM used traditional financing.

Furthermore, the bill would invest approximately $70 million of the securitized funds into the Four Corners community for displaced workers and clean-up of the environment.

From a rate payer perspective, it’s telling that you have respected consumer advocacy groups like Somos un Pueblo Unido, NM Cafe, and Prosperity Works signed on to support this bill.

I should add that, according to modeling by one national environmental group (NRDC), raising the RPS could create as many as 8,830 clean energy jobs and prompt major in investment in the state's clean energy economy by 2030. That's thousands of jobs for families at every skill level.

Now Mariel Nanasi, executive director of NEE:

Mariel Nanasi
This bill undermines Public Regulation Commission (PRC) authority to determine stranded assets. In no other state where securitization has been used does the utility get to determine the amount it gets. Here ratepayers are responsible for all stranded costs, all worker severance, and an arbitrary amount of clean up costs without any contribution by PNM for its imprudent business decisions. This is irresponsible in the extreme.

This is not just the opinion of New Energy Economy; it is the opinion of national securitization experts. . . They explained that PRC authority is paramount. . . to ensure due diligence consistent with ratepayer protections because the decision will be set in stone for 25 years.

Enviros want an increase in the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and will stop at nothing, including throwing ratepayers under the omnibus. . . They don’t care about costs so they worked out a back room deal with the PNM . . while stripping the PRC of its authority. . . PNM will get hundreds of millions of dollars and invest it in more natural gas. PNM is in the process of building more gas at San Juan (so much for PNM's “renewed commitment to renewables”). PNM will own the gas without any competition, shut out independent power producers and squash the renewable energy market.

What a deal! Enviros get an increase in the RPS, while ETA gives PNM $400 million in a “non-bypassable charge” on every ratepayer's bill for 25 years for the San Juan bailout, charge ratepayers higher costs for gas, drastically undercut the authority of their regulators and make consumers pay for toxic waste that PNM has caused at San Juan. Doesn’t sound fair, does it? It’s not. The deal stinks.

That's quite a spirited debate over a complex but high impact measure. Thanks to Candelaria and Nanasi for succinctly summing up the battle. We'll keep you posted in this final month of Session '19.

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Friday, February 15, 2019

City Power Seen In Gun Vote, Republican Pot Heads In The Senate, And: PERA's Propst Has Big Problems 

Blogging New Mexico 
There's that citification of New Mexican politics again. A group of mostly rural county sheriffs sat in the state Senate gallery Thursday in solidarity against a gun control bill being debated that called for more background checks when buying and selling firearms but the bill still managed to pass the often conservative Senate, 22-20. Do you think that would have happened even five years ago?

It didn't hurt that only hours before the vote a student at a Rio Rancho high school fired a gunshot inside the school, setting off panic. Fortunately, that's all there was to it. But the bottom line at the capitol when it comes to social legislation like gun control is the aforementioned growing power of the liberal cities (ABQ, Santa Fe and Las Cruces) and a new Democratic Governor who was elected with overwhelming margins in those cities.

Two Dems who often take the conservative line and that the 16 Senate Republicans count on to join them to defeat liberal legislation refused this time. Both are from metro areas--Sen. Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces and John Sapien of Bernalillo. Meanwhile, newly appointed Dem state Senator Gabriel Ramos confirmed the worst fears of his progressive foes and voted with the R's against the background checks.

The House has passed a similar bill so MLG will soon get out her signing pen. She was in the fore of tough gun legislation when she served as a congresswoman and she's picking up in Santa Fe where she left off in DC.

With the political compass in the Senate moving from the center right and more toward the center, it will be interesting to see in the final month of the session how many more cracks form in the conservative dam.

REPUBLICAN POT HEADS

Our Alligators were spot on when they said to keep an eye on a small group of GOP state Senators when it comes to legalizing recreational marijuana. Those senators--ABQ's Mark Moores, Roswell's Cliff Pirtle and Rio Rancho's Craig Brandt joined three Dem Senators this week and came with this bill:

Senators introduced a bill to allow the legalization of cannabis for adult use, and they're putting a special emphasis on the protection of children. While there is a growing bipartisan agreement that prohibition has not been effective in limiting and controlling the negative impact of cannabis in our state. The Senators involved want a responsible regulatory process that minimizes its negative impact and better protects children.

That doesn't mean the outlook for legalizing pot this year isn't still cloudy. A number of Dem Senators are still against it but this will be closely watched.

PERA, PROPST AND PROBLEMS

Propst
State employees and the many who are retired are going to be interested in this development from Tuesday's board meeting of the Public Employee Retirement Authority (PERA).

The executive director of PERA, Wayne Propst, has landed in the sights of Attorney General Hector Balderas who, at the request of the Board, is investigating Propst over big staff pay raises he has been dishing out. One of our Alligators at the meeting reports:

--The PERA Board voted to suspend Executive Director Wayne Propst's authority over PERA staff regarding pay raises and promotions until an investigation into the raises by the Attorney General is complete.

--The Board voted to ask the Attorney General to investigate Propst regarding pay raises and promotions for his staff over the last five years.

--State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg stated that he has already sent a letter to the Attorney General requesting an investigation of Propst for potential illegalities regarding PERA pay raises and promotions.

--Chief Investment Officer Dominic Garcia reported that the PERA fund lost 2.5% in 2018. In comparison The Education Retirement Board fund (ERB) for educators had a 6% increase during 2018. The PERA fund fell to $14.6 billion from $15 billion.

Propst handed out $630,000 in pay raises last year to 30 of the agency's employees, including himself. The raises ranged from 6 to 59 percent and done without board approval, according to ABQ Report.

Making matters worse, while handing out the staff pay hikes Propst has been lobbying to have retired state employees give up their 2 percent annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) in order to help the PERA fund achieve long-term solvency. But with the AG breathing down his neck and the Guv and many legislators wary of suspending the COLA, it appears it will be Propst who will getting his wings clipped. A recording of the meeting is here.

E-mail your news and comments. (jmonahan@ix.netcom.com)

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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Troubled UNM Gets Five New Regents; Can They Make A Difference: Roundhouse Insiders Game Them Out  

Crashing enrollment, an athletic department in disarray, uncertainty about the leadership of the president who is clashing with a key legislator and a continued problem with branding and marketing. And that's only the short list of problems facing the University of New Mexico. Can a group of new UNM Regents make a difference?

Governor Lujan Grisham has just named five regents to the seven member panel, all of whom are expected to win confirmation from the Senate Rules Committee which begins the process today. Can they be strong and innovative enough to bring change to our Harvard on the Rio Grande? Here's some Roundhouse scuttlebutt about some of the personalities that will be at the helm of the state's flagship university.

Kim Sanchez Rael is described as "thoughtful and prepared." The Stanford and Harvard grad has a lengthy background in entrepreneurial business undertakings and spent seven years as an Intel executive. She ls also politically astute as is her husband, veteran state bureaucrat Lawrence Rael who currently toils for ABQ mayor Tim Keller as a top administrator. Sanchez Rael, 53, may be the star of the new group of regents--if there is to be one--and the one who could emerge as an advocate for a new and improved agenda.

Sandra Begay Campbell and Doug Brown. A Roundhouse Alligator tells us:

These are recycled regents. Begay Campbell served on the panel under Gov. Richardson. Brown is also a former regent who once headed up the UNM Anderson School of Management. She is a UNM and Stanford graduate, an engineer who is a longtime employee of Sandia Labs with strong ties to the Native American community. But there are questions. . . 

Both Begay Campbell and Brown have strong education credentials and community activities but questions remain about where they were while the demise of the athletic department began during previous tenures. Why didn't they exercise oversight of contractual buyouts, poor controls and
management of athletic department budgets, poorly constructed payback of the bonds to remodel the Pit into a less friendly, hard to sell sky box model? Why didn't they raise questions about the Athletic Department's lax controls that led to the recent criminal charges against former Athletic Director Paul Krebs? What will be different for them this time that makes them pay attention? Will they be the stabilizing influence some argue, or go along, get along status quo regents? Also, Brown is 81 and has a wide array of experience, but does he relate to the current generations? 

The other MLG appointees are Robert Schwartz who has more than 40 years of experience teaching law, mostly at the UNM law school. The student regent IS Melissa Henry. She's a licensed mental health counselor who is pursuing a  doctorate in counselor education.

The leftover regents are attorney Rob Doughty and and Marron Lee, whose terms expire in 2020. Both are diehard members of the Governor Martinez political machine but are now presumably outnumbered by a new governing majority.

PATTY VS. GARNETT

As for that troubled UNM athletic department, UNM President Garnett Stokes is in a pitched battle with House Appropriations Committee chairwoman Patty Lundstrom who wants to appropriate $2 million to reinstate athletic programs eliminated at UNM to address the department deficit. Most notable is the elimination of men's soccer that has drawn howls of protest from students and their parents. One of the Gators sends along the talking points memo that UNM's legislative committee of staff, students, alumni etc. are working from to fight the reinstatement. There's nothing in it about Stokes working out a compromise with Lundstrom. Maybe there should be?
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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Impeachment And Oil Mania Make The Rounds; Our Takeaways 

MLG (ABQ Journal)
Impeachment and oil mania are making the rounds in La Politica this Wednesday and off we go with the takeaways:

--She isn't about to hire a lawyer but that on line petition to impeach Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham because she moved most of the state's national guard troops from the border is putting a damper on her early term honeymoon and giving her a first dose of widespread negative publicity.

--She can't be too surprised. The border and immigration are among the hottest of the hot button issues of our time, thanks to President Trump. MLG's defiance of him regarding the guard has predictably riled up his southern NM base.

--But slow down if you think those 36,000 folks (and growing) who have signed off on the impeachment of MLG are from New Mexico. No doubt many are but there is no screening of who signs so we assume a good number of them are from out of state.

--Still, Dem House Speaker Brian Egolf, who has the power to launch impeachment proceedings, was forced to knock down any such notion saying no way, no how. But the nuisance petition may be a message to MLG to tone down the emotion (like running into walls etc.) while pursuing her border policy.

--As far was we can tell, no Governor since statehood has faced impeachment charges. But other state officials have, the latest being in 2005 when we blogged of how State Treasurer Robert Vigil was indicted on extortion charges and the state House formed a 10 member impeachment subcommittee to investigate. Vigil folded his hand and resigned and the impeachment probe was halted.

--By the way, the House hired ABQ trial attorney Paul Kennedy in 2005 to guide them on the Vigil impeachment. In 2011 he was to become the go-to private attorney for Gov. Martinez and her political machine. And Martinez's "pit bull" is still going at it, having signed as the lawyer for former UNM Athletic Director and Machine friendly Paul Krebs who faces criminal charges from the attorney general.

OIL US UP

Holy Gusher, Batman! So might say Robin to the caped crusader in reaction to the latest news from the booming NM oil fields.

--New data out shows oil and gas contributed $2.2 billion to the state in the last fiscal year, an increase of over $450 million from the previous year and a third of the entire state general fund budget. And more is on the way.

--Says NM Oil and Gas Association honcho Ryan Flynn: “Over the next ten years, production has the potential to remain high, at record levels, even with a downtick in prices, because the Permian Basin has become a focal point for investment."

--But that hasn't stopped anti-oil legislation in Santa Fe, including a proposed ban on fracking and a move to increase the state royalty rates on new leases from 20 to 25 percent. That and more has the Hobbs News-Sun in the heart of the oil boom in Lea County asking this question: "Is there a war on oil?" 

--If there is a war, oil isn't going to lose it this year, not while all those legislators from non-oil counties are bathing in the liquid black gold and dishing out a billion dollar energy generated surplus.

EYEING THE OIL BOYS

While oil booms there seems to be a little boomlet to get more royalties and taxes from the oil and gas industry, not by raising their taxes, but by looking closely to see if the industry is paying all they actually owe. Former State Land Commissioner Jim Baca first broached the idea of a forensic audit of oil and gas and here comes Christoper Madrid, the economic development director in Rio Arriba with a follow-up:

We are the 3rd largest gas producing county in the state. Mr. Baca pointed out that “We must perform a forensic audit of these same producers over the last eight years.” We could not agree more. In fact we hired an auditing firm and have confirmed Baca’s assumption. Our audit samples demonstrate that most of the producers we have reviewed are not reporting for property tax purposes. Of those that are, many are substantially undervaluing the property reported. On the production side, the state applies an assumed cost schedule that is well below market value of the equipment subject to taxation. . . Importantly, we are not asking that the industry pay more in taxes – only that they pay their fair share of taxes under the current structure. Our citizens are subject to an assessment of their homes by the county assessors at market rate valuation. Conversely, oil and gas basically get to “self-report” on a cost basis which they can manipulate whenever the assets are transferred.

Maybe Land Commissioner Garcia Richard might want to look into the audit route to raise more money for state education rather than an increase in royalty rates. During this oil boom that has as much chance of passing as the Rail Runner turning a profit.

NO MERCY

Democratic reader David Ryan has no mercy for the out of power House Republicans whose dilemma we blogged of Tuesday. He comes with this:

The Republicans lost their credibility when they allowed the Rush Limbaugh base to set their agenda. At the national level they cried about Obamacare. Rather than fix the problems with small bipartisan bills, they insisted upon repeal. When the Republicans had full control, they had nothing to offer. At the NM level they hollered for lower taxes and less regulation. Fix the economy by taking the shackles off of business. Well, that produced nothing. Until the Republicans have something to offer, the proper place for them is on the sidelines. In the meantime there are problems to solve. Hopefully this Democratic Party can keep the momentum and change the White House in 2020.

We welcome your email on the issues of the day.

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E-mail your news and comments. (jmonahan@ix.netcom.com)

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2019

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Reality Sets In: Vastly Outnumbered House R's Feel The Boot On Their Necks And Their Pain Is Audible; Why It Could Last A Very Long Time, Plus: MLG Impeachment Petition Circulates  

Rep. Kelly Fajardo
Payback time in Santa Fe and it's not pretty but it is painful--for the beleaguered state House Republicans. Here are the takeaways:

--The party is over for the Republican Party. That realization is nothing profound, but on Election Night it was theoretical, today it is practical, with the state House Dems rolling over the R's with progressive legislation that is shocking their socks off.

--From abortion to gun control to spending, the dominant Dems (46-24) are putting forth very liberal bills reflecting the huge political shift in state politics toward the cities of ABQ, Santa Fe and Las Cruces and away from the shrinking rural counties that are the bedrock of GOP support.

--The cries from the House R's about the Dem's being "unfair" or "uncivil" are falling on deaf years after eight years of Republican Governor Martinez and her political machine who ran roughshod over the Dems. The R's have a point about Dems steamrolling them but they lost the moral high ground when they sheepishly fell in line behind their own vindictive Governor. The steamroller is just getting started.

--Once rising stars like Valencia County GOP State Rep. Kelly Fajardo are apoplectic at the turn of events. Perhaps that's because even analysts in her own party think it could be at least until 2032 until the R's make a state House comeback. That is crushing news for her and any other R who harbors political ambitions. Here's Fajardo lamenting the Dems treatment toward the House R's and here's more takeaways on our subject du jour:

--Legislative redistricting in 2021 will be done by commanding Dem House and Senate majorities and under a Dem Governor. In the last redistricting in 2011 the R's had one of their own on the Fourth Floor and more legislative manpower. Their redistricting bill led to a brief, historic two year Republican takeover of the House. That redistricting outcome is not going to repeat in two years, potentially putting the House R's in the legislative desert for years to come.

--However, there is some hope for the minority party. BernCo Dem NE Heights representatives like Melanie Stansbury, Abbas Akhil and Bill Pratt, liberals who stunned the political world by beating incumbent R's in the Dem wave of '18, could overreach and be sent packing. That would restore a bit of the voice the R's have lost in the House, but not much.

--As legislative expert and former Republican state Senator Rod Adair is fond of saying,  "Demographics are destiny." Those demographics here are trending more Hispanic, more Democrat and less Anglo and less conservative. Cutting taxes and regulations--still the boilerplate of the GOP platform--is not going to win those voters back. They need a new bag of tricks but are resistant.

--New GOP chairman and former Congressman Steve Pearce is polished, articulate and knows how to go for the jugular. The problem? The cities don't and won't listen to Pearce who lost them to MLG by landslide margins. R's may want to look at someone like former ABQ GOP State Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes--a woman and minority face--to serve as some kind of co-chair or spokesman to deal with the cities and use Pearce to woo the conservative rural south.

EVEN MORE TAKEAWAYS


--History says the governorship is still a swing seat, with Democratic corruption and/or overreach on the issues the possible path back to the Fourth Floor someday. R's are not elected Governor in New Mexico based on their platforms, but in reaction to the errant actions of Democratic incumbents, especially on the corruption front.

--House R's can bellow, bellyache and bemoan the Democratic House's near super majority but they can't change it anytime soon. Their time in the cold, lonely wilderness has just begun. If it persists, in a few years you will see a more meek and accepting GOP attitude take hold. That would be similar to the state Senate where the R's toil as a permanent minority. However, they have been able to coalesce with some conservative Dems to give them a voice in state power. In the state House conservative Dems are an endangered species. The R's there are on their own and that will be brutal.

--Another R problem: MLG can thwart the most ultra-liberal policies before they reach her desk and avoid having moderate Dems and independents bleed off to the R's. So all the gnashing of teeth over what the R's see as the radical abortion and gun control bills could be for naught. They are unlikely to pass in their ultra liberal forms. (Although MLG on guns is no moderate).

--It's true the House Dems are further alienating the 43 percent of the voters who went for Republican Pearce in the Guv race, but the Dems are not losing their broad support in the cities. And, as we said above, in the 21st century the story of New Mexican politics is the battle over the expanding urban battlefield. Until the GOP can pick that lock Rep. Fajardo's Santa Fe karaoke parties are going to be about as lively as a funeral.

IMPEACH MLG

This didn't take long:

The Governor's decision to withdraw National Guard troops from New Mexico's southern border  is now getting calls for her impeachment. A Ruidoso man has started a petition asking state lawmakers to begin the process to remove her from office. In just four days, this petition has seen over 26,000 people sign it. The petition on Change.org was created by John Daniel from Ruidoso. He's asking the state's House of Representatives to begin the impeachment process.


She won't be impeached but maybe Chairman Pearce can raise some money for his financially needy party from some of those 26,000 (as of last night) who signed the impeachment petition. Meanwhile, don't worry, Democrats, Lt. Governor Howie Morales is standing by.

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Monday, February 11, 2019

Education Blog: Is Something Big Finally About To Happen? Plus: Native Americans Rejuvenated By Court Ruling Seek Full Share Of Fed Aid. And: APS Election Aftermath Still Drawing Reaction 

Rep. Williams Stapleton (ABQ Journal)
The last eight years in Santa Fe have been so dominated by obstruction, do nothingism and vile antagonism that it's hard to actually believe that things could ever change. The state's residents are kind of like hostages who are held so long they refuse to believe they have been freed, even as the sun finally again shines on their faces.

But even around here, where skepticism is always the right position, we have to admit that something big could finally be brewing. Why? Here are the takeaways:

--We are seeing education legislation that if passed and is effective could change the face of New Mexico in the decades ahead.

--It reminds us of 1974 when we covered the aftermath of the historic legislative debate establishing the school equalization formula. We were too young to understand its far reaching impact but we knew it was big. Really big. And we had legendary AP correspondent Bill Feather around then to tell us exactly why.

--Flash forward 45 years later to an historic ruling from District Court Judge Sarah Singleton, a freshly elected, determined Governor and a newly empowered Democratic state House who are crafting plans that appear similar in importance to that way back when legislation.

--Here's a mouthful of bureaucratese but if this bill approved by the House Education Committee makes it into law and is fully implemented you can get out your book of cliches and say, "game changer":

House Bill 5/a will double the at-risk index factor in the funding formula to 0.25, expand the K-3 Plus extended school year program to K-5 Plus, and create a K-5 Plus component in the funding formula. House Bill 5/a also creates new extended learning time program components in the funding formula, while creating a rural population component, and significantly increasing minimum salaries for teachers and principals over the next several years.

--Say all of that gets the go ahead (and is financed with the Governor's $500 million proposed increase in the public schools budget) and then somehow the proposed Constitutional Amendment to fund very early childhood via the Land Grant Permanent School Fund also makes it through. Then you just might have reality match the "education moonshot" hype coming from the Governor and House Speaker. (SB 1, the Senate version of HB5, passed the Senate a few weeks ago).

--We grudgingly yield the blog floor to House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton, 61, a professional educator with nearly 25 years at the Roundhouse because, well, she pretty much nails it:

This landmark legislation has the potential to improve the lives of generations of New Mexico children. It is the most impactful piece of education legislation in decades, and it is a major step forward to improve the education process of our children. This bill addresses the learning needs that all of the children in our state are facing. Parents, teachers, and the public are looking to us to address the funding gaps identified by (the district court case) Yazzie/Martinez, and this does that and more, especially for at-risk students.

In other words the bottomless pit that has swallowed this state up may actually have a bottom. Or maybe we've been held hostage so long we're imagining things.

THE NATIVE QUESTION

The funding equalization guarantee for schools to overcome income inequality in the state in the 70s' was not perfect. It did not account for the at risk student population that led Judge Singleton to find the state in violation of its Constitutional responsibility to provide adequate funding for at risk students, who make up a majority of the state's students and most of whom are low income, Hispanic or Native American.

Native Americans in particular are key to pulling NM out of the statistical cellar because their poor education performance is so widespread. The court ruling has given them added incentive to pursue reform. Thus you get this:

During the 2018-2019 school year, school districts were awarded $65,238,725 in federal Impact-Aid funding. The Public Education Department kept 75 percent of that money by cutting back on the operational budget of districts that receive the aid funds. . . Impact-Aid is designed to assist local school districts that lose out on property tax revenue due to the presence of tax-exempt federal property, or that have increased expenditures due to enrollment of federally-connected children, including children living on Native lands. . .  

A press conference was held at the Roundhouse to show solidarity in the fight for schools on tribal and federal lands to receive their full impact aid. . . School and tribal representatives from Gallup-McKinley, Central, Zuni, Albuquerque, Bernalillo and other areas gathered to bring a voice to the issue.

Ironically, it is the school equalization formula that PED cites in redistributing much of the federal aid the Native Americans receive:

Even though it is generally illegal for a state to reduce state funding to a district based on aid received by the district, they are exempt because of the state’s State Equalization Guarantee Distribution (SEG) payments, or state equalization guarantee distribution, or NM statute 22-8-25.

Legislation is pending in the state Senate to have PED stop keeping the federal Impact Aid from the schools, with Indian Country Senator George Munoz playing an active role.

EVEN MORE APS

We thought we were through with last week's ABQ Public Schools election in which voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed property tax increase. We let the APS supporters have their say on the Friday blog but that only brought even more email, so we hit the issue one last time and start with self-described "Westside Gator:"

Joe, the views expressed by the two readers who took exception to what you posted on the APS election  are a very big part of the problem. First of all, yes, let's by all means attack the citizens who pay your bills and happen to disagree with you. Kizito Wijenje (director of the APS Capital Master Plan) expresses the attitude that we should be thankful we were allowed to vote. Second, property taxes are regressive. Sorry, our wallets are what we have, we can't demand payments from others. 

Albuquerque's property tax burden compared to other cities both in and outside of New Mexico was shown to be one of the highest. Suggestion: seek money from the state income tax, you know, a tax based on what money one actually has. Second suggestion: Wijenje should resign or be resigned. APS voters watch your vote for APS Board. Another example of why so much of New Mexico governance is perceived correctly as both inept and out-of-touch by those experienced with governance in other states including education.

And longtime conservative reader Jim McClure was quick to refute the Friday blog of APS supporters:

Joe, I agree with your assessment that “tax tired” voters helped defeat the APS tax hike. Another factor was growing discontent with a substandard school system that is increasingly arrogant, spendthrift and unaccountable. 

School tax elections always are a heavy lift because it’s a rare opportunity for voters to oppose a tax hike. Scheduling the vote during the legislature’s drunken-sailor season was unfortunate timing. The final blow was that instead of traditional schoolhouse voting that’s convenient for school employees and inconvenient for taxpayers, the mail ballot forced the district to hold a free and fair election.

This put the burden on the school district to convince voters that it is delivering value for their tax dollars. Some districts succeeded including, most recently, Ruidoso. This is the only standardized test APS now has to pass, and it failed.

There is now discussion of putting one of the mill levy questions back before voters during this year's November 5 ABQ election. That question is a continuation of a current tax--not a tax hike--and would have raised an estimated $190 million over six years.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2019

Friday, February 08, 2019

Readers Have Final Say On Why APS Property Tax Hike Was So Soundly Rejected By Voters 

The resounding voter rejection this week of the ABQ Public Schools property tax increase brought in the reader reaction, many of whom disagreed with our assessment of the outcome.

That reasoning including the size of the tax hike--one of the largest--if not the largest--ever requested by APS, the needlessly confusing three question ballot that faced voters, the lack of a positive campaign in favor of the taxes and the public's view that APS has not been fiscally prudent. But, as we said, not all agreed.

Foremost among them is the man largely responsible for mapping out the needs of APS that voters on Tuesday decided against funding--Kizito Wijenje, executive director of the APS Capital Master Plan. While we've seen things from the same perspective in years past, this time we parted ways. Here's his rebuttal to our take:

Joe, last time I checked, basic public facility maintenance, replacement of 60 year old school buildings, providing basic classroom equipment such as furniture, technology, and yes, musical instruments is not only prudent but fiscally responsible. Fixing leaking roofs and ensuring that children and teachers are as secure as possible from mass shootings is not prudent, it is necessary.

APS did ask for a ‘moon-shot" just the bare necessities, and unlike other metro municipalities we did it transparently and before the fact (remember ART).  Call us naïve when we carry out exhaustive technical analyses and present options both to our board and the taxpayer to truly decide the important questions of public investment in civic facilities, that’s just how we roll. We first don’t come up with a dollar amount and then back end it with the ‘how’ and the ‘when.’

We as a community cannot constantly wring our hands lamenting on how we are last in everything or how bad our education system is yet when given the chance to truly make a committed difference, we choose to blind ourselves to facts and instead listen to armchair pundits and faux think tanks like the Rio Grande Foundation.

Elections have consequences, we reap what we sow, and I assure you, there will be pain, in lost jobs, lost workforce and sadly the suffering of children especially in the neediest of neighborhoods. It took 8 years for the majority to figure out PARC testing was a scam and trickle-down-austerity by state government is a road to ruin.

The only hole is the one our community has dug itself in with this election result. Let’s hope it does not take eight years to figure out some simple truths, there is no Santa Claus, we have to pay for what we want in education, health care and public safety. These are our children, our teachers, and our educational facilities, APS is us.

BLAME IT ON BERRY

Reader Ken Tabish also disagreed with out analysis:

Joe, I have to take exception to your phrase that the APS voters are “tax tired.” May I remind you of the last eight years of the conservative Berry and Martinez administrations, coupled with a recession saw no new taxes or investment in the city or state? It was their mantra of no new taxes that carried the day.

Voters were sold a bill of goods from the Martinez administration and her Public Education Department that APS was not being accountable, a spending beast, top heavy with administration, and beat up the district and its teachers. Clearly, the Educational climate put forth by Martinez was adversarial toward APS and teachers in general and the populous bought it.

There is and has been a general atmosphere of don’t tax throughout the state and the nation (except locally for Mayor Keller’s recent increase of the GRT for public safety). Many of the voters cannot see beyond their own wallet. All the no voters could see was their own property tax bill and not their neighborhood school falling apart. People hear the word tax and they lose sight of the need for investment in our city and communities.

A yes vote for the APS Bond/Mill levy was a vote for our economy, local jobs at all levels of the construction pyramid, enhanced community/neighborhood values with quality, safe and clean school buildings and classrooms. A quality education and sound school district is a foundation for economic growth. Improving the learning environment is so critical in improving the educational process. The no voters did not win; the Albuquerque community lost along with our children, their parents, the neighborhoods in which they reside and the educators who work to educate them,

Well said, gentlemen. It wasn't easy disagreeing with you but that's the way we saw it. Now it's time to move forward and find a way to bridge our disagreement and continue to support the thousands of APS employees and students who deserve the best education system possible.

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Thursday, February 07, 2019

The Latest Zeitgeist: Tax Warning To Santa Fe From ABQ, Trump In El Paso; His Interior Secretary In Hobbs; Visits Prompt Talk Of GOP Retaking Southern CD, Plus: Radio Days; Latest ABQ Ratings And All Those PM Talk Show Hotshots 

Your Blogger
Here's the Thursday zeitgeist direct from the frontlines of La Politics. . .

--The landslide defeat of a property tax increase for the ABQ Public Schools is putting Santa Fe on notice. Legislative proposals to raise the gas tax and food tax--already hard pressed to win--may be dead money in the aftermath of the APS wreck. Voters are tax tired and if the Dems overreach as APS did they could run into a buzzsaw.

--On the other hand, raising the personal income tax on households making $300,000 a year or more just might be in line with the populist overtones seen in this week's mail in election.

--Crooked Krebs is the big "get" for Attorney General Hector Balderas, his biggest yet because the AG's criminal charges against former UNM Athletic Department Director Paul Krebs might be a momentum maker to finally reform the transparency resistant department. Balderas may need the cushion of goodwill. Insiders report his staffing practices at the AG's office are soon to come under media scrutiny.

--MLG's "goofy" video against the border wall debuted to mixed reviews after she posted the video shot several months ago on her campaign Twitter account as President Trump finished delivering his State of the Union speech. The video showing her crashing through walls has gone viral. It's one of those love it or hate it deals but if the point was to get attention, it worked.

--President Trump is coming to El Paso Monday and that will have NM impact. The El Paso media market spills over to southern NM. His visit will excite border wall supporters in beleaguered Hidalgo County where immigration problems have prompted widespread news coverage. In liberal Las Cruces the Trump visit will reinforce the disdain for the commander in chief's border wall.

--The visit showcases how difficult an issue this is for Dem southern Congresswoman Torres Small.  She has now come out in support of the wall concept for certain areas where she believes it could work. That moderate position may not satisfy either side. Cruces liberals want no wall or physical barriers at all and conservatives want the whole border walled.

--Also, on Wednesday Trump's new Secretary of Interior was visiting oil booming Hobbs to remind everyone of the regulation friendly White House that is taking credit for the immense amount of energy coming out of the ground. It is in the Permian Basin in SE NM that the R's hope to stage their comeback against Torres Small, arguing that many conservatives who did not vote in '18 will vote in 2020.

Claire Chase
--But Yvette Herrell is complicating the GOP's Torres Small challenge. After her embarrassing 2018 defeat many in her party see her as washed up but she is already campaigning for the nomination, hoping to keep others out. But possible alternatives are popping up, including Claire Chase. Watch her.

--Chase was recently elected chairman of the board of the NM Oil and Gas Association as well as chair of the Independent Petroleum Association of NM.  The family oil business is Mack Energy, where she serves as director of government relations and spends a good deal of time in DC. The company founder, Mack Chase, is her husband's grandfather and is listed by Forbes as the wealthiest person in New Mexico with a net worth of at least $700 million.

The company is based in Artesia and has operations in the booming Permian. In other words, self-financing a good deal of her congressional campaign would be on the table if she were to run.

--Chase, 35, is a NM native and graduate of Roswell's NM Military Institute. Here's a bio and short video of her conducted by Oil and Gas Investor. A January poll conducted by Herrell asking voters their preference for the GOP nomination for the southern seat included Chase. The game is not on yet. Will it be soon?

RADIO DAYS

Michael Brasher
A cursory glance at the latest Nielsen radio ratings for the ABQ market quickly reveals why onetime powerhouse 770 KKOB-AM has brought in a well-known shock jock to try to boost their sagging standings. The 50,000 watt station commands only a 4.5 share of the ABQ audience aged 12 and over in the winter ratings released in January. That's less than half their share from the heady days of ten years ago and good for only third place.

KZRR, 94 Rock takes first place, but only barely over public radio station KANW 89.1 FM. 94 Rock scores 5.2 and 89.1 comes in second with 5.1 share. That's exceptionally high for a public radio station but the ABQ market has been growing more Hispanic and KANW's staple of New Mexico ranchera music is highly popular here as is its NPR programming. We've been broadcasting Election Night results on the APS owned station for over 30 years and the station has been managed even longer by Michael Brasher, a former ABQ city councilor and county commissioner.

Another public radio station, KUNM-FM, owned by UNM, also fares well in the ratings, garnering a 3.7 share to make its way into the top ten.

KKOB surprised radio watchers last month when it began the T. J. Trout show from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and combined it with high profile TV ads welcoming Trout back to ABQ. For decades he held forth forth as a star morning personality at 94 Rock. Trout breaks with the station's conservative Rush Limbaugh tradition so it will be interesting to see if in the next ratings period his addition helps KKOB stop the bleeding.

ABQ afternoon talk radio is suddenly filled with competition. Jim Villanucci, who was a ratings heavy-hitter for KKOB, returned to the ABQ market this year to host the afternoon slot at ABQ sports station ESPN 101.7 FM The Team. And Eddy Aragon has made a name for himself as an unapologetic Trump supporter who holds forth weekday afternoons on KIVA-AM-FM. And longtime radio fixture Larry Ahrens says he will return to the radio dial in March, but will stick with his traditional morning slot, hosting ABQ's KDAZ-AM from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m with sidekick Frank Haley. (Hey, where are the women afternoon talk hosts? There's an idea).

Thanks for stopping by. Join us tomorrow for some Friday blogging.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Republican Rumblings Over Legal Pot; Some Crossovers? Plus: Eyebrow Raiser: House Speaker Has Leading Pot Firm As Legal Client, Also: The Great APS Overreach Ends In Defeat 

Some Republican rumblings over legal pot. Insiders are mulling over the rumor mill that has some Republican state Senators taking a long, hard look at legalizing recreational marijuana. R's have been assumed to be a solid wall against legalization but there could be cracks forming, report Wall-Leaners at the Roundhouse.

Those on the list to watch on this controversial issue include Rio Rancho's Craig Brandt, Greg Baca of Valencia County and Cliff Pirtle of Roswell.

Even if the pro-pot forces forces could bring some R's to their side the math is still fuzzy for a win because a number of Senate Democrats are against the measure. The House is expected to approve the proposal.

Legalizing recreational marijuana this session is an uphill climb but the political machinations surrounding the matter could take some fascinating turns as the legislation is weighed. Remember it was a Republican Governor--Gary Johnson--who back in the 90's turned his Republican Party on its ear by advocating for legal pot.

Current GOP chairman Steve Pearce, who was the party's '18 Guv nominee, came out during the campaign against legal pot.

Meanwhile, the Alligators draw our attention to a major federal court victory for Duke Rodriguez, CEO of medical cannabis company Ultra Health, the leading medical marijuana distributor in New Mexico.

Senior Judge James Parker ruled last week that the NM State Fair violated Ultra Health's First Amendment rights by preventing the company from displaying cannabis materials at its vendor booth at the Fair.

At the '16 Fair Ultra Health had displayed “Dorothy,” a 3-week-old female medical cannabis plant but the Fair halted its display. The Fair also denied Ultra Health's bid to display a cannabis plant at the '17 Fair and the company sued. The full court ruling is here.

And there's healthy dose of La Politica in this case. The attorney for Ultra Health and Rodriguez is none other than Santa Fe lawyer Brian Egolf, who also happens to be the Speaker of the NM House where legalizing recreational marijuana is under consideration and which is strongly backed by Rodriguez and Egolf. In a motion, Egolf seeks over $92,000 in legal fees from state taxpayers for his handling of the federal Fair case.

Egolf's involvement as a private attorney with Ultra Health while presiding over a major public policy issue that impacts a client is another of those moments highlighting possible conflicts of interest encountered by a part-time citizen legislature.

THE GREAT OVERREACH

Superintendent Reedy
Call it the Great Overreach. The landslide defeat of a proposed property tax increase at the ABQ Public Schools mail-in election last night was unequivocal, with voters rejecting ballot questions that would significantly raise property taxes.

The local election act passed by the legislature forced the mail in election, instead of the usual low turnout February walk-in election. But still.

The disconnect between the public and APS is now even more pronounced and it will take years to repair the damage. It was a major setback for APS Superintendent Raquel Reedy who could have stopped the train from rolling, as could have the APS Board of Education 

And then there was the miserably confusing ballot that turned off voters.

The mail-in election drew a record 118,000 voters, the most in history for an APS election and nearly 30 percent of the electorate. That is more than turned out for the ABQ mayoral election in 2017. It is not a bunch of conservatives rejecting taxes; it is a broad cross section of citizens. APS simply asked for too much--way too much in an economically challenged city.

APS will now need to make a turn toward fiscal prudence, demonstrating that they are spending what they currently get responsibly. Improvements in student performance wouldn't hurt either. But the Superintendent did not indicate the gravity of this defeat in her concession statement and there was no hint of contrition:

The ballots have been counted and the voters have made their wishes clear. The majority voted against a bond/mill levy package that would have paid to improve student safety, rebuild and repair our schools and refresh our technology and equipment. We are disappointed, of course. But we respect the democratic process and the will of the electorate. We appreciate all of those who rallied on behalf of our school district. Now we will need to reassess our situation and come up with a plan for addressing issues that come with aging schools.

That doesn't even get close to acknowledging the loss of confidence the landslide vote signals for APS. Superintendent Reedy and her team have dug a deep hole for themselves. While the millions in construction they wanted approved is not going to be "shovel ready" those shovels will still be needed--to dig themselves out of the hole they are now in.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Riding The Boom: No End In Sight But Land Boss Wants More From Oil Boys And Enviros Fret Over Fracking, Plus: Noted Fireman Dives Into Guv's Political Heat 

How big is the oil boom that is inflating the state treasury with historic sized reserves? From the NYT:

Last year alone, the Permian’s production rose 1 million barrels a day, and it could surpass the Ghawar field in Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest, within three years. Now producing 4 million barrels a day, the Permian generates more oil than any of the 14 members of OPEC except Saudi Arabia and Iraq. All told, domestic oil production increased 2 million barrels a day last year, for a record of 11.9 million barrels, making the United States the world’s top producer.

And there's no end in sight:

It's important and almost stunning to remember that, just a decade ago, the dusty plains of West Texas and Southeast New Mexico that make up the greater Permian Basin were widely considered to be a "dead area" by most in the oil and gas industry. Major oil companies like Chevron and ExxonMobil had pretty much abandoned any drilling activities. . . preferring to focus their capital dollars on searching for oil in more promising parts of the world. In September of 2008, total U.S. oil production was roughly 3.2 million bopd. This month, the EIA projects that the Permian Basin alone will put that much crude onto the market. Now, just 10 years later, this basin is the hottest oil and gas play on the face of the earth, the driver of energy growth for the world's largest oil and gas-producing nation. Amazing.

Amazing indeed and amazing that it is so downplayed by the Santa Fe austerity hawks who can't seem to stand the thought that giant state surpluses may be common for several years. But it's the doves turn to fly at the Capitol and off they go.

The chances of newly elected State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard winning an increase from the legislature in the royalties oil companies pay to the state--from 20% to 25%--doesn't seem to have much legs, given the current boom that is generating billions for the state. However, she may have another way of getting energy to pony up more loot, says Jim Baca, a former ABQ mayor who also served as as a Dem state land commissioner:

When was the last time you heard that a producer underpaid their royalties and taxes? Now we must perform a forensic audit of these same producers over the last eight years. The audit function at the state level fell apart under the mismanagement of the Martinez administration, and I estimate tens of millions have been left on the table due to incompetence; possibly even more. The New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department, the Oil Conservation Commission and the State Land Office need to make the Land Grant Permanent Fund whole by starting the audit immediately.

You can bet that caught the attention of the oil boys, who are already nervous about Stephanie.

And they have another worry. Slapping a moratorium on fracking, the technology that has made possible the recovery of previously unrecoverable oil in the SE Permian, would seem far-fetched. But a four year moratorium is what newly appointed ABQ Dem State Senator Antoinette Sedillo is proposing. She worries about the impact of fracking on the environment and the amount of water used in the process. The oil boys strike back with this site, saying:

Senator Sedillo Lopez is planning to devastate our economy by passing a bill that would enact a 4 year ban on fracking! Fracking is a safe and scientifically engineered process that has been used in New Mexico for more than 50 years without a single case of groundwater contamination. Tell Senator Sedillo Lopez you support fracking in New Mexico! 

INTO THE POLITICAL FIRE

Arencón (right)
A well know political power player in ABQ is headed to the Fourth Floor. MLG announced that. . .

Diego Arencón, a native of the Barelas neighborhood in Albuquerque, is the executive policy advisor for labor management affairs. He was a 22-year veteran of the Albuquerque Fire Department, serving as the union president for IAFF Local 244 for a dozen years, as state president of the New Mexico Professional Firefighters Association and previously as the international District Field Representative for the IAFF.

Arencón, 43, tangled with ABQ GOP Mayor Berry and his tough on labor policies at the outset of Berry's tenure but managed to make the peace, an experience that should help as he enters the bureaucratic thicket of state labor relations.

Under his direction the union has been heavily involved in Democratic Party politics. His political aptitude was on display in the recent election when he accurately predicted the exact percentage of Lujan Grisham's gubernatorial win (57-43) as well as the precise winning margin of Xochitl Torres Small in the southern congressional race.(51-49). But he kept his Super Bowl prediction under wraps.

IT'S TIME?

Decriminalize instead of legalizing recreational pot? That's one proposal being talked about in Santa Fe, but a number of readers aren't convinced, like Arcy Baca:

The bills to decriminalize pot are ridiculous! We are going to have the pot smokers and any problems that may come with that but we don't make a nickel on it. Legalize pot, tax it, If your're driving and high on pot the same rules apply as alcohol. It's time. 

THE BOTTOM LINES

In a first draft Monday we had the minimum wage in Las Cruces in the $9 an hour area. Actually, it went to $10.10 an hour effective, January 1.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2019
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