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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Come On, Larry. House GOP Money Chairman Insists Budget Not In "Crisis" As Outlook Worsens; Plus: More Angles On Budget Debacle 

Rep. Larranaga
It's almost embarrassing to see the chairman of the once powerful and respected House Appropriations Committee groveling at the feet of the Governor and insisting in the face of all known facts that the state of New Mexico is not in a budget crisis.

Even as lawmakers were told Wednesday that collapsing tax revenues have blown a $650 million hole in the state budget and that reserves are now zero, we get this:

“It’s not a crisis,” Rep. Larry Larranaga, R-Albuquerque, said after seeing the forecast. “We’ll just have to make a mid-year adjustment like we do every year.”

"Like we do every year?"

Like every year we have a budget hole of this magnitude?

Every year we have a general fund budget so decimated that it is now the same as it was back in 2010?

Every year we face possible devastating cuts to the public schools?

Every year we face a crisis that has three consecutive budget years--'16, '17 '18--bleeding buckets of red?

Every year we face a bear market in the energy fields that shows no signs of abating?

Come on, man. Bring on the Gators:

Joe, Larranaga said business as usual about the budget crisis, and he is right. Being Martinez’s lapdog is business as usual for him. He went into the 2016 session telling people that there was an additional $228 million availible to spend. This allowed Martinez to talk about new "investments" during the State of the State. He eventually stepped back from that number and pushed a $6.32 billion budget through the House. This was done so Martinez could avoid embarrassing cuts to Medicaid that would lead to a loss of hundreds of millions in federal dollars. He was finally forced to cut some more by the Senate, but not too much more to limit the political hit that Martinez, chair of the Republican Governors Association, would take. We still lost the federal dollars.

The Senate passed a $6.248 budget and it came with a dire warning from Sen. Smith that we would need a special session if things did not turn around. Now the revised revenue estimates for FY17 is 9.7% lower than the August 2015 projection, but this is not a problem according to lapdog Larranaga. Business as usual

Faced with a crisis of this magnitude past chairmen of House Appropriations (Mershon, Varela etc.) would look for a bipartisan solution--and pronto. But today, with the Martinez political machine breathing down his neck, Chairman Larranaga can't answer the call from history. That's just plain sad but to be expected when the political consultants are running the show which includes the once high and mighty House Appropriations Committee.

And where are the young up and comers of the GOP on this historic budget debacle? Like Majority Leader Nate Gentry and House Ways and Means Chair Jason Harper. How about some new ideas from a new generation of Republicans, not the same tired bromides of tax cuts that don't work. The state is ready to listen, if only someone has the huevos to talk.

Nate is quiet. Here's Harper still in ideological hiding and not willing or able to make the break that could make him matter:

I have no interest in letting any revenue-raising proposals get through my committee.

In other words, Rep. Harper has no interest in leading. He lacks the stomach to conduct delicate surgery and instead relies on the meat axe approach of Susana and Jay. Says Silver City Dem State Senator Howie Morales:

We’re not cutting any more; we’re amputating. 

There is one R who is talking--and listening. That's GOP State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn who is showing flexibility on resolving the budget crisis, including looking at revenue enhancement. Are Larranaga, Harper, Susana and Jay sniffing the past while Dunn is getting a whiff of the future?

BUDGET NERDS

For the budget nerds here are the gory details from the Legislative Finance Committee on the state's sorry finances.

NOT GOOD 

This is not good for the future outlook of our economy:

. . .  Pueblo of Laguna, announced that its Kicks Entertainment unit has signed an agreement to acquire the Isle of Capri Casino Hotel Lake Charles in Westlake, Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, for $134 million.  "It's been proven to be difficult to grow in New Mexico," said Skip Sayre, chief of  marketing for Laguna Development Corp. "We realized we needed to venture outside the state of New Mexico. We thought it was a good fit for the company." Given New Mexico's sluggish economy, the company, its board of directors and its shareholders, the 8,000 residents of the Laguna pueblo, wanted to seek opportunities to grow outside of the state.

$134 million to invest and nowhere to put it in their home state? What's wrong with that picture?

TWO AND A HALF?

A reader writes of the Wednesday blog:

In Wednesday's blog you write, "Republicans control two branches of the government."
Actually, the R's control 1 1/2 branches: they control the Executive Branch and one-half of the Legislative Branch. The Dems control the other half of the Legislative Branch and the Judicial Branch. Just a technical observation.

That is correct. It is one and half branches the R's control. But political realists might disagree. The R's have the governorship, the state House and often rule the Senate because conservative Dems caucus with the R's to form a conservative coalition that controls much of the agenda.

NM TRUTH

ABQ reader Richard Flores writes of the NM Truth campaign:

I like the way the NM Truth campaign in its newspaper advertisement subliminally shows the income gap between the haves and the have nots in New Mexico by displaying scenes from the Balloon Fiesta and ski slopes in juxtaposition with the state rankings pertaining to childhood poverty and hunger. 

Childhood hunger is part and parcel of being poor or homeless, where parents are unemployed, drug addicted or incarcerated, or where children are being raised by grandparents on fixed incomes. Children who are poor and hungry seldom do well in school; this has been proven over and over again. When children can't optimize their potential because of poverty and hunger, they are left behind in a system that rewards the privileged. And where the mainstream gravitates to blaming the parents, do we not have some responsibility for providing the resources to bolster these children? Early childhood education is a straightforward approach for impacting the lives of poor children. I don't get the resistance from the public, politicians, and special interests.

Chi St. Joseph's, sponsor of NM Truth, is urging the legislature to approve a constitutional amendment that would let voters decide if they want to tap a portion of the state's nearly $15 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund and devote it to very early childhood education.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Senate Leader Battles Back Against Tax Hike Monkey; Final Numbers On Budget Crisis Coming, Plus: Crazy In Hawaii, Susana Goes Her Merry Way And A Poll On ART 

Sen. Sanchez
As the state prepares to release more budget numbers on the budget crisis today, the tax hike monkey is being hung around the neck of Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez.

Republicans have scored him for wanting to solve the crisis via tax hikes but the lawmaker pushed back in an interview with us, saying newspaper headlines suggesting he was hinting at a tax hike was a political hit designed to put him on the defense in his duel with Gov. Martinez. She again this week reiterated her "no new taxes" pledge, despite a ballooning deficit that could approach $700 million or more

Sanchez had said, "we just can't cut ourselves out of the problem." That statement turned into he headline that Sanchez was hinting a tax hike was needed, putting him and his party on the defense.

So just what does Sanchez advocate? He tells us the legislature ought to approve a temporary rollback of the big Richardson era personal income tax cuts as well as Gov. Martinez's corporate tax cut. He says his foes will "spin" that as a tax increase but he doesn't view it as one. Well, not to worry. The House Republicans are not going to go there and Martinez would never sign it.

In an important note, Sanchez added that he will not support reinstating the tax on food and medicine and said that neither would a "majority of his caucus." That still leaves open the door for a handful of conservative Dems to bolt and join with Senate Republicans to reinstate the tax, assuming the House R's would go along--a big assumption.

On thing to watch for: The partisan bickering that has marked all the years of the Martinez regime could give way in the months ahead as representatives and senators of both parties realize that the sky is truly falling on the state budget. Republicans control two branches of the government. Before this is all over that monkey they are putting on Sanchez's back is going to be hugging them, too. One way or the other.

CRAZY IN HAWAII?

We dubbed the idea that New Mexico could close its public schools for two weeks as one method to relieve the state budget crisis as "crazy." Well, a number of readers report they went "crazy" in Hawaii:

. . . A new union contract. . . closes schools on most Fridays for the remainder of the academic calendar. The deal whacks 17 days from the school year for budget-cutting reasons and has education advocates incensed that Hawaii is drastically cutting the academic calendar at a time when it already ranks near the bottom in national educational achievement. 

NM also ranks at the bottom in education achievement so if Santa Fe doesn't say a quick "aloha" to the school closure idea, they ought to have their heads buried in the sands of Waikiki.

HER MERRY WAY

While others tear their hair out one the budget, the Governor goes along her merry way talking about what her pollsters want her to talk about. Like the death penalty which she wants to reimpose in the state, at least for child killers and cop killers. Well, that polls well but:

After nearly two decades of declining use, opponents of the death penalty have begun what they characterize as a sustained legislative and political push to end capital punishment in states across the country. Voters in California and Nebraska will decide this year whether to end the death penalty.  Legislators appear poised to end capital punishment in states as different as deep-blue Delaware and ruby-red Utah. And public opinion polls show that while a majority of Americans still back executions for those convicted of murder, that majority is shrinking.

Martinez's showboating proposal is dead on arrival at the Roundhouse which brings to mind that old slogan: "Time is a terrible thing to waste." Maybe someone should put that on the door of the Guv's office.

ART POLL

Dan Vukelich, the editor of the ABQ Free Press writes:

On Wednesday (today) a reader poll will appear on our website urging people to vote in our poll on ART.  The poll stays open until 5 p.m. Sept. 2. We're really pushing to get readers to pass on the link to the poll across their social media circles. Here's the link.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

47th And Used To it, Plus: Susana Nicked In New TV Ads, Also: Not Liking Ike; Councilor Scored Over ART Defense 

Other states would grow sullen if they saw their state ranked 47th out of 50th in the Governing Magazine economic rankings, but we're so beaten down around here anytime we're not 49th or 50th it's a cause for a mini-celebration. The magazine looked at. . .

. . . the current state unemployment rate; the improvement in the state unemployment rate over the past year; the per capita state GDP in 2015; the percent change in real state GDP between 2014 and 2015; the percent change in state personal income per capita, from the third quarter of 2015 to the first quarter of 2016; and the percentage growth in year-to-date increases in jobs for 2016.

Just three of the bottom 10 states in 2013 -- Connecticut, Mississippi and New Mexico -- stayed stuck in the magazine's bottom 10 in 2016.

With that gloomy news and so much more facing her, you would think her foes would use any advertising time they buy to take Gov. Martinez out on the economy. . .

There is a TV ad campaign up and running that takes on Martinez--not for the lousy economy--but for her environmental record. The ads come from the progressive nonprofit ProgressNow NM and might strike some as esoteric as they deal with a sinkhole problem in Carlsbad.

The ads are the first negative TV featuring the Governor since her re-election bid in 2014 when an underfinanced Gary King nicked her. These ads are also relatively tame, not the hard-hitting sort that the Guv's machine has run with success over the past six and a half years.

Often times it is the donor of the cash for the TV time who determines the content.

Martinez's approval rating has slipped below 50% in the most recent PPP poll (47%) and she will officially become a lame duck following the November election.

NOT LIKING IKE

Councilor Benton
An Alligator strike today on none other than mild mannered ABQ Democratic City Councilor Ike Benton. Why does this Gator no longer say, "I like Ike?"

Well, that's because the North Valley councilor stuck his head out of the foxhole briefly to praise Mayor Berry's hyper-controversial rapid bus line for a nine mile stretch of Central Avenue known as ART.

Ike is an environmentalist and urbanite from way back so his support (his op-ed is here) is not out of line. But that's not enough to spare him the bite marks of an Alligator's sharp teeth who is especially upset that Benton seems to fault the public opposed to ART for supposedly not paying attention and being "confused.":

Councilor Benton has come out from the shadows to admonish the public for not paying enough attention to the ART project during its inception and for being "confused." Curiously, in the same op-ed, Benton admits that he and the city both failed to communicate to citizens about the project. If anyone knows about communication, it's Ike, who completely lost it at the ART meeting in his district.

Ike wants us to shut up and take our medicine and accept the project as it is because it's already done and solid. Hey Ike, a little tip--the city is calling around scrounging for money because they don't have what they need to pay for trees along the ART route. 

It's amazing that this Berry Administration enabler continues to exist in one of the most liberal districts in the city. As quiet as a church mouse, he's failed to say anything of significance about the police crisis or take the Berry Administration to task for anything.

If this is the level of opposition and alternative to the Berry Administration Dems are providing, it's no wonder the Republicans will continue to hold the mayor's office.

ART was given the legal go ahead last week by a federal appeals court in Denver and construction on the bus line is expected to begin in a matter of weeks, to the chagrin of its many opponents and many of the business owners along the designated route. Still, it's hard to stop liking Ike, even as we disagree with him on this one.

HATCH AND HATCH

There were a couple of problems with our first blog draft Monday on former NM US Senator Carl Hatch. First, we'll blame the spell checker for turning "Carl" into "Clyde" but this next one is on us. We blogged, based on information given to us by one of our longtime readers, that the village of Hatch in Dona Ana County was named after the former Senator. We should have know better. Really.

Hatch, NM began long before the 20th century career of Senator Hatch. The correct version:

Hatch was originally settled as Santa Barbara in 1851, however Apache raids drove the farmers away until 1853 when the nearby Fort Thorn was established. When Fort Thorn closed in 1859, the town was abandoned again in 1860. It was not until 1875 that it was re-occupied and at that time it was renamed for Indian fighter Edward Hatch, who was then commander of the New Mexico Military District.


Thanks to several Hatch readers for pointing us in the right direction. There is always more to learn about our Land of Enchantment..

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Monday, August 22, 2016

State Budget Bomb Lighted And Set To Explode; The Latest Positioning, Some Crazy Proposals And Some Possible Ways Out, Plus: Our Toughest Photo Caption Contest Ever? 

Get ready for some crazy ideas on how to resolve the state budget crisis. In fact, a couple are already circulating. How about cutting the public school year by two full weeks to help resolve the state deficit which could be upwards of $700 million? Or how about just taking out a meat axe and cutting a quarter billion dollars from the schools? well, this aren't budget cuts, they're amputations.

Whatever they come up with in Santa Fe, it won't be at the special legislative session the Governor says she will call for sometime in September. Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith has decided--and we assume with the Guv's blessing--that the special will focus solely on the estimated $200 million deficit left from the budget year that ended June 30. As for the current budget year in which the deficit is projected to be more than double that number, here's what's up:

(Smith) said he wants to patch the 2016 deficit as soon as possible but save larger budget issues for January, when lawmakers return for a regular 60-day session.

That  confirms what our Alligators have been saying--no one really wants to undertake the punishing business of budget cuts and/or tax increases with the November election looming and when all 112 lawmakers face the electorate.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez felt compelled to be the first to raise the possibility of tax increases when he could have (should have?) forced the R's hand and just stayed mum. Predictably, the R's pounced:

 There are responsible ways to approach closing the gap this year and it can be done without tax increases and without policies that punish businesses and New Mexicans, but once again Michael Sanchez and the Democrats have shown they lack the creativity to imagine any solution to a budget shortfall that doesn't include raising taxes.

Speaking of creativity, we aren't hearing any from Susana and her minions when it comes to the crisis. She cut agency spending five percent across the board but that's estimated to save only about $50 million, a mere raindrop in the bucket in dealing with this disaster.

Do you think before she does anything more she has Jay do some polling to see just how much budget cutting the public can stomach?

And how about this one coming from conservative corners: reinstate the tax on food. That would hit the lower strata of the state the hardest but the right wing is bound and determined to preserve those corporate tax cuts it won, despite costing the state much more than anticipated (ask the Legislative Finance Committee) and utterly failing to spark any economic development as promised.

Hmm. Would a "reinstatement" of a previous food tax be passed off by the Fourth Floor as actually keeping with Martinez's "no new taxes" pledge. All we can say is watch your P's and Q's very carefully. Before this mess is over they could rewrite the dictionary, not to mention the alphabet.

SMARTY PANTS

So if we're such a bunch of smarty pants around here what is the solution to this historic budget chaos? Well, since you asked. . .

---Approve a temporary increase in the state gasoline tax, enough to raise north of $200 million a year each year for two years. Devote some of it to the road fund which would stimulate this browbeaten economy. The tax is regressive but pump prices are in the cellar and this tax is much more preferable than a food tax that would hit wider and deeper. Also, a gas tax would be paid in part by our many out-of-state travelers.

---Freeze the corporate income tax cuts for two years and increase the capital gains tax. The corporate cut isn't going to be missed and the capital gains boost isn't going to do any damage.

---Increase the tax on booze and cigarettes since Santa Fe is going to raid the over $200 million state tobacco settlement fund to plug the deficit left from last year.

That's enough "revenue enchantments." They would make the cuts that need to be made much less severe. And there will need to be cuts. Could someone send that telegram to the athletic departments at UNM and NMSU?

THAT WAS HARD

Friday's photo caption contest had to be one of the more difficult we've run over the years. It even stumped some of the more hardcore patrons of La Politica.

The trouble was not with Vice-President Truman and Senator Dennis Chavez. Most of our entrants nailed that. It was the third man, in the forefront, who baffled most of our readers. Their guesses ranged from former NM Governor Clyde Tingley to onetime Congressman Antonio Fernandez.

The correct answer is Democratic US Senator Carl Hatch. He is probably most remembered for the Hatch Act which prohibited federal employees from engaging in partisan political activity.

But there just haven't been many photos of Hatch out there and he seems to have been overshadowed by Senator Chavez. He was appointed to the Senate in 1933 to fill the vacancy left by Sam Bratton and was re-elected in his own right in '34, '36 and '42. He chose not to seek re-election in '48 (he won the '42 race with 59% of the vote) and soon after was appointed a US District Court judge.

Terry Brunner, who served as a top aide to now retired US Senator Jeff Bingaman and who now heads the USDA Rural Development office, was familiar with the history and was the first to get it right. Richard Pugh was next with an early morning entry. Brian Tierney came later in the day with the correct caption and Rick Montoya was the fourth correct guesser. They were the only four who knew that it was the state's then sitting two US Senators in the 1940's meeting with Truman who served as a Missouri Senator, Vice-President and later President.

We're going to award all four of our winners a free lunch. They earned it. And a big tip of the hat to ABQ attorney Foster Hannett who provided us with the picture. We met up with him recently to review his treasure trove of New Mexico documents and photos and that's where we got the intriguing contest snapshot. Running a contest on the blog that can't be instantly answered by a quick "Google" is always a challenge. Thanks to Hannett for the brain teaser and to all who took time to make a guess.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday Photo Flashback 

Who are these happy fellas, two of them with deep New Mexico political connections? We have a free lunch waiting for the reader that has the right names and titles. . .

News that the private Cibola County Correctional Center near Grants would close, costing the area 300 jobs sent the area reeling. What's behind the layoffs? Here's what we found out:

The Justice Department plans to end its use of private prisons after officials concluded the facilities are both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision in a memo that instructs officials to either decline to renew the contracts for private prison operators when they expire or “substantially reduce” the contracts’ scope. The goal, Yates wrote, is “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”

WATER WORKS

Where will the ABQ metro get the water it needs for its future?

A controversial proposal to pump 54,000 acre-feet of water each year from the Augustin Plains of west-central New Mexico up to the Middle Rio Grande Valley is a step closer to public hearings. The New Mexico Office of the State Engineer has notified the Augustin Plains Ranch, the commercial venture behind the water-transfer plan, to publish a public notice of its application to pump and transport the water. That sets the stage for public hearings to be held after the public has had the opportunity to object to the plan.

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

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

New Mexico Truth Is Back; Second Wave Of Media Ads That Spoof NM True and Decry Child Poverty Rate Go Up, Plus: Susana Grasps At Death Penalty To Regain Lost Momentum, And: WaPo Whacked Over Soft Touch On Berry 

New Mexico Truth is back.

The TV and radio ads that parodied the state tourism campaign "NM True" and caused a good deal of controversy earlier this year are airing again statewide and with updated information on the state's profound rate of child poverty that the campaign by CHI St. Joseph's Children (Catholic Health Initiatives) is designed to draw attention to.

Allen Sanchez, CEO of CHI St. Joseph's (and who we work with), explained:

When we ran the first round of NM Truth, NM was 3rd in child food insecurity. In the 2016 Map the Meal Gap Report, NM is now 2nd in the nation for child food insecurity. Overall, the percentage of child food insecurity has gone down across the states. However, Arkansas did a better job of reducing their child food insecurity numbers, bumping us to second worst in the country.

In releasing the new wave of ads today Sanchez says its now even more urgent that the  legislature look for a solution from the state's nearly $15 billion Land Grant Permanent School Fund. He again urged approval of a constitutional amendment that would let voters decide whether to spend about $110 million a year for ten years on very early childhood programs to arrest the child poverty rate and eventually contribute to a better prepared workforce.

The Martinez administration threatened legal action against the NM Truth ads because of their similarity to the NM True campaign, but that went nowhere.  Sanchez says the new ads update the state's declining standing in child poverty and make the "NM Truth" logo larger than the original ads in order to a avoid any confusion with NM True. The ads will run for the next three weeks.

DEATH PENALTY DESPERATION?

If Gov. Martinez appears desperate to change the political conversation, you can understand why. But her announcement that she will ask the next legislative session to reinstate the death penalty for child killers and those who murder law enforcement officers was a blatant smokescreen to avert attention from the biggest state budget crisis in a generation as well as an economy that under her watch has done nothing but tank.

As usual social media went right to the heart of the matter with comments like these on Facebook from Sarah Meadows:

She is using this tired issue as a red herring to distract from the myriad, high-priority issues facing our state (education, stagnant economy, childhood poverty, behavioral health services implosion, budget deficit, pizza party) and her utter failure to make any progress in these areas.

Martinez and her political consultant Jay McCleskey are being put to the test by the rapidly changing political landscape. Their plan to make the coming campaign an "all crime all the time" event has lost potency as a state budget shortfall upwards of $700 million or more awaits gubernatorial leadership and decision, but is getting neither.

Where is the date for the special session on the budget? Where is her plan?

Martinez is also taking a hit with her political base as Republican Trump supporters openly boo her and her polling with them sinks. Talking tough on the death penalty could be seen as trying to stop the bleeding.

The recent killing of a police officer in the village of Hatch gave her entree to grasp the death penalty as a political lifesaver, but after six years of nasty wedge issue politics (think driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, tests for school teachers etc.) she is having a much harder time disguising and rationalizing her skimpy legislative and economic record with an increasingly restless public.

As for the death penalty, it was repealed years ago and it has zero chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate as long as Michael Sanchez is majority leader. So look for Martinez to use the issue against him in the upcoming election in the hope of unseating him as well as to achieve the political pipe dream of taking GOP control of the Senate.

Time and again when we need a governor, we get a DA. It's Susana's comfort zone, especially when the obstacles that lay ahead of her are getting too close for comfort.

WAPO WHACKED

A number of readers were not pleased with what some called a "puff piece" from the WaPo on ABQ Mayor Berry's program to put the homeless population to work. Longtime Berry critic Michael Corwin writes:

The WaPo story is very incongruous with the change that most of us who live here have noticed. There are now panhandlers at almost every major intersection of the city instead of just the freeway off ramps. The WaPo piece has the feel of a planted puff piece by Martinez and Berry political consultant Jay McCleskey who in the past has planted Martinez fluff pieces that the WaPo used to run until her pizza party mishap.

And another reader writes:

Joy Junction's Jeremy Reynalds has a point about so much of our homelessness (and crime) being related to behavioral health issues. So where is Bernalillo County's plan to spend the $20 million per year they've had coming in for just this purpose over the last year? Their website says they're still on planning phase 2 (of 4!!). Voters approved this tax 21 months ago.

CAN YOU HOLD IT?

Why is this still a problem in one of the nation's top tourist destinations?

At least 20 times a day, tourists approach the information booth on the Santa Fe Plaza and ask Sandee Rudnick the same question. “Where are the restrooms?”

Do you need to wear diapers to Indian Market this weekend? Come on, Santa Fe.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2016

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Kick Of The Can Over State Budget Debacle As Election Nears? Plus: Forces Eat Away At State Fiscal Foundation, Also: PNM Pounded Over Layoff Warning And Pence Crowd Boos Susana 

Will the state budget debacle really be resolved at a special legislative session that would last less than a honest day's work as Gov. Martinez says she would like? In a year when all 112 legislators are up for election it appears doubtful. A veteran state political consultant  says:

They should be able to plug the $200 million hole left over from the budget year that ended June 30. They have to do that to avoid putting the state into deficit spending which is illegal. But neither the Governor, the Republicans or a good many Democrat may have the stomach for a special session that addresses the shortfall for the current budget year that began July 1 and is as much as $500 million. Because of the election risk there is a high probability that they will kick that can into the regular legislation session in January.

But if they kick the can to January that would lead much less time to balance the budget before the budget year ends next June 30.

Senate Majority Leader Sanchez broached the topic of possible tax increases to solve the mammoth shortfall but was immediately attacked on social media in a state that has been conditioned by the GOP to opposes any and all tax increases for any reason.

Speculation that the legislature could invoke its rarely used power to call itself into session to resolve the budget disaster if Gov. Martinez does not, is fanciful. First, she is going to call the special. Second, it would take three fifths of the House and Senate voting to call themselves back. That would mean 40 of the 70 House members would have to vote to call themselves in. You could count on one finger how many of the 37 majority House Republicans would do that.

NM TERMITES

The state's fiscal foundation is akin to a house infested with termites. The very underpinnings of the structure are being eaten away:

--The crash in oil prices is longer and deeper than anyone expected.  The decline began in earnest in June of 2014. Over two years later we're still in the cellar.

--Tax cuts meant to stimulate the economy and attract business that would diversify us away from energy have failed. Our unemployment rate remains among the highest in the nation.

--A lack of jobs as well as an ill-prepared workforce has skyrocketed the number of resident receiving Medicaid and food stamps. The rate of participation in the civilian work force has plummeted below 54 percent, among the worst in the nation. We are fast becoming a welfare state, if not one already.

--A new and more menacing crime wave has embraced the state's population center as drug use soars amid the social conditions crisis and an understaffed and mismanaged police force tries to cope.

This modern New Mexico nightmare is shooed away by the Governor with a see no pain, feel no pain mentality. But that's not very convincing. The state has been undergoing an  alarming and historic depopulation trend. In short, New Mexico no longer "grows as it goes."

PNM POUNDED

PNM finds itself getting pounded after declaring that if it does not get the 14 percent increase in electric rates it is asking the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) to approve, it would look at laying off up to 300 workers at the electric utility.

ABQ Republican, attorney and political consultant Doug Antoon is one of those taking the monopoly utility to task:

Don't stand for this boldface extortion. Deny them any hike and send them packing. There are other entities who are dying to fill the vacuum. Just ask Blue Cross Blue Shield. Didn't take them long at all (to come back), after we called their bluff.

PRC hearing officer Carolyn Glick says a rate hike of 6.4 percent is justified but not the double digit boost PNM wants.

As for the threat of layoffs, it's never pleasant to see anyone lose their job in the state's stagnant economy, but institutions across the board have taken major employment hits during this ongoing Great Recession. Now PNM is coming up against this new economic reality. It must make itself leaner for the decades ahead and can't exempt itself from the pain so many New Mexicans have felt and are feeling.

Hearing officer Glick is giving the utility a badly needed wake-up call. The comfortable corporate boardroom needs to take heed.

PENCE PLAYS

Pence and Pearce (Journal)
The GOP VP candidate Mike Pence sung the praises of Donald Trump Tuesday before a smallish ABQ crowd of 500 to 600 but the event served as a stern reminder of the deep division the Trump-Pence candidacy has caused in the state:

Gov. Pence faced a chorus of boos from the crowd after he defended Gov. Martinez, who has declined to endorse Trump in his presidential bid. “Let me say Susana Martinez is a dear, dear friend of mine,” Pence said in a response to a question about why Martinez and other Republicans have not endorsed Trump. “She’s a great governor, she’s done a great job for New Mexico,” Pence said, drawing boos from the crowd. Pence had spoken with Martinez just a few hours earlier at the Republican Governors Association summer meeting in Aspen, Colorado.

The R's at Sandia did not look exactly like sheep awaiting their slaughter, but something like that. Trump will very likely lose New Mexico which is now a solidly Blue state for the presidency and other statewide federal offices, but gets purplish during the low turnout, off-year elections when R's are able to score gains.

Given that, it would seem the money Pence raised at an ABQ fund-raiser was more important than the audience events. (After ABQ he appeared in conservative Roswell).

Among the Trump backers on hand for the Sandia event were southern GOP Congressman Steve Pearce, GOP Secretary of State candidate Nora Espinoza and Valencia County Rep. Alonzo Baldonado. Like Susana, Lt Governor Sanchez did not attend and is not endorsing Trump.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Pence Plays Here Today, Johnson To Rally Saturday, WaPo Puts Glow On Berry And Fewer Cops Means More Deadly ABQ Speed Demons 

With states far more important to a GOP presidential victory than New Mexico, maybe the reason VP candidate Mike Pence is making stops in ABQ and Roswell today is to build up  his profile for a 2020 presidential run of his own. Just a thought. . .

Then there's Gary Johnson's second quixotic presidential bid as the Libertarian party candidate. He's rescheduled an earlier ABQ campaign rally. It will now be held this Saturday at 2 p.m at the ABQ Convention Center.  If you smell something funny in the air while you're there, well, you know what that is. . .

It's stuff like this in the WaPo that keep a number of the Alligators speculating that ABQ Mayor Berry will seek a third term next year and forgo a run for the '18 Guv nod:

Next month will be the first anniversary of Albuquerque’s There’s a Better Way program, which hires panhandlers for day jobs beautifying the city. . .A van is dispatched around the city to pick up panhandlers who are interested in working. The job pays $9 an hour. . . At the end of the shift, the participants are offered overnight shelter as needed. In less than a year since its start, the program has given out 932 jobs clearing 69,601 pounds of litter and weeds from 196 city blocks. And more than 100 people have been connected to permanent employment.

Jeremy Reynalds, director of the homeless shelter Joy Junction, takes issue with the WaPo's glowing take on that homeless program, saying the root cause of the homeless problem is mental health and the mayoral administration can't say it's doing much on that front. As for the politics, Berry could just as easily use this good PR in a guv run as well as mayor.

What budget crisis? The news:

Gov. Martinez is in Colorado attending a meeting of the Republican Governors Association. Her office announced she was traveling to Aspen for a summer meeting of the association and will return to New Mexico on Wednesday. Martinez is the chairwoman of the fundraising arm of the Republican Party that focuses on the election of GOP governors across the country. The association is paying for the governor’s travel.

Maybe someone up there can tell her how to cut a deal with the Legislature on how to keep the state afloat as it deals with a budget shortfall upwards of $700 million?

We've told you how the speed demons have taken over the streets and freeways of ABQ as the severe APD staffing shortage continues unabated. And that means this:

. . . The number of fatal crashes in Albuquerque is on the rise. So far this year, there have been 39 fatal crashes. They include 11 deadly motorcycle crashes and eight involving alcohol. In 2015, there were 47 deadly crashes. . . APD said half of the crashes this year are related to speed and pedestrians not using crosswalks. “The contributing factor to a lot of these accidents are excessive speed. If you slow down, people won't get as injured as much, fatalities wouldn't be so high.  APD also said there is a correlation between fatal crashes and citations. Fatal crashes are on the rise while the number of citations being written are decreasing. 

Be careful out there.

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Pence Plays In NM Tuesday But To What end? Plus: Short Takes On The State Budget Crisis, PNM's Complaining And The BernCo DA's Race 

GOP VP candidate Mike Pence Tuesday will hold a public event in Roswell at 8 p.m at the NM Military Institute and an earlier one in ABQ at Sandia Casino at 3:30 p.m. He'll also scoop up some money at a high dollar private fundraiser while in the Duke City.

The pundits across-the-board have NM safe for Hillary. So what the heck is Pence doing here when he could be spending all his time in swing states or red states that are suddenly endangered as Trump's candidacy wavers.  Well, maybe the money is reason enough for a brief mid-August stop. . .

And, perhaps, in  the unlikely event former NM GOP Governor Gary Johnson, now the Libertarian candidate for president, surges past 10 percent in his home state he could endanger Hillary and somehow get the state in play for Trump. That fantasy scenario omits one problem--if polls show this state getting  away from Clinton we'll be flooded with TV ads and get-out-the-vote efforts that would nip it in the bud.

SHORT TAKES 

The mammoth state budget shortfall (upwards of $700 million) has thrown a wet blanket over the political scene. There's not much the candidates can promise when faced with that scenario. . .

One veteran observer at the Roundhouse (over 30 years) says of the budget crisis: "I've never seen anything like it. Both sides are locked down. The Governor says no tax increases and the Senate Democrats say no cuts to public education and the universities which  make up well over half the $6.2 billion General Fund budget. The outline of a compromise is not on the board right now. . ."

PNM is bemoaning the opinion of a top state regulator that the company does not need a rate increase of 14 percent but around 6 percent. The electric company ought to thank its lucky stars. How many folks around here are seeing 6 percent pay hikes (outside of the political cronies of ABQ Mayor Berry on the 11th floor of City Hall)?. . .

There's still no GOP BernCo District Attorney candidate to replace Simon Kubiak who won the June primary but shortly after pulled out of the race, complaining he was not getting financial support. The deadline for the BernCo GOP Central Committee to name a replacement is fast approaching. But it's academic. Dem Raul Torrez appears to be a lock to take the seat in November with or without an opponent. . .

If Trump can't put in a decent NM performance Republican Alligators say appointed NM Supreme Court Justice Judy Nakamura may be one of the chief victims. Nakamura was a popular ABQ judge before being appointed by Gov. Martinez to to fill a high court vacancy. She faces Dem Court of Appeals Judge Michael Vigil. Nakamura's hopes rest in keeping the ABQ metro area in play. If Trump dives deep she will probably join him under water. Not that the odds are high for her to win in the first place. There's been no R elected to the five member court in years and years.

OTHER VOICES

Federal spending in New Mexico is continually demonized, led by Koch brothers financed outlets and radical right talk radio, but Democratic State Senator Pete Campos takes the more mainstream view that often gets muffled by the political carnival barkers:

Strengthening our relationships with the federal government and Mexico. We need to recognize the benefit that we gain from federal spending. New Mexico’s military bases and national laboratories are huge economic engines, and the business spin-offs created have helped us stay afloat. Similarly, improving our relationships with Juarez and Chihuahua have already proved beneficial.

THE BOTTOM LINES

There was no mayoral run-off election in ABQ in 2009, contrary to what we said here Friday. Richard Berry won election in a three way race by getting a plurality of the vote. There was a run-off law on the books in 2013 when Berry won re-election. He far surpassed the 50 percent then required to avoid a run-off between the two top vote getters.

Here's how we blogged the breaking results back on October 6, 2009:

He came to Albuquerque from Nebraska in the early 80's to run track at the University of New Mexico and Tuesday night he showed the state he also knows how to run around the political oval. Republican State Representative Richard "RJ" Berry, 46, captured the mayor's office by several lengths, collecting 43.82 percent of the vote in a three way race and easily eclipsing the 40 percent mark necessary to avoid a runoff election.

Aah, how soon we forget.

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Friday, August 12, 2016

The Perplexing Politics Of ART; Mayor Alienates Core Supporters While Eyeing His Political Future 

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

Why would a Republican mayor alienate so many business-owning Republicans along Central Avenue, even as he floats the idea of running for the 2018 GOP gubernatorial nomination? After all, restaurant owners like Larry and Dorothy Rainosek, owners of the iconic Frontier, are major contributors to Republican causes and candidates. Ditto for Tom Tinnin, owner of a stretch of property near Highland High School and, like the Rainoseks, ardently opposed to ART

No reliable polling has been done on how Berry's core GOP constituency feels about ART but it's not a stretch to say the overwhelming majority are opposed to the $119 million rapid bus project. Remember how they cheered in 2009 when then mayoral candidate Berry blasted Mayor Marty Chavez for proposing a "street car" down the very same stretch of Central where Berry wants to run ART buses? That anti-transit position was key to Berry going on to defeat Chavez. 

Berry's zealousness in completing ART over the strenuous objections of his own political base prompted this newspaper to editorialize that Berry was pushing through an ill-advised project because some of the millions of dollars earned by ART contractors will end up in Berry's future gubernatorial campaign kitty. Or maybe it will be a different kitty?

Berry has so alienated his GOP base that the likely governor run of Lt. Governor John Sanchez and the possible candidacy of southern GOP Congressman Steve Pearce loom even larger for him. For Berry there are three choices: retire from politics, run for governor or seek a third term as mayor.

Retirement does not seem to be in the cards as he is known to have widely talked of his political future. Running for governor is still on the table, but if Berry is serious he may be the only one in the room who sees a clear path to the GOP nomination in the aftermath of ART and the disastrous management of APD. Then there's mayor, a job he has said he would not seek again but that could be his most likely route, opines former ABQ city councilor and 2013 mayoral hopeful Pete Dinelli.

He and other veteran politics watchers say the Democrats, the city council and the media have pretty much given Berry a free ride, enabling him to keep his approval rating above 50 percent. A run for governor could be ill-fated from the start as Berry would be subjected to vigorous attacks from the dominant conservative statewide wing of the GOP but not nearly as much if he sought a third mayoral term.

Berry would no longer get a free ride from the Dems if he reversed course and sought four more years at City Hall, but Democrats are more likely than the R's to split the vote among themselves (as they did in 2009) giving Berry a head start in making a run-off election or securing the 50 percent of the vote necessary to avoid one.

Then there's the matter of money. As he did in 2013, Berry would likely opt to privately finance his campaign, raising north of $1 million for next October's election. Some Democrats would try the same, but it's more difficult for them and a better bet is coming into their sights.

The city council recently approved a measure that, if approved by voters, would nearly double the amount a publicly financed candidate could receive for a mayoral run from $362,000 to $630,000. That's a a fairly large sum that would enable a candidate to compete with Berry's seven figure treasury. The wrinkle is whether the Bernalillo county commission will place the measure on the November ballot. They meet to decide the issue later this month. If they decide they can't find space for it, getting it approved in time for next year's election gets complicated.

There is yet another wrinkle in the politics of ART. If the project survives court challenges and construction begins in September, a year from now both the construction and the mayoral campaign will be fully underway. We'll know whether it caused the predicted traffic chaos and business failures. That outcome could have a large say in determining Berry's political future.

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