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Monday, February 20, 2017

It's Presidents Day; Here's To Barack And Branson, Plus: Roundhouse Frowns Over Susana Budget Blocking, More Fooling Over Food Tax And Slow Down, Mayor Javier  

It's Presidents Day 2017 and look at who has been enjoying himself of late. It's none other than President Obama relaxing in the island paradise provided by British billionaire Richard Branson.

You remember him. About a decade ago Branson teamed with Gov. Big Bill and launched New Mexico's Spaceport America with the aim of sending the first tourists into space. But the ticket holders who have put up as much as $250k each are still waiting. And so is New Mexico for the long promised benefits.

The Spaceport near T or C is bleeding cash and requires a subsidy of several million a year from the legislature to keep the lights on.  That's no reason to smile, but as you can see Sir Richard doesn't have to worry about pesky critics in the desolate NM desert, not when he has a relaxed Obama to pal with. Besides, who needs to fly when you have such  a nice boat?

ROUNDHOUSE FROWNS

It's still mostly frowns in Santa Fe. A deal to close yet another budget deficit founders as the Governor continues to push back against raising taxes or fees to close what is actually not that big of a hole compared to recent years. They need about $120 million to balance the budget for the year that begins July 1 and another $100 million to build up state reserves so we don't get whacked with another downgrade of our bonds which makes it more expensive to borrow.mHouse Democrats have come with what would seem to strike most as a quite reasonable package that causes little pain:

Democratic legislators announced a push for new sources of income for state government  through taxes on nonprofit hospitals, Internet sales, trucking permits and vehicle registrations. . (They) said the package could raise an additional $214 million during the fiscal year beginning in July. . .House Speaker Egolf warned that the alternative would be drastic spending cuts of 2 percent or more involving education and Medicaid healthcare

Sounds easy, right? But look at this head scratching response from the Republican Governor's office:

The governor is open to true tax reform, but she will not let lawmakers bail out Santa Fe on the backs of our families.

But how does increasing trucking permit fees--many of them from out of state--hurt NM families? And as for having the gross receipts tax apply to Amazon and the like, even GOP state reps like Larry Larranaga support that. So why does the Governor continue to put funding for the public schools and Medicaid at risk? Because she can .

This is the third governor in a row who has developed a stubbornness even as their popularity has plunged in the polls. The fact is that the executive branch is much more powerful than the legislature compared to the old days. Its power to command the microphone has only grown in the new media age. Also, lame duck Governors like Martinez can gummy up the works for little apparent reason and without fear of retribution because their hopes for a future in elective politics dissolved when the public tired of them and their policies.

FOOD TAX FOOLING

What would truly be balancing the budget on the backs of NM families would be reinstating the tax on food and slashing the public schools budget even more.

It's amusing to see GOP Rep. Jason Harper, the former chairman of the House tax committee until the R's lost their House majority in November, continue to paw away at reinstating the food tax. He's like a chihuahua fighting a pit bull who has taken his bone away. The big dog ain't giving it back, Jason. Or as the acting chairman of the tax committee, Rep. Carl Trujillo, puts it, the food tax is "off the table."

Meanwhile, because Dems have not filled the budget vacuum with their own ideas, Harper's esoteric proposal to "reform" the state's gross receipts tax as a panacea for the state's systemic budget woes continues to be treated to full hearings. Why? From what we gather it says nothing new about the personal income tax, the corporate income tax or the capital gains tax. Just throw out all the gross receipts exemptions and Voilà! Now you have protected your GOP base voters and you keep your corporate campaign donors happy.

Rather than dignify the convoluted plan, Chairman Trujillo could and should kill the bill with alacrity and get going on a majority party reform measure. The Dems do have a majority up there, don't they?

SLOW DOWN, MAYOR

A $15 million deficit just resolved and now this?:

A proposal by Mayor Javier Gonzales to hand out 5 percent raises to all Santa Fe city government employees would cost taxpayers four times more than originally stated. Gonzales said the city Finance Department erred when it said the proposed across-the-board pay raises would cost between $700,000 and $1 million annually. The actual cost is closer to $4.1 million a year, he said.

Most city employees are probably happy just to be on the job, never mind getting a 5 percent pay raise that could again put their positions in jeopardy. Slow down, Mayor.

700 AND COUNTING

Our colleagues at the ABQ Free Press answer a question recently posed here: How many employees are left at Rio Rancho's Intel plant that just a few years ago employed over 6,000? The paper says it is told by former Intel employees that the work force there is down to 700. Intel isn't talking.

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

By Popular Demand, It's Another Edition Of Reader Vox Populi; They Write Of Intel's Downsizing, The Public School Cuts, How To Revive The Economy, Pearce's Possible Guv Run, The Mary Han Case And Much More 

Let's kick off this edition of vox populi with reaction to our reporting on Intel's planned $7 billion investment in Arizona while the company's Rio Rancho plant appears to be headed for the mothballs:

You must wonder what Susana was thinking when she saw the White House photo of the Intel CEO and the President announcing a plant expansion in our neighboring state of Arizona. There stood two of Susana's most famous disses. The first, the Intel CEO, who back in 2011 had a meeting in California with Susana canceled so she could pick up an award from the Republican Party. The second, Donald Trump, who she failed to endorse or show up at his New Mexico rally. These gentleman really are two bookends on the Martinez administration and frame her failed approach. In the end, New Mexico loses due to her arrogance. A

And what the hell were state economic development secretary Jon Barela and his deputy, Barbara Brazil, the much-vaunted team of former Intel executives, doing the last six years? As they say, Susana, payback is a bitch.

Reader Janet Blair thinks attracting retirees may be a way to  build up the state economy:

Joe, I don’t see why one way of out stagnation would be a vigorous retiree marketing campaign. It is “clean money” and add to that some tax breaks on pensions to match Arizona’s and we might have at least a partial solution to the flight of the millennials. We know our kids won’t come back! They are well established in Colorado and Texas….but maybe we can use our sunsets and chile contests to attract an older set.

Reader Sarah McKinney writes of public education cuts being approved by both political parties and the Governor:

I get that using money from unspent capital outlay funds is a one or two time fix, but what do you call taking money from public school cash reserves as the legislature has done? That is also a non-recurring fund source. Why do the schools have to keep taking such big hits for overall financial irresponsibility? At this point they are just trying to get blood from a stone, and to act like these cuts on top of our already dismal investment in education won't be felt in the classroom is a joke--ask any teacher who is out buying their own supplies or worrying over furloughs. 

What about saving the millions we give to private corporations for standardized tests and the computers and time required to administer them? I might not feel so bad about the school year being shortened if my kid hadn't already wasted days plugged into a computer for that purpose. I also want to point out that shortening the school year would  be disproportionately burdensome on working families who will then have to scramble to pay for child care arrangements when their children are no longer in school. I really enjoy keeping up with local news on your blog. It's ridiculous how difficult it is to get the real scoop on what is going on in our state. Thank you!

Thank you, Sarah. This is the place where the tough questions about New Mexico are asked and answers are often offered.

Another reader also calls for spending that unsent capital outlay (pork) on keeping the public schools' budget intact:

It is very clear that cutting back on school funding is the only way to preserve the self- serving capital outlay projects of state legislators.  This is not just bad policy but robbing school kids future to preserve lawmakers' gratification.

Our take: Not all the capital outlay left unspent is destined for frivolous projects but with so much of it languishing for years on end, much of what it is intended for is hardly as urgent as public education,

Reader Stan Fitch writes:

Hi, Joe. Instead of just cuts to education and public services, perhaps Governor Martinez should volunteer to cut her own pay in half and also grossly reduce the salaries of her staff.

INVEST SOMETHING

Reader Al Duran, the self-described Crockagator, writes:

Joe, us grey hairs have watched economic problems in the past but not like this. We have never been so rich but yet are not able to access those riches because of those so called guardians of the bank vault. It’s time to replace those whose vision has so far not included a vision of what our K thru 12 schools could be, if we put our money to work to build a first class educational system. 

 You don’t have to look too far to see what money wisely spent does. I am referring to Native American casinos whose income provides educational benefits for all their members. It’s time to let the residents of our state vote on what we should do with our billions. Time for Change. 

The billions of dollars Al references is the over $15 billion in the state's Land Grant Permanent Fund (school fund). A constitutional amendment is again under consideration at the Roundhouse that would allow voters to decide if a portion of that fund (about $115 million a year for ten years) should be spent on very early childhood programs (ages zero to five) in an effort to interrupt our generations-long cycle of poverty and poor education outcomes.

PIERCING PEARCE

Reader Violet Cauthon in Las Cruces writes of the speculation that GOP Congressman Steve Pearce may run for Governor in 20118:
Joe,

Dona Ana County is the home of a large anti-Pearce-for-anything group who are letting Pearce know he has not one chance of being governor of New Mexico, that we are organizing and communicating that fact. 2018, 2018, 2018 is our mantra.

And reader Larry Gioannini, also writing from Las Cruces, doesn't like Pearce's idea of having another oil refinery built in the state and has three reasons:

1. The pollution released into the air, water and soil from the operation of the refinery.
2. The thousands of tons of CO2 pollution released from the use of the refinery products thus exacerbating climate change.
3. Delaying for years the creation of hundreds to thousands of good jobs in the renewable energy field; again putting us behind TX, OK and other forward moving states in the region.

Here in ABQ reader John is one of many still upset over Mayor Berry's ART project--the rapid bus line being constructed down Central Avenue that has caused major traffic disruptions and financial pain or many businesses:

Perhaps the vision is "creative destruction." The Mayor and his advisors may envision that, yes, a lot of the existing small businesses, restaurants and bars will die due to ART construction and operation, but perhaps 10 to 20 years from now, we will see higher-density, mixed-use "transit-oriented development" around the ART stops Perhaps not, with near zero growth for the foreseeable future and the westside Santolina development on the horizon.

DINGING DAVIS

ABQ Dem City Councilor Pat Davis broke the news here recently that he is indeed considering a run for the ABQ congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham who is running for Governor. That announcement led to a lot of critical email about the contoversial Davis, head of the progressive activist group ProgresssNow NM. A political advisor responded to that criticism but that set off a new round of Davis mail. An anonymous reader writes:

You reported that a Davis "supporter" said that David refused to allow a bill to go forward that privatized the ABQ police department. This is far from accurate. In fact, it is BS. Pat Davis sponsored a bill that would have privatized the police. Pat Davis was working with Councilor Brad Winter, the person Governor Martinez appointed as Secretary of State, to privatize the police and give a no-bid contract to Brad Winter's campaign manager. The people who would have received the no-bid contract to privatize the police were Berry and Martinez supporters. The ABQ Free Press reported on it.

Democratic ward chair Don Schiff writes:

Pat Davis has the best campaign team in the state, but they're spinning like a top. Pat Davis voted to fund ART, period, and in a way which avoided a vote by Albuquerque citizens.  A 'no' vote might only have been symbolic, but Davis had an opportunity to stand up for his constituents, a vast majority of whom oppose this boondoggle for developers which is already killing Nob Hill businesses. Davis continues to defend ART as "mass transit," which is merely a cover story for unnecessary development and gentrification. Pat Davis is complicit in the destruction of our historic Rt. 66 neighborhood. Any future good he does on the margins cannot mitigate the outrageous harm he participated in at the first opportunity. We will not forget this betrayal. I have lost all respect for Mr. Davis. I don't trust the man, and neither do my neighbors. A public official who acts against his constituents' interests has no future.

MARY'S CASE

Mary Han
One of our Legal Beagles writes of the recent court hearing into the 2010 death of ABQ attorney Mary Han. The unresolved issue is whether Han, who frequently sued APD, committed suicide or not. The Office of the Medical Investigator (OMI) says it was a suciide. The Han family says no. Our Beagle says:

The OMI is desperately in need of some legislative action. The statutes that cover OMI require "an inquest." That does not necessarily mean a formal court-like proceeding but does require a formal process setting forth how people can access the OMI pathologists to challenge their autopsy reports and death certificates. The OMI only has a webpage that says "contact OMI" and just has email contact info for the administrative staff and the supervisor of field investigations.

No one at the legislature has made certain OMI is following its own laws for over 30 years. The legislature has just been rubber stamping the OMI's annual budget without making sure it is following the law. It took this (Han) trial to bring it to light and prove that sometimes the OMI chief will grant a review and sometimes not. Government requires due process and the OMI, whether they like it or not, are part of state government.

A district court judge will soon decide whether Han's death certificate should be changed from suicide to "undetermined."

CUTTING TO THE CHASE

Finally, Sue George sends along an email that counters the argument that the cuts to the public schools being approved by the legislature and Governor are not impacting the classroom:

Joe, I thought you might be interested in this email from the director of my childrens' school. For the Governor to say that the budget cuts won't affect the classrooms is flat out wrong, as evidenced by the email below--and this is just the first of many cuts this school (and I'm sure many others) will be making. I dropped off supplies (they're down to a case and a half of copy paper). We live in a beautiful, multi-cultural state with talented, creative people, but this beauty and talent is being wasted by an administration that refuses to put people over ideology and profit. It is a crime not to do better by our children.

From: Sam Obenshain
Sent: Tuesday, February 7, 2017 5:15 PM
To: 'Everyone'
Subject: Budget update - Help needed

Dear Parents and Friends of Cottonwood:

. . . The legislature passed a “solvency bill” that was approved by the Governor last week. This solvency bill has cut this year’s budget for many schools and districts across the state. Cottonwood will lose $18,693 from this most recent cut on top of $122,000 that was cut in the special session in the Fall. This will have certain impacts to the operations of our school for the remaining 4 months of our school year. . . I will let you all know as soon as possible what actions we will be taking to address these cuts.

In the meantime, I have put a freeze on all non-essential spending at Cottonwood. This will have an impact on your children as we are not purchasing some basic school supplies and materials for the foreseeable future, have cancelled school field trips that asked for bus transportation, and are reducing bus transportation for athletic teams for the remainder of the school year.

I am pained to have to make these decisions since we have done a great job managing our budgets over the years and have not had to resort to these kinds of drastic measures in the past. However, we cannot make it through the year without figuring out how to cover the state-imposed shortfall that we will begin experiencing here as soon as the Public Education Department begins adjusting the monthly distribution that comes from the state.

So, we need your help. If you are able to donate any supplies or materials, most notably copier paper (we are down to our last case and a half since I imposed a freeze), dry erase markers, pens and pencils, notebook paper, tissue paper, paper towels, etc., it will go directly to the classrooms! I know the kind of community that we have here and thank you in advance for your support.

While there will be more decisions that we will have to make before this is over, this first step will get us through the issues that are most pressing right now!

You can bring supplies to our front desk, or send them with your child to his/her first period teacher.

Thanks for your continued support of our school, the teachers, and your children!


Sam Obenshain
Executive Director
Cottonwood Classical Preparatory School


And that concludes this edition of reader Vox Populi. You guys really outdid yourself this time. The discussion goes on around the clock on our Facebook page where you are also always welcome.

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

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2017

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

UNM Vs. The Public Schools; Weighing The Budget Cuts, Plus: Send MeDown To Tucson And Heinrich Set To Kick-Off '18 Campaign 

While legislators carve up the public schools, a much more enticing budget-cutting target has to be the University of New Mexico. The bulky bureaucracy there is looking more and more vulnerable as this trend accelerates:

With falling enrollment and stagnant funding, Pennsylvania's state university system is undergoing a strategic review that could result in the merger or closure of some of its 14 campuses, according to system officials. It's the first time in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education's 35-year history that such options will be looked at, according to a system official. The decision comes as many colleges across the region and nation have struggled with falling enrollment as the number of high school graduates declines and the higher-education market becomes more competitive.

In New Mexico, NMSU has undertaken structural reforms for a future of fewer students, but UNM has only been nibbling around the edges. Meanwhile, support for the public schools remains stronger among voters than it is for higher education. You would expect to  eventually see that play out as the endless cutting goes on and on. . .

Don Tripp won't be getting  a bird's eye view of what happens at UNM. The former GOP NM House speaker has withdrawn his nomination as a UNM Regent, citing possible constitutional conflicts. Gov. Martinez immediately said she would name Alex Romero, the soon-to-retire CEO of the ABQ Hispanic Chamber, as her new nominee. Romero recently kicked around possible political ambitions for when he leaves the Chamber.

Gov. Martinez will have the votes on the regents to influence the choice of the next UNM president to replace Bob Frank who resigned. That influence would extend well beyond her term which concludes at the end of 2018.

SEND ME DOWN TO TUCSON

It's just crazy the difference between what is happening here and in similarly sized Tucson, as reader Ron Nelson informs:

When I read this article this, I almost fell out of my chair. Note this projection is just for one city and not the whole state. "The Tucson area is expected to add about 7,100 jobs in 2017, so home prices and commercial brokers predict rents for residential and commercial properties will begin a steady rise. All markets are responding to the long-awaited good news that 2016 brought and forecasts for 2017 are equally positive."

Okay, we don't want to Californicate New Mexico, but we'd sure like a piece of that pie they're eating in Tucson.

What better time to bring in conservative reader Jim McClure to further lament the state of the state:

Joe, the only surprise in a recent poll is that it shows 16% of business leaders still believe New Mexico is on the right track. Perhaps they’re owners of marijuana dispensaries. Or customers. Your assessment indicates that New Mexico’s leaders are out of ideas and are falling back on ideology. The R’s squandered their partial control of state government on tax cuts and failed to push through the deregulation and government reform that has helped other states. Now that the Dems have regained the legislature, they are recycling the traditional party line of raising taxes, imposing new employer mandates, reversing education reform, ignoring crime and making dubious “investments” in social programs. The most bizarre development is that both our US senators apparently believe that slandering cabinet members on the Senate floor is the best way to keep federal dollars flowing to New Mexico. I still think the answer is to rescind statehood and outsource our governance to Arizona, Colorado, Texas or Mexico.

Anywhere but Texas, Jim. Anywhere!

STARTING GATE

There will be dozens and dozens more in the next two years, but the first fund-raiser is noteworthy as it signifies the start of the 2018 US Senate race:

Join Senator Martin Heinrich For a Lunch Reception To kick off his re-election campaign With Special Guest Senator Cory Booker Saturday, March 4, 2017 11:00 – 12:30 pm at The Home of Greg Levenson. Suggested Contribution: Host - $2,700 Guest - $1,000 Current Heinrich Trust members - $250.

Booker is a former mayor of Newark. Heinrich is seeking his second term. His only announced GOP opponent so far is ABQ contractor Mick Rich.

THE BOTTOM LINES

From the SOS:

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver has made available all of the 2017 Financial Disclosure Statements for public officials (2017 Statements) on the SOS website. The 2017 Statements can be found here. In the coming months, the Office of the Secretary of State (the Office) will also post online the financial disclosure statements for the previous five calendar years.  All statewide elected officials, state legislators, and state agency heads. . .are required to file an annual statement.


This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2017

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

How About A Political Odd Couple? Big Bill, Trump And The Diplomatic Front, Plus: Pearce's Place; He Revs Up Guv Engine With Jobs Talk 

Big Bill bashers, here's your chance to skip to our next story because. . . What would you think of the former two term NM governor and diplomat teaming up with Trump? After all, two of the most troubling foreign policy issues are in Mexico and North Korea which just sent up another ballistic missile. Richardson is expert in both nations.  He never has been a wallflower and has recently been offering Trump advice on the op-ed pages, even revealing that he has read the President's book "Art of the Deal". On Mexico, Richardson is saying:

The threats on paying for the wall, the threats to renegotiate NAFTA, the threats of the import fee have stoked a real nationalism in the Mexican people that is going to give President Peña Nieto very little room to maneuver.

Time is running out for Richardson to climb to the highest rungs on the diplomatic totem pole. After years of speculation that he would become secretary of state or the first ambassador to Cuba, the Democrat and former UN ambassador has come up empty handed, stymied by his rocky relationship with the Clintons and a lukewarm one with Obama.

Richardson turns 70 this year and now might be his last best chance to top off his colorful career by cutting a deal with the author of the "Art of the Deal" to put him on the world stage. Far fetched? Maybe. But look who's president.

PEARCE'S PLACE

GOP Congressman Steve Pearce is sounding more like an '18 Republican contender for Governor as he works the jobs angle and extends an olive branch to Democrats, even as he takes a thinly disguised jab at them in the way he describes their party:

I continue to pursue and work for opportunities that can bring jobs and greater economic development to the state of New Mexico. One item of note is the construction and operation of a new oil refinery that would be built using private funds. I have offered to work with the democrat leadership in the State House and Senate to get the most environmentally friendly, state of the art construction.

Uh, Steve,  That's supposed to be "Democratic" leadership not "democrat."  Guess he doesn't want to look too cozy with the Dems as he romances that big block of Trump supporters he would need to win his party's gubernatorial primary election.

As for another oil refinery in New Mexico (there are now two), we've blogged about hat periodically when the oil companies blame increasing gasoline prices on the lack of refinery capacity. The oil experts say getting more refineries built is problematic because of stringent environmental regulations so they add capacity by expanding existing refineries.

Pearce's proposal merits serious consideration from the "democrat leadership." The resulting jobs would pay well and be more stable than those on the drilling side. Former ABQ Democratic Mayor Jim Baca disagrees:

Pearce's solution to the fate of the state is planet killing fossil fuel. He is ignoring the fact that renewable energy, especially solar, is providing the real future of the country. And yet he wants to leave the Land of Enchantment at the starting gate.

Pearce made his refinery proposal in a speech to the legislature. It can be seen here.

A BIGGER QUESTION


A Senior Alligator of the Dem variety reacts to the news here that GOP state Senator Craig Brandt is offering a bill to plug the hole in the budgets of the public schools by using unspent capital outlay money and by delaying the payment of film tax credits. Consider this an Alligator strike:

A bigger question than why Sen. Brandt is offering Democratic-like legislation is why are the Democrats allowing the minority party to have any say at all in this session? Dems may have taken over the Roundhouse but GOP senators and reps still strut around like they own the place. They are in every press report on the session and seem to be the more aggressive legislators. If I see any more Democratic legislators, elected officials, mayoral candidates or lobbyists gleefully pose for pictures with Republican Reps Sarah Maestas Barnes, Monica Youngblood or Kelly Fajardo, I'm going to puke.

House Speaker Brian Egolf and Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth and their associated committee chairs have to learn to flex their muscle. If they don't want to be in power and control this session I'm sure Republican Rep. Nate Gentry and his ilk would gladly take over.


For those new around here, an Alligator is one of our reliable but anonymous political sources who have seen more than their fair share of La Politica and have the instincts and striking speed of a gator.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2017

Monday, February 13, 2017

Not The Same Old Susana; An Air Of Melancholy Surrounds Chief Executive As She Rebuffs Reporters, Plus GOP Freelancing: Senator Balks At Public School Cuts 

It's just not the same old Susana. The statements emanating from her Fourth Floor suite still reek of the familiar fire, brimstone and vindictiveness but the personal change in the Governor is unmistakable. She is much less gregarious and her world has becoming increasingly isolated. Take a look:

Martinez made a rare public appearance in the Capitol--her first since her State of the State address on Jan. 17--to speak to a group of Gallup business leaders.   Four reporters waited in the Rotunda for a chance to ask Martinez questions. Martinez, surrounded by aides and state police officers, walked briskly to her private elevator just off the Capitol’s east lobby, ignoring reporters’ questions. 

In what might be a first, State Police actually blocked reporters from getting too close to the governor, telling them to stay back. “If you send her an email, she’ll be more than happy to get back to you guys,” one aide told reporters while the governor kept walking a few feet away. At one point Martinez told one reporter, “I’ve got to get to my next appointment.”

The dissing of the press and the formation of  a movable human bunker for her to hide in led us to ask a veteran legislator what he is hearing:

One of those closest to her tells me that the Governor feels entirely isolated, and without friends who she doesn’t perceive wanting something from her. She relished her position as chair of the Republican Governors Association last year and traveling for those activities where she could escape everything here.

Martinez's frustration and alienation fully emerged when she recently claimed that the state's budget dilemma "is none of our fault."  But with her once sky high approval ratings plummeting to 36 percent (SurveyUSA) and with a seemingly endless state budget crisis confronting her and eating away at whatever legacy she hopes to leave, Martinez seems to be functioning on automatic pilot. The air has been let out of her balloon and how she can ever make it fly again is her conundrum.

No matter her personal melancholy she still wields the formidable power of the veto and still has nearly two years left in her second term. As she said in rebuffing Capitol reporters, she's "got to get to my next appointment." No matter how dreary and unfulfilling that prospect seems to have become for her.

GOP FREELANCING

Sen. Brandt
With Gov. Martinez vowing to veto any revenue increases she deems a tax increase, one GOP state senator, whose wife is an educator, has come with an idea:

Sen. Craig Brandt (R-Sandoval) has introduced a bill to restore $46 million to school district cash balances across the state. Senate Bill 332 would use funding earmarked for capital outlay projects and the state’s film tax credit to relieve the budget hit to New Mexico’s schools. Brandt’s bill proposes to shift $26.1 million from capital outlay funds and delay $20 million in FY 2017 payments on the film tax credit to cover the $46 million that was swept from school district reserves. Payment of the suspended film tax credits would resume on July 1, 2017. “When times are tough, the budget decisions we make reflect our priorities,” said Brandt. 

That's some interesting freelance GOP thinking. The capital outlay sweep he proposes is a no-brainer but the film industry is a poison pill. Why not get the entire $46 million from unspent capital outlay?

Brandt was one of only two senators to vote against the raid on the public schools cash reserves. Like we said, there's a bit of freelance thinking bubbling up in the GOP as it begins the long transition to the post-Martinez era.

One other note: Why is it a GOP senator making the play to reverse the budget cuts to the public schools? Isn't that supposed to be a core value of the legislative Democrats?

Well, the Dems could go along with it and then list every worthwhile capital project (community centers etc.) that will be sacrificed because the administration will not raise money to fully fund the school system. (Folks, this stuff is really not that difficult.)

SERIES MATERIAL

The newspaper is running an informative six-part investigative report on drug cartels that it calls "a criminal enterprise wreaking havoc across the country." But how about a series on what the former BernCo District Attorney called "a criminal enterprise" operating at the ABQ police department? This news out of a federal grand jury:

The scope of an ongoing federal criminal investigation into events surrounding the fatal shooting of a 19-year-old woman by an Albuquerque police officer in 2014 stretches beyond what has been previously reported. That’s according to the lead investigator for the city’s independent police watchdog group. Department of Justice officials took the rare step of confirming an investigation into allegations made by a whistleblower that APD employees tampered with video from officers’ body cameras and other sources, including video from the early morning hours of April 21, 2014, when then-APD officer Jeremy Dear shot Mary Hawkes. But Ed Harness, executive director of the Civilian Police Oversight Agency (CPOA), said in an interview that federal authorities are “looking into the entire case,” including whether the shooting itself was unlawful. In a series of presentations to Justice Department officials, Harness turned over information gathered during an administrative review of the shooting.

All the APD news being left to be covered by the alternative media could make for a twelve part series, if the ink-stained wretches suddenly become interested in what is really going on around here.

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Leaving New Mexico Behind; Latest Numbers Confirm The Exodus Continues; Our Once Humming Sunbelt State Settles Further Into Economic And Social Stagnation 

This column is also running in the current edition of the weekly ABQ Free Press.

Well, better late than never. The newspaper finally got around to reckoning with the grim reality that New Mexico's population has flatlined, that those getting out are our best and brightest and the tiny population growth we are experiencing is from mainly impoverished and welfare dependent families having more children.

Now the reluctant experts and media are finally throwing in the towel. Perhaps we finally get a real discussion about what ails the state and what needs to be done to finally start the Great Turnaround instead of wallowing in the Great Stagnation? Reader Alan Schwartz, writing on social media, picks up on that thread:

Does this mean we can finally call to account our Pollyanna economic development gurus that constantly forecast 2% annual growth to justify taxpayer investment in speculative ventures from soccer stadiums to ART? The website for Albuquerque Economic Development states "The Albuquerque metro area's population totals 908,252 residents and is growing at a steady pace of 1-2 percent per year." Census figures for five years ending in 2015 for Albuquerque show 0.46% per year. Perhaps the first step to economic recovery should be to stop promulgating "alternative facts."

New Mexicos' growth industries are crime, drugs, unemployment and moving companies:

According to the Census Bureau, New Mexico added 59,585 people due to natural growth (births versus deaths) from 2010 to 2016. During the same time period, however, 37,780 more people left the state than moved in, resulting in a total population increase estimated at only about 21,000. The resulting 1 percent rate of growth puts New Mexico at the other end of the spectrum from its neighbors.

It's easy to abandon ship. Colorado, Texas and Utah are growing at a 10 times faster rate than New Mexico. David Packer is one of those packing up. He writes on social media of the New Mexiodus:

My kids will leave soon after finishing degrees at UNM. I plan to leave soon after they figure out where they want to be. NM was an attractive, vibrant place of such promise, but so much of what it lost was replaced by too many who lost their souls to substance abuse and now run rampant on our streets. NM is now just too scary and dangerous a place for its magnificent beauty to be enough to keep us here. 

FIGHTING OR SURRENDERING?

Meanwhile, at the legislative session lawmakers continue to look at the state's death spiral with bemusement or not at all.

The Governor deflects any responsibility for the state's failures by citing cutbacks in federal spending and the oil price crash but she continues her austerity policies that have done nothing to ameliorate the outside events that have pummeled the state. The legislative leadership essentially acquiesces, with both sides braying that they are "fighting" for New Mexico. No, they are surrendering.

New Mexico's problems are anything but insoluble. They require an investment in its increasingly disadvantaged people. To get that you will need a new generation of leadership that views their jobs as taking risks to reverse the old order and rejecting the notion that political office is more than taking self-important selfies and warming a chair.

The cozy talk of "bipartisanship" was promising but has now become an excuse to do nothing and let everyone off the hook as the death spiral continues. What we need is leadership that engages in a knock-down, drag out fight over the tarnished soul and bleak future of New Mexico. In other words, we can continue to fill the void with more green chile contests and photos of blazing sunsets or choose to have a collective consciousness that says enough is enough. It's up to us.

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Thursday, February 09, 2017

Facebook Vs. Intel Jobs; It Isn't Even Close, Plus: Luring Susana; Is Closing A Loophole A Tax Hike Or Not? And: R's Missing The Target On Their Targeted US House Races? 

So we'll get about 50 permanent jobs from Facebook while just across the border at Chandler, Arizona Intel is taking a plant out of mothballs, investing $7 billion and hiring 3,000.

Once upon a time New Mexico was home to a booming Intel but for years it has been reducing jobs at its Rio Rancho plant. The last report we saw from April of '16 had the Rio Rancho facility employing only 1,900, down from well over 6,000 not that long ago. The number is probably much lower but Intel has stopped announcing it and the media has stopped asking. And that's how a manufacturing base just fades away (maybe some of the Rio Rancho Intel workers can make the short drive to Chandler?). . .

If they call it a tax loophole will Susana take the bait? That seems to be the ploy by both Dems and R's who are lined up in favoring of extending the state's gross receipts tax to big Internet players like Amazon and eBay. Currently only companies that have a physical presence in the state are subjected to the tax. But even the R's say that's unfair to the locals and extending the tax to all online sales would "be closing a loophole" not a tax boost.

The extension has won approval with bipartisan support from one House committee. They're trying to lure the Guv with that, but she has repeatedly said no tax increases under her watch. Besides, why does the Governor, who still probably wants to prance around the national stage in some form when she finishes her term in two years want to alienate big players like Amazon? We'll see. . .

Perhaps Susana can play with the new US education secretary as we expect top education boss Hanna Skandera to do soon. Take a look:

Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos, along with family and companies associated with her, donated at least $12,000 to Susana Martinez’s campaign for re-election in 2014. Fast-forward to 2017 and DeVos became Donald Trump’s surprise nominee to head the US Dept. of Education and Martinez stepped in to help. On January 4 Gov. Susana Martinez‘s name appeared on a letter of recommendation for Betsy DeVos published in the Investor’s Business Daily – a magazine for business leaders, not educators.

CAPITAL DEBATE

Sen. Cervantes
We've talked about capital outlay and how it is desperately in need of reform. We've also carried comments from readers and State Auditor Tim Keller that unspent millions in capital outlay are still out there that could be used to plug the budget hole. Las Cruces area Dem state Senator Joe Cervantes responds:

Using fund balances and unexpended capital outlay provides a one-time and one year solution. But our budget needs for education are “recurring.” The blog suggestions to use capital outlay for funding current and recurring expenses would be analogous to taking a 15 year second mortgage on your house in order to buy groceries and pay utilities for a few months. It can be done, but is very poor financial judgment. For two years I have sponsored legislation to sweep up and reauthorize stale dollars, but would do so for alternative capital projects shovel ready. I have also introduced SB262 to reform the capital outlay process. But relying on capital outlay for recurring needs is shortsighted.

Our take: It's true that the capital outlay and other funds mentioned by Keller are for the most part "nonrecurring" which means they would be good for a year or two of plugging the budget. But with a Governor who wants no "revenue enhancement" at all, what's the choice? Should we shorten the school year because it would take nonrecurring revenue to prevent it? Most parents would say use whatever money you can find and deal with the long term funding later. Of course that is shortsighted but it is political malpractice of the highest order to shorten our kids' school day and school year when tens of millions of unspent dollars are there to prevent it.

As for Senator Cervantes' bill on capital outlay reform, it is co-sponsored by State Rep. Kelly Fajardo and can be seen here.

MISSING THE TARGET

The national R's are out with their list of congressional seats they're "targeting" for 2018 and it stretches credulity. They say the northern US House seat held by Rep. Ben Ray Lujan is on their list as is the ABQ congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Lujan Grisham who is running for Governor. The problem is that the northern seat is one of the most Democratic in the nation and also happens to be held by the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee--Ben Ray Lujan---who is in charge of drafting a list of Dem targeted House seats. As for the Grisham seat, that's pretty much a goner for the R's. Once upon  at time they called it a swing seat, but its been Dem since 2008 and heavy Dem in the last two cycles. Don't be surprised if the two NM "targets" don't see any GOP cash thrown at them when the races really begin.

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Wednesday, February 08, 2017

More From The Education Beat: APS Board Members Who Oppose Governor'sAgenda Win Re-election in Landslide, Education Secretary Skandera Getsa Meal Ticket Out Of Here And Whipping It At The Roundhouse 

David Peercy
We've been on the education beat all week and we're not stopping yet. The Governor and the newspaper have been hammering the ABQ School Board and hoping that last night voters would reject incumbent board members David Peercy, the board president, and Lorenzo Garcia. Instead the duo won re-election in a landslide, an affirmation of their resistance to the Martinez education agenda. (Congressman Steve Pearce did robocalls for tea party friendly candidates and also took a hit with the results).

Peercy was scoring about 64 percent in a four way contest, a landslide if there ever was one. And Garcia was no slouch either, garnering 65 percent of the ballots in another four way battle. Now if they can only avoid having to end the school year early because of state budget cuts. . .

(Complete APS board and CNM election results here.)

It was close but Hanna Skandera's meal ticket outta here appears about to be served. The US Senate confirmation of the controversial Betsy DeVos as education secretary Tuesday paves the way for Skandera to head for the exits and to a nice plum post in DC.

DeVos is a longtime Bushie and Hanna's coziness with the family is well-known. She served as an education deputy under Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Skandera has reportedly already been approached about a job by the new administration.

After six years here Skandera is now in the unenviable position of presiding over withering cuts to the state's public schools, accompanied by jarring talk that the school day and/or school year could be shortened because of Santa Fe's inability to find a budget solution. If that doesn't signal a good time to join the exodus out of here, nothing does.

Reader Melanie Majors drives the point home:

I know of several long time teachers who are counting the days until retirement because they can no longer subsidize their classrooms, deal with no raises, extra costs to their salary and more requirements from Santa Fe. A lack of money is hurting education. The legislators should put a crow bar into the permanent fund and spend some of that money to improve this state. If they wait much longer, there may be nothing left to save.

And reader George Richmond has an idea that won't be adopted but you can bet it would work:

If  just one local school board would say the state cuts to their budget are okay but then says their top priority is education and that means all sports programs will be eliminated, the resulting outcry from parents and legislators would "find" the money to avoid the cuts.

Back on the DeVos vote, opining on social media Barbara Grothus summed up why the nomination was met with such firm resistance:

That giant sucking sound you hear is the money going from the public purse to the private pockets. America will never be great without public education.

THE MYTH OF SCARCITY 

Reader Barry Simon commented here Tuesday on the boatload of money sitting unused in state accounts. That drew this response from State Auditor Tim Keller:

We’re encouraged by your readers’ interest in our reports on unused funds sitting in state government. It is the “Myth of Scarcity” that tells us that funding is scarce and we simply don’t have enough money for our most important programs, like education. Policymakers and the public know that our state budget is tight and distracts us from making structural changes in our government and economy. Just last week, we presented this information to house and senate committees (watch it here).

Our research has found that we can rethink the status quo by examining three pots of money. The first area is utilizing over a billions dollars sitting in fund balances in 300+ accounts, as Barry noted in his comments. Our reports are compiled from government’s own public audits and are provided to the legislature and Governor each year. Readers can also find an op-ed on it here.

While we might not be in a situation of abundance, there is plenty of money out there to do what we need to help our state. Scarcity is a choice, a choice the administration makes every time they avoid tackling these big issues. Our state needs all of us to fight for capital outlay reform, pushing out under utilized funds out and oversight from the administration for infrastructure spending.

Our take: The LFC, the Governor and the legislature have simply not given enough of a response to Keller's argument on the myth of scarcity for it to be struck down or upheld. Where is the detailed response and suggestions from Santa Fe? Have the bean counters stopped counting the beans?

WHIP IT GOOD

Here they are minus their whips but cheerful none the less. From left to right it's House Minority Whip Rod Montoya of Farmington House Majority Whip Doreen Gallegos of Las Cruces, Senate Minority Whip Bill Payne of ABQ and Senate Majority Whip Michael Padilla of ABQ. With more than a month left in the session, maybe they can whip something up besides more depressing budget cuts?

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Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Punishing The Public Schools; Budget Cuts Unpopular With Voters But Still It Goes On And On; Guv And Lawmakers Say Classroom Is Spared But Major Pushback Develops 

It may be becoming routine in Santa Fe to cut the budgets of the state's public schools but it's not going well outside of the Roundhouse bubble. The legislature and the Governor know that. They have seen the public polling that shows slashing the schools is the last place voters want cut to resolve the budget debacle.

But as we noted on our Monday blog Dems and R's alike have taken out the scalpel and like a surgeon seeking to calm his patient they insist none of this budget cutting is going to hurt. Everything in the classroom will be just fine So they say, but. . . .

We are getting a far different story from the schools and our readers. And it's not just from APS which for years has endured a near-hatred by the newspaper and the sitting Governor. From Las Cruces:

Las Cruces Public Schools is still trying to recover from last year's special session that cut $3.4 million from the district. LCPS has already cut back on instructional materials, traveling and bus routes to save money. That was done on top of an additional $3.5 million budget cut to the current fiscal year. A spokeswoman for the district said half of the district’s savings account is gone and the district can’t afford to hire new teachers. "It has a huge impact on the whole system and bottom line is it impacts classrooms. Anytime you have a cut as big as that, there's going to be a trickle down affect throughout the whole system." Less money in the school’s reserves could mean more students per classroom. 

The governor said her bill wouldn't have an impact on classroom spending. “This compromise represents responsible cuts that preserve classroom spending and maintain the quality of district programs for students and staff alike,” Martinez said.  KFOX14 asked the governor to elaborate why she isn’t concerned for schools in the state, but she wouldn’t answer the question. 

SOULES SAYS

Dem State Senator Bill Soules who represents the Las Cruces area and was taken to task here Monday for the school cuts, counters:

Remember Joe, the Governor proposed $120 million in cuts for the current budget year. The legislature reduced that by nearly two-thirds and it was impossible for the legislature to raise more revenue in the last few months of the current budget year. to prevent the cuts. 

The cuts passed to date are definitely detrimental to NM students. Whether my bill providing flexibility for Districts on how to handle the impact of those cuts moves forward or not, those cuts are sure to hurt NM students. Districts need flexibility so those locally elected School Boards can be sure their credit ratings don’t drop and decisions on how best to handle those cuts can be made by officials accountable to their communities rather than appointed PED staff in Santa Fe.  

I am one of the legislature’s biggest champions of fully funding NM schools. I sponsored SB 35 calling for $368.5 million more funding in 2018. NM students should face no cuts in the 2018 budget! My fellow legislative Democrats are putting forth many revenue bills this session to make more funds available for a budget that does not hurt opportunities for NM student success.

But reader Barry Simon says the Democrats have been too passive in seeking to protect the public schools:

Joe, State Auditor Tim Keller says there is $2 billion in unused funding sitting in departments and agencies’ accounts. And yet the Dems are ready to cut school funding, not to mention services? Where is their outrage that money is just sitting in accounts unused? Where is Tim Keller’s voice since he’s the one going around doing presentations on this information? And where are the school districts and teachers’ union? They’re too busy talking about testing and evaluations to take their heads out of the sand and yell about unused billions of dollars. I just don’t get it and it frustrates the hell our of me. 

I have called my State Senator and Keller’s office. Response: nada. I even had a letter published in the Journal on this hidden-in-plain-sight money and there wasn’t one ripple in response. I’m going to a public meeting of my school board representative on Thursday and ask why APS isn’t screaming about cuts when there is money just sitting there. As Keller’s presentation states, “The Myth of Scarcity.”

IN MY DAY 


Sen. Brandt
APS is making noise, Barry, if not screaming. But you're right--where is the outrage? The favorite excuse at the Capitol is for both sides to simply throw their arms in the air and exclaim, "We're broke!" That's not how it used to be as this retired Dem state senator who asked to remain anonymous, explains:

Joe, There are no "firebrands" in the Democratic Legislature. Few legislators have the  "fire in the belly" mentality that had always been pervasive in a vibrant New Mexico. During my tenure of 20 years in the New Mexico Senate, I heard magnificent speeches, fearless statements to do what was right. Legislators who took on the good fight. They were not there to just "get elected." Today we have passive representation that accounts for the "just being there" attitude. In my day, we would have dismissed the idea of "less education because of the budget." Instead, we would have done what was right.

And that's not just nostalgia although there are a few speaking out about the historic public schools budget cutting--GOP state Senator Craig Brandt for one

Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, said the state went too far in cutting funding to school districts this year. He noted that his wife is a teacher. “We have created a nightmare,” he said.

And, as reader Simon wondered, are the teachers unions and their leadership doing enough or have they become numbed by it all? John Dyrcz of the American Federation of Teachers NM comments on that bill that would lay down guidelines for shortening school days as well as the school year:

Regarding Senate Bill 290,  it is not accurate to state teachers' unions (at least in the case of American Federation of Teachers New Mexico) in any way supported this measure. In fact, we stood in opposition to it when it was first introduced, which led to it to include protections for workers under collective bargaining. We also opposed the bill even after it was amended to include protections for workers because it did not go far enough to ensure decisions would not adversely impact schools and educational workers. 

Focusing on SB 290 is perhaps misguided, and we in the education community would prefer to continue having the conversation about how we got to this point in education funding, and that issue falls squarely on the shoulders of Governor Martinez with her willingness to attempt a $120 million sweep of school funding and simultaneous clinging to rigid ideological opposition to identifying and raising new sources of revenue.

Dyrcz has the politics right. The last thing the Dems should be doing is shifting the narrative to a bill that centers on shortening the school year when they should be arguing that it is the Governor's stubbornness that could lead to schools shutting down early.

THIS HISTORIC ERA

Finally on the education beat, more on the implications of all these cuts on the state's bond rating and standing on Wall Street from David Jacobson, VP for communications for Moody's Investors Service:

In its new Credit Outlook released Monday Moody’s notes the governor of New Mexico (bonds rated Aa1/negative outlook) has signed legislation that calls for a sweep of $46.1 million in operating cash balances, or an effective 2% reduction in state aid to school districts. . . and follows cuts approved in a special legislative session in 2016. The cash balance sweep and October cuts are credit negative and affect all New Mexico’s school districts, weakening already-limited financial positions. Based on our estimates. . . 10 districts will have less than 2% of revenues in reserve.

New Mexico school districts are not well positioned to weather funding declines, with virtually no revenue-raising capacity and limited expenditure flexibility. . . Although the state’s school districts may not be facing immediate default risk, any further deterioration in cash and reserve positions present a serious challenge to ongoing credit quality. 

Folks, we've told you before and we'll tell you again. Before this incredible era in our state's history is over you're going to keep seeing things you never thought possible. Like the trashing of the state's financial standing under the supposedly conservative leadership of a Republican Governor and Blue Dog Democrats and perhaps even a shutdown of the public school system.

Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico don't need to see any more budget books. They need prayer books to get out of this mess.

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Monday, February 06, 2017

First Third Of Legislative Session Goes Susana's Way; Lame Duck Governor Struts While Dems Limp 

The somewhat stunning capitulation by legislative Democrats on cutting funding for the public schools and perhaps even shortening the school year is the cherry on the sundae for Governor Susana Martinez as she looks back on the first third of this 60 day legislative session.

It has been an impressive start for a lame duck Governor who sports dismal approval ratings. She has dominated the Roundhouse and public narrative and even had the Democrats deliver a dagger to their own hearts.

Dem Sen. Bill Soules introduced a measure that would allow the shortening of the school day and school year to resolve the state budget crisis. Down the line support of the public schools and its teachers goes to the very core of Democratic Party principles but apparently not so much anymore. Even the teachers'' unions and school superintendents meekly appraised the measure and found merit in it. (This in of the worst educated states in the nation).

The old line says "we're not in Kansas anymore," but New Mexico could indeed soon be in that deep red state. Kansas, under the severe austerity and tax-cutting of a GOP Governor, oversaw the early closure of the schools there as state funds dried up.

That Martinez can push this hard and far in the aftermath of an election in which Democrats picked up two state Senate seats and regained control of the state House from the Republicans looks like political wizardry, but it is also due to a lack of strong Democratic leadership. Martinez's personality dominates the stage and she has no equal in her opposition.

Attorney Greg Payne, a former GOP ABQ state legislator turned Democrat and veteran political analyst, explains:

For many Democrats it is about 'being there.' They enjoy the status and the legislative perks and don't want to rock the boat. They are not as deeply attached to the working and lower income classes that were once at the party's core. That's why you are seeing once sacred budgets for the public schools subjected to cuts with barely a whimper and why the Democrats are comfortable acquiescing so readily to the Republican Governor. Trump's victory came because he reached many disaffected Democrats in the old Democratic Rust Belt states. There has been no similar populist figure here to ignite what was once the Democratic base. It floats on a sea of apathy and the Governor knows it. 

The Democratic leadership has weapons at its disposal but has kept them under wraps. They could send to the Governor revenue enhancement measures in place of cutting school budgets and force her veto and explanation. They could sweep more unspent capital outlay and/or other reserve funds into the general budget to at least temporarily avoid the school cuts. And they could work with the schools to find more savings that make clear education in the classroom is not being gored.

Our experts at the start of this session predicted Gov. Martinez and the Democrats would avoid a clash, but it would be the Democrats surrendering, not her. So far, they have nailed it.

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