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Friday, February 05, 2016

Ditch The Fingerprints And Get A Deal, Guv, Plus: Budget Advances AsHouse Dems Decry All Crime All The Time Session 

Come on, Governor. Even your favorite and most supportive newspaper says ditch the finger-printing debate and sign off on the latest compromise Real ID driver's license bill :

(Fingerprinting is) not required by Real ID, and of the 10 other states or jurisdictions that provide driving privileges to undocumented immigrants, only Utah requires prints. So such a requirement could be added in a later year if it turns out to be necessary, such as if the criminal enterprises that have targeted New Mexico’s current license system continue to target two-year driver cards. That’s not likely, given there is no longer a gold-plated federal ID at stake.

There you go, Guv. Now sign that thing or the paper may stop running those photos of you reading to third graders while the state's finances crumble around you.

Can you feel the excitement? We have a state budget!:

The Republican-led House of Representatives is set to consider a $6.3 billion state budget that boosts money for a handful of initiatives, while cutting higher education and spending down reserves to the lowest level in years. The fiscal year 2017 budget, House Bill 2, passed the House Appropriations and Finance Committee on Thursday by 12-5 vote and is set to be considered Saturday by the full House.

They even swept about $10 million of the unspent hundreds of millions in capital outlay into the budget to help make up for all the revenue lost in the oil and gas crashes. But this is a going nowhere budget, basically flat which keeps the lights on and little more.

The all crime all the time legislative session--coming in the midst of a budget and economic crisis--is getting on the nerves of the minority House Dems. Their leader, Santa Fe Rep. Brian Egolf went public with it Friday:

New Mexican families need us to address our economy and poverty – we cannot solely focus on crime. It is a dereliction of duty for Republicans to focus only on penalty enhancement. We have Republican leadership in the House and in the Governor’s Office who refuse to address the elephant in the room – our economy. That’s why we have introduced the Economic Opportunity Plan. Unemployment is 6.1% statewide, the worst in the country. House Democrats have introduced 144 bills, many that address the endemic poverty that plagues New Mexico.

Whether the House Dems jobs economic plan would reduce the jobless rate to 3.9 percent is highly debatable but shouldn't that be a large part of the debate during a budget session?

THEY SAID IT

Bored with the legislature? You have company. Journal Capitol reporter Dan Boyd tweets on the lawmakers passing the hallway point of the 30 day confab:

House Dem leader Brian Egolf says 14 days is an "eternity" in a legislative session. I thought it only felt that way.

BUCKHORN 

Do the green chile hamburgers at the Buckhorn Tavern taste so good because you are outside Socorro in the middle of nowhere (San Antonio) or are they really that good? Maybe both. A recent stop there had us chatting up famed Buckhorn owner Bobby Olguin and wife Debbie. We joked that despite Bobby being a registered independent, the Buckhorn is still known as the "Democratic" burger stop and Rowena Baca's Owl Cafe across the street is for the R's. (Rowena is an ardent R). But the constant trail of customers doesn't seem to make the distinction. The Buckhorn is a New Mexico destination known around the nation. Is it possible the hand cut french fries are better than the burgers? It is.

Thanks for stopping by this week.

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

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2016

Thursday, February 04, 2016

On The Econ Beat: Santa Fe Cracks Some On Tax Cuts, Reader React On APS Election And Natural Gas Crash Still Here 

The Alligators of La Politica around here are not prone to waving their arms and yelling "I told you so." After all, their job is to get it right. But we admit hearing a few gloating whispers as Santa Fe finally began to throw in the towel on its ill-advised corporate income tax cut that's contributing to the treasury being starved:

(State Senator John Arthur Smith, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee) who three years ago sponsored a sweeping tax-cut package pushed by Gov. Martinez has introduced legislation to delay key parts of the package, including scheduled reductions in the state’s corporate income tax. (Smith) said that he introduced Senate Bill 252 as a “backup” in case the state’s revenue picture takes another turn for the worse. 

With oil prices crashing, gross receipts tax revenue down year over year and the highest unemployment rate in the USA, New Mexico seems within a hair's breadth of plunging into another recession, if it's not already there.

ABQ might actually benefit from some of this as folks scurry to the larger cities to escape the economic dead end in rural areas. But it's no bed of roses around here. The Brookings Institution economists--who belong to our list of "No Bullshit Economists"--report that their Metro Monitor ranks the ABQ metro 99th out of 100 metro areas in the USA for economic growth from 2009 through 2014.

But don't fret. House Speaker Don Tripp and Majority Leader Gentry are going to give us a teen curfew and a "three strikes and you're out" law to deal with this. Geez, fellas, how can we thank you?

FLAT TO DOWN

ABQ voters sucked it up and approved that big APS bond and mill levy this week as well as a bond for CNM that will raise property taxes. In light of this news, voters deserve an extra round of applause:

In Albuquerque, home prices, including distressed sales, increased by 0.6 percent in December 2015 compared with December 2014. On a month-over-month basis, home prices, including distressed sales, decreased by 0.4 percent in December 2015 compared with November 2015.

Speaking of that APS election and our coverage, reader Ken Tabish writes:

Joe, As a retired APS employee and a voting community member of the APS Capital Master Plan Committee, I just wanted to says thanks for laying it out about the Albuquerque business organizations and their lack of support for APS/CNM Bond Election. It was spot on! A good education (and I know APS has work to do) is the bedrock of a strong economy and an opportunity builder for a middle class. This election was about students, educators and communities in which those schools reside. There is a great need in APS to renovate and restore old buildings, provide equity educational environments for all students, to comply with federally mandated requirements and to improve the technology, health, and security of our students. 

And former ABQ City Councilor and onetime mayoral candidate Pete Dinelli also weighed in:

Joe: Once again you reported the tragic truth when you said "The absence of the city's major business groups in promoting the APS bond issues to improve the schools for kids was notable and depressing. The Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Forum and NAIOP were no where on this critical vote. It is as if they resent the city they purport to represent.:

You could have said the same of the Albuquerque Journal about the community it sells papers to. Now you have the Mayor of Albuquerque advocating that the legislature essentially lower Albuquerque's minimum wage, even after voters increased it with a 71% voter approval a few years ago. Mayor Berry is also advocating using the PERA pension fund to bail him out on solving APD's recruitment and retention of sworn police officers. It as if our own Mayor resents people struggling to make a living in the economy he has done absolutely nothing to turn around.

THE GAS CRASH

We hear much about the crash in oil prices and how that is hampering the state budget, but don't forget natural gas which is also a mighty contributor to state revenues and a key industry in the hard hit Four Corners. Gas is in an epic bear market that may have further to go:

Futures prices for natural gas could drop to levels not seen in more than two decades as resilient production levels, hefty U.S. inventories and weaker demand combine to pull prices down to $1.50 or lower.

The population of San Juan County has been shrinking since 2010. The economy in the Farmington area remains undiversified and its destiny hitched to the wild roller coaster ride of oil and natural gas prices.

THE BOTTOM LINES

From NM US Sen. Tom Udall:

Senator Udall invites New Mexico college students interested in gaining legislative or press relations experience to apply for summer internships in his Washington, D.C., office. To apply for an internship, please visit here. The upcoming summer internship session  will last from May 31-July 15. Applications must be submitted by March 15.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here.

c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2016

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

No Tea Party Sippers Here; APS And CNM Bonds Score Big Win, Plus: Highlights From Statewide Candidate Filings 

A healthy win for their big bond issues had officials at the ABQ Public Schools and vocational college CNM breathing easier last night. Voters rejected the pleas of conservative groups like the Rio Grande Foundation and NM Business Coalition to go skeptical on the bonds and gave overwhelming approval to the $575 million APS bond and mill levy package and the $84 million CNM bond. That CNM bond will raise property taxes.

The tea party must have run out of cups because the community wasn't sipping its brew. Voters were sensible not to confuse the mess between the APS Board and its former superintendent with the interests of the community-at-large.

The absence of the city's major business groups in promoting the bond issues to improve the schools for kids was notable and depressing. The ABQ Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Forum and NAIOP, whose leaders of the past would be front and center, were nowhere on this critical vote. It's as if they resent the city they purport to represent. Sad.

The bonds will upgrade dozens of schools and provide hundreds of construction jobs. All three questions pulled over 65% of the vote. There was no big turnout surge with about 31,000 casting ballots. In the 2010 APS/CNM mill levy election about 32,000 voted.

Election results here.

FILING DAY 

Espinoza
Here's what stood out as the statewide candidates came forth and filed paperwork and petitions with the Secretary of State Tuesday to let their intentions known this election year. . .

Dem Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver dodged a bullet when former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil did not file for the position. She said she was considering a run. Oliver will be the lone Dem contender on the ballot and Roswell State Rep. Nora Espinoza will be the lone R. One of them will fill out the term left vacant when Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran resigned because of a campaign finance scandal and served a month in jail.

Oliver ran against Duran in 2014 and was defeated. She is getting a rare second chance and her odds look much better, this being a presidential election cycle when Dems perform better. Oliver also promises Dems she will be a more aggressive campaigner after taking negative TV hits from Duran in the last campaign and failing to respond.

VIGIL VS. NAKAMURA


Judy Nakamura was a popular ABQ District Court Judge when she was recently appointed by Gov. Martinez to fill a vacancy on the State Supreme Court, but she is going to have her hands full keeping the seat when she faces election in November.

The only candidate to file for the Dem nomination was Court of Appeals Judge Michael Vigil. He's currently chief judge of the appeals court. With ties to the north (he's a grad of Santa Fe High) Vigil can be expected to run strong there. He's been on the court since 2003 and has a statewide network of contacts. Also, it has been ages since any Republican has been elected to the five member court.

As for Republican Nakamura, like Vigil she will  have no primary opposition. She is also a respected jurist and a solid vote-getter. She's been a NM judge for nearly 20 years and also has a wide list of contacts. But her party--Republican--and Vigil's edge with Hispanics are major obstacles for her to overcome.

APPEALS SLOT

Vargas
The Dems have also put up a strong candidate as they labor to keep the Court of Appeals seat being vacated by Cynthia Fry. Julie Vargas, an ABQ Old Town native with over 20 years experience as a business attorney, is the sole Dem to file for the post.

Gov. Martinez has been given three names for the Fry seat by the judicial nominating commission. Vargas is one of them. An appointment is expected in the next month. However, the Governor is expected to name one of two Republican attorneys recommended by the commission--Steve French or Ned Fuller. Both filed for the seat Tuesday.

Vargas' ABQ base, ethnic advantage and longtime presence in the legal community give her the front-runner position against either Fuller or French, both of whom have deep wells of support in the GOP.

THE BOTTOM LINES

The long running political radio broadcast "Dateline New Mexico" has a new voice. Veteran newsman Tom Trowbridge takes over from the retiring Mark Bentley.

Dateline began decades ago under famed newsman and commentator Ernie Mills. The program follows state politics from Santa Fe and airs every weekday on stations across the state, including KANW 89.1 at 8:05 a.m. and KSFR 101.1 FM at 3:55 p.m. . .

In a first draft Tuesday, we blogged that former ABQ State Rep. Bennie Aragon, who died this week, was elected House Majority Leader. He was House Majority Whip.

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Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Some Iowa Takeaways, Election Day In ABQ, Filing Day For Statewide Candidates Today, Early Childhood Amendment Hit In House And Former House Majority Whip Passes 

Some takeaways from the Iowa caucuses last night. New Mexico Hillary supporters had to be disappointed as she failed to put away Bernie Sanders and that raised serious questions about her national strength. . . NM establishment Republicans are breathing a bit easier now that Marco Rubio flexed some Iowa muscle and gave himself a plausible path to the GOP nomination. He is now their hope to avoid the dreaded prospect of a Cruz or Trump nomination. . .

State Hispanics had cause to be dumbfounded. The GOP had two Hispanic Republicans at the top of the Iowa field. You would have thought such an historic first would have happened on the Dem side. . . If the November match-up is Clinton vs. Rubio, Clinton will be favored here but the R's will make at least an initial effort because of the ethnic factor. . .

It's an election day in ABQ, with the big $575 million bond issue and mill levy for the ABQ Public Schools and one totaling $84 million for CNM. Turnout is traditionally just several percent of registered voters but we could get more this time. There has been concern that yet another high-profile controversy over an APS superintendent could provoke a protest vote against the APS bond issue, even though the bonds will not raise taxes and defeat of the bonds would punish the students not the adults who presided over that mess. Only one APS bond election has been rejected in recent years. We expect this one to pass as well but the brouhaha over not having enough voting sites doesn't help. We'll be voting yes.

As for CNM, its $84 million bond issue would raise taxes and you can expect that to mean more "no" votes as Tea Party activists urge its defeat. Still, the vocational school is popular and fills a vital niche. The fact that CNM is asking for a tax increase was downplayed by the administration, further enraging the opponents. The school might want to do a brush-up on their PR before they next go before the public. We'll be voting yes.

FILING DAY TODAY 

Rep. Lujan
It's one of those unusual election years when statewide races are few and far between, only three. Candidates for Secretary of State, one Supreme Court seat and a slot on the Court of Appeals will file petition signatures and other paperwork today to make their tuns officials. Also filing with the SOS today will be contenders for the state's three US House seats.

On those congressional seats, all three incumbents are seeking re-election and all three are positioned for victory in the June primary and November general election. It has been many a moon since any incumbent congressional representative lost their seat. Their fund-raising and name ID advantage has only grown. 

In the northern district, three Republicans are seeking the right to take on Dem US Congressman Ben Ray Lujan. He is heavily favored to take a fifth two year term. Lujan has made a national splash by getting named head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. 

In the ABQ area district, Dem Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham is seeking a third two year term and should have no major trouble securing it. The district was once seen as a possible swing district but the national Republicans have given up on it for now. There is still noise over Grisham seeking the 2018 Dem gubernatorial nomination, raising the possibility of an open ABQ congressional seat that year. 

Down south, veteran GOP US Congressman Steve Pearce is well-positioned. He continues to travel the sprawling district extensively. The district has a high percentage of Hispanic voters, giving the Dems hope to take the seat someday but unlike 2014, this year the national Dems will not target the race.

ALL CRIME

At the all crime all the time legislative session, there was some time devoted to a non cops and robbers issue. As expected, a House committee in the GOP controlled chamber rejected a proposed constitutional amendment at would take a small percentage of the state's $15 billion Land Grant Permanent School find and devote it to very early childhood education. Of course, it could also be seen as an anti-crime measure because it's aimed at brain development in infants and toddlers, but unless you can lock it up and throw away the key the GOP is not interested. But this is a long ball game. The amendment, favored strongly in the polls, will be back.

SPONSORED CONTENT

A 21st century education is the cornerstone for strong communities and a strong economy. On February 2, 2016, your vote of YES! in the upcoming Mill Levy and School Bond election provides this cornerstone for our children and for our city. $575 million dollars will be raised by a vote of YES! and used to cover existing and future costs for transportation, school renovations and restorations, new technologies, and health, safety and security infrastructure. Your YES! vote makes this possible. With your vote your communities, your schools, and your economy are stronger. The APS election is today.
Click here for voting locations.

BENNIE ARAGON


A political power player of yore has passed away. Former ABQ westside Democratic State Representative Bennie Aragón lost his battle with cancer Monday. He served in the House from '67 to '79 where his colleagues chose the feisty lawmaker as House Majority Whip. His family said besides being a former state representative, he was a soldier in the US Army and a Golden Gloves Champion. He and his wife Josie had been married for 64 years.

Aragón left the House to take a post with then-Gov. Bruce King. His son Robert was named to replace him. His daughter Margaret Aragón was the first lady of ABQ while married to former Mayor Marty Chavez. His relatives also include former State Senate Majority Leader Manny Aragón.

In his later years Aragón worked for the state fair and was engaged in the restaurant business.

Bennie Aragón was a fierce advocate for his district. That reputation was honored just last year when Carlos Rey Park was renamed for him. He was 85.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2016

Monday, February 01, 2016

More On The "All Crime All The Time" Legislative Session; Law Enforcement Takes Some Hits, Plus: Senate Leader Sanchez Dons Funeral Garb; GOP House Bills To Be Buried, And: Replacement Eyed For Prominent GOP State Senator 

The "all crime all the time" crowd in Santa Fe is showering us with "lock them up and throw away the key" legislation but they might want to look at this. When it comes to paying our judges, New Mexico ranks last or nearly dead last at every level. That might be kind of relevant as the crime bills would put increased responsibility on the courts as well as the jails. That would cost money that the House R's are not talking about. . .

Not that many of the crime bills are going to get to the Governor's desk. Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez was spotted in his traditional formal funeral clothes over the weekend and carrying a shovel in hand. He was preparing to bury dozens of bills from GOP House legislators. They will be the official mourners at the funeral and their mournful wails promise to fill the Roundhouse for the remaining days of the legislative session. Think of the Wailing Wall. . .

CRIME BLAME

While Santa Fe and the media are busy blaming the judicial system for the state's crime mess, it's clear that law enforcement shares blame, too. How about the astounding news that federal drug agents were buying heroin and guns from the criminal who allegedly killed APD officer Daniel Webster. They could have arrested the guy. Instead, a couple of weeks after the drug buys he kills Webster. For this one we call in retired APD Seargent Dan Klein:

The revelation that the violent career criminal who murdered Officer Webster was selling drugs and a gun to ATF agents days before he murdered Webster raises tough questions  for law enforcement. What is more important, taking a violent career criminal off the streets as soon as you have charges? Or do you use that criminal to work yourself up to a bigger crook? And who is making that decision? Has Albuquerque become a dumping ground for violent career criminals because law enforcement is purposely not taking them off the streets? What is the Department of Justice / Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms role? Are we putting citizens and beat cops at risk by not removing these criminals as soon as we have charges against them? The DOJ needs to answer these questions.

And how about tthat outburst of righteous indignation by State Police Chief Pete Kassetas when former ABQ City Councilor Pete Dinelli testified in Santa Fe against the notorious double-dipping bill being pushed by ABQ Mayor Berry. Dinell said the "return to work" bill is not needed by law enforcement because, for example, the State Police Dept. is fully staffed. Kassetas exploded:

How dare you say my agency is 100 percent filled!”

The chief's contention was easily debunked by the ABQ Free Press:

In November, the state police responded to ABQ Free Press questions regarding its staffing levels. At the time, the department said it was budgeted for 678 officers and that it had 642 on staff. The department also said that it had 36 cadets in the state’s Law Enforcement Training Academy and that they would graduate in December. Those cadets did indeed graduate in December. Add 642 and 36 and what do you get … 678!

Kassetas has won praise for his performance as chief but he might want to stick to the law. When he made the wrong political play and ran under the skirts of Berry-Martinez he fell victim to an Alligator strike. We hope you heal quickly, Chief. (And sorry, Mayor Berry, your double-dipping bill is as dead as Deming on a Sunday night.)

WHITE FOR WILSON

A legislative retirement of note appears to be around the corner. ABQ area GOP State Senator Sue Wilson Beffort is set to turn in her office keys at the end of the year and former ABQ GOP State Rep. Jim White hopes to pick them up.

BernCo GOP Chairman Frank Ruvolo is putting out the word for White, saying White served in the House from 2009 to 2014 and served 26 years in the Air Force, including Vietnam combat.

Beffort, a popular lawmaker on both sides of the aisle and a successful small businesswoman in employment consulting, came to the Senate in 1997. She is the ranking GOP member on the powerful Senate Finance Committee. Her late husband, Steve Beffort, was a cabinet secretary under former Gov. Gary Johnson.

Beffort, 69, became a major player in the state GOP by 2006, the year she won the party's nomination for lieutenant governor. She ran as the running mate of John Dendahl. The pair met with defeat at the hands of Dem Gov. Richardson and Lt. Governor Denish.

By State Senate standards Beffort is merely middle-aged. From what anyone can tell, 91 year old State Senator John Pinto is prepping for yet another run this year and 83 year old Senate Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen is also expect to seek re-election.

All 112 legislative seats are up for election this November. The primary election is in June.

SANTA FE CAN KICKING

Santa Fe city government grew too big as the city frolicked like it was 1999. That was indeed a very good year as tourism boomed then and for a number of years after. But the big spending tourists are gone and the Santa Fe jobs bleed continues. Caterpillar just laid off 50 workers and state government austerity is keeping in check the number of state employees in the city.

Now City Councilor Carmichael Dominguez wants to raise an assortment of taxes to plug the huge $15 million city deficit and prevent any layoffs of city workers. He's right to fret over the personal pain but to tax the many to spare the pain of a few shirks the responsibility Dominguez and Mayor Javier Gonzales have to own up to the grave errors of the past and put Santa Fe on the right fiscal path. That means making painful but needed personnel decisions--not kicking the can into the taxpayers corner.

SPONSORED CONTENT

A 21st century education is the cornerstone for strong communities and a strong economy. On February 2, 2016, your vote of YES! in the upcoming Mill Levy and School Bond election provides this cornerstone for our children and for our city. $575 million dollars will be raised by a vote of YES! and used to cover existing and future costs for transportation, school renovations and restorations, new technologies, and health, safety and security infrastructure. Your YES! vote makes this possible. With your vote your communities, your schools, and your economy are stronger. The APS election is tomorrow. 

Click here for voting locations.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2016

Friday, January 29, 2016

A Friday Edition Of Vox Populi 

The readers write. First up is George Richmond:

The Spaceport needs more operating funds. What for? Where are the tenants or clients? And if the state budget is tight, let's sell the Spaceport. Yes, sell the Spaceport.  Put out a request for proposals and then start the auction. Since there are around 10 or so existing state launch sites, most of which are active, the NM Spaceport really has no clients and no mission--unless being a site for commercials for auto companies is a "mission."

At least one state senator has advocated selling the Spaceport.

Richard de Uriarte, the former press secretary to former Governor Jerry Apodaca who was elected to a four year term in 1974, writes from Phoenix:
Joe, This video was made for the Hispanic Roundtable, which honored Jerry Apodaca this week in Santa Fe. The narrator is his son Jeff, who works for Entravision in the Mountain States region and is a potential candidate for governor of New Mexico in 2018. Or so I am told. Seeing us all that young is. . .well ... unnerving.

Former Governor Apodaca is 81 and lives in Santa Fe.

Stephanie DuBois writes of the suggestion that members of the often troubled Public Regulation Commission be appointed instead of elected:

Joe, I don’t ever think it is a good idea to take power away from the people by having a board that is elected by the people and give all the power to one individual, say like a Governor. That resembles a dictatorship. The PRC is there to regulate public utilities and I believe it should stay elected by the people who pay the bills. 

DRIVER'S LICENSES FOREVER

ABQ Attorney Jeff Baker writes:

A driver’s privilege card (Republican House Bill 99 that passed the House this week) requires applicants for these cards--which would be good for only one year--to be fingerprinted. When I renew my driver’s license, which is good for 8 years, all I have to do is provide a current photo.

Getting the balance right between freedom and security is challenging, but it seems as if Governor Martinez and the House Republicans want more than security. The road they are traveling does not lead to Ronald Reagan’s “shining city upon a hill.” The road they are following leads to a much darker place.

WEIRD POLITICS

Bob Gurule, who was a top administrator for the city of Albuquerque, writes:

Weird politics nowadays!  ABQ Police Chief Eden speaks to the Economic Forum and gets a standing ovation. Morale at APD is worse than over and the city's solution is to bring back police officers and raid our pension fund, which only worsen the morale for obvious reasons.

BERRY'S BUSES

Blogging with Berry
Reader Antonio Lopez responds to comments made here by former ABQ Mayor Marty Chavez last week regarding the proposed ABQ Rapid Transit plan for Central Ave:

I'm sorry to hear the former mayor is selling our future short by trying to undercut a project he once supported. The federal studies clearly show the link between reliable rapid transit and sustainable economic growth in a project that would bring $80 million in federal funds and countless jobs to our double-dipped recession victim of an economy.

Light rail would be wonderful but New Mexico cannot afford it. Neither can ABQ. It's in appropriate for him to sit on the sideline like a DC fat cat he has become and take cheap shots at the likes of City Councilor Pat Davis and the current mayor who are trying to work together for the good of ABQ.

Reader Nat Chakeres writes:

I want to respond to Mayor Chavez's comments about street cars and light rail. There's a big difference between the two. In Atlanta, a streetcar was pushed through and touted as an engine of economic development. It turned out to be an extravagant boondoggle that opened years behind schedule. Construction dragged on for so long that it killed off the businesses along the route that it was supposed to help. The businesses along Central Avenue in ABQ don't need years of orange cones and construction headaches.

A light rail along the lines of Dallas, Phoenix, Denver, and Seattle is a different beast and could actually improve the livability of the city, but only if it's designed to relieve congestion by connecting to the West Side, Rio Rancho, and the airport. Those systems aren't cheap, though, and building one would require a lot of money from the feds.

OPIATE EPIDEMIC

Reader Ken Tabish writes:

I wanted to pass on a great read on the Opiate/Black Tar Heroin epidemic that is impacting New Mexico and the US. I highly recommend "Dreamland” by Sam Quinones, which follows the connection between the prescription drug OxyContin and black tar heroin. The author highlights its impact on Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Chimayo and the Espanola Valley. If anyone has an interest on how heroin and opiate usage is impacting our youth, then this is a must read. Also, it's interesting that there is no talk about drug intervention/treatment programs in this legislative session when it will be devoted to “crime intervention/prevention.”

NOT A RAINY DAY FUND

Reader Kristin Haase, the former State Land Office Assistant Commissioner for Communication during the administration of Republican Pat Lyons, writes:

Hi Joe, As you know, the Land Grant Permanent Fund is an endowment created by our state’s founding fathers to help support public schools, seven universities, the New Mexico Military Institute, the School for the Deaf, the School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and a handful of other vital public institutions, in perpetuity – that means forever. It is not a “rainy day fund" and tapping into it to solve the state’s financial crisis will cripple its ability to fund public education for generations to come. Who gets what is based on a funding formula, but public schools receive 95 percent of the distribution.

The stability of the fund is subject to the world economy. When the market tanked the LGPF lost $3 billion in one year. Plus, all new money that flows into the LGPF comes almost entirely from the oil and gas industry – need I say more? When the integrity of the fund is so badly eroded - which will happen - the burden to fill the gap will fall on all of us. The powers that be need to put on their thinking caps and find another solution.

We disagree, but thanks for writing, Kristin.

BOOSTING PATTY

A fan of Dem State Rep. Patty Lundstrom of Gallup writes:

If the Dems should win back the House this year there will be big changes next legislative session. There would be new committee chair for the powerful House Appropriations Committee. The likely heir, Rep. Lucky Varela, is retiring, leaving a new breed of leader in Patty Lundstrom. Patty has served 15 years on House Appropriations and as Vice Chair for 6 of those years. She would likely be the next Democratic chair in 2017. She is the most knowledgeable and is perhaps the one person in the House that understands the budget process. There would be many other changes  if the Dems regain the House but this would be a big one.

Meantime, a reader writes of the legislative session:

What initiative does the Governor have in this legislative session to address the most critical needs of our state: child poverty, drug addiction, education.....? Instead it is all about fighting crime, with no additional resources, or decreased resources, to get it done. Does she not understand all these problems are the root cause of crime? She is pretending to "fix" a problem that she is complicit in creating. Is the public so stupid as not to appreciate this? She thinks they are. I hope not!

Thanks for stopping by this week.

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 2016

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The State Budget Crashes Along With Oil; Years Of Tax Cutting Fever Come Home To Roost, Also: NM Recession Watch As Tax Collections Drop Across Board 

The Tax Cutters
What crashed the state budget? Simple. Crashing energy prices have cost the treasury millions in royalties and years of overzealous tax-cutting in Santa Fe.

The state's economy has been woefully mismanaged by both Democrats and Republicans and culminated Wednesday with the report that there will be only $30 million in new revenue for the next budget year that starts July 1 (not that anyone really believes even that token amount will come through).

In fact, there's a decent chance we will fall below the current $6.2 billion budget. The budget that was going to be $6.5 billion will now at best be the flat $6.2 billion. That's a real math problem considering that you need millions for increased Medicaid expenses alone. Says Gallup Dem Senator George Munoz:

I think when all is said and done, we’re going to have a deficit.


Susana says the state is on "firm fiscal ground." Well,  maybe if you consider quick sand solid terra firma.

The state's cash reserves will cover the most urgent shortfalls but there could be real pain for real people because of this budget bomb. The Santa Fe paper reports reserves are expected to dwindle from over $700 million last year to $379 million when the July 1 budget year starts. (The Journal says it's $477 million. It adds that the difference in cash reserve levels are proposed supplemental appropriations and that both numbers are technically correct.).

That's a reserve of 6.1 percent of the general fund and at a level that even we "big spenders" don't want to see drop too much more.

It's not only the oil bear causing the chaos but a drop in gross receipts tax collections across the board, a development that has put us in full-blown recession watch. We'll look for any thoughts on that from our list of No Bullshit Economists--Dr. Chris Erickson and Dr. Jim Peach at NMSU, ABQ's Dr. Kelly O'Donnell and the economists at the Brookings Institution.

Meanwhile, the structural problems that face the state are being ignored at the legislative session in favor of a 30 day cops and robber sitcom. That needs to be cancelled because once again, "It's the economy stupid."

Gov. Richardson slashed personal income taxes and was followed by Gov. Martinez wielding the knife on corporate taxes, all approved by compliant legislative Democrats. And both sides colluded to give so many convoluted tax credits and exemptions that no one seems to know how much they cost. And then they repeatedly appropriate money for capital outlay projects and leave hundreds of millions of it unspent. Mismanagement or malpractice?

It's not like state government is bloated out of control. We've had years of anemic state budgets and an austere Republican Governor and legislative leadership see to that. If we are going to do more than keep the lights on Santa Fe is going to have to talk about raising revenue. We know that these days that's like yelling the F word in church but here we go. . .

---The Legislature will have to start looking at hundreds of millions of  unspent capital outlay to shore up the general budget and provide breathing room. Las Cruces area State Sen. Joe Cervantes Wednesday introduced legislation that sweeps capital outlay authorized before 2013 and gone unspent into the general fund. He says it will compel legislators and local governments to evaluate old projects and ideally put that money to work right away with resulting jobs and a short term stimulus or risk having it used to solve the budget shortfall.

---The Republican-controlled House and GOP Governor would rather sit through a four hour Bernie Sanders speech than consider a slight roll back in the big personal and corporate income tax cuts but that's what they need to do.

---Maybe the R's, who live and die by a no tax increase pledge, could fade the heat by repealing some of the myriad tax credits and exemptions?

We've been to this movie before. Back in the 80's we had the Big Mac tax cut which was followed by a crash in energy prices which caused the Legislature to repeal the cut. But that was when economic policy was flexible. Today it's cemented in ideology, mainly by the radical Republicans but with the aid of fearful Democrats who also have made any mention of raising revenue politically poisonous.

There are many more chickens that will be coming home to roost from the ongoing transformational changes we are seeing in this state's economy. This budget bomb is only one.

DRIVER'S LICENSES FOREVER

It may just go on forever. Last night, as expected, the state House approved driver privilege cards for undocumented New Mexicans, not the restricted licenses Dems favor. The bill goes to the Senate. A deal in the final days? It's looking dim. Driver's licenses forever!

POURING DOWN

Veteran NM journalist Janet Blair writes:

The conservatives keep talking about how they need all those billions in the state's Land Grant Permanent Fund for a “rainy day.” Geez, Joe---with our kids highest in poverty, etc., the litany of economic downpours seems to be unrelenting! If this isn’t a rainy day, what the hell would be? Cut lose with the capital money!! Dip into the Permanent Fund for our kids! Where are real leaders in this state? Makes me sick.

As for Janet asking where the real leaders are, it seems they left the building with Elvis.

As always, we welcome your comments, analysis, opinions and expressions of existential angst.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Another Body Slam For NM As Jobless Rate Remains Highest In Nation; Wage Stagnation Continues, Plus: NM Senators Point To Long-Term Way Out Of The Economic Funk, And: R's Field BernCo DA Contender 

Another body slam for New Mexico as our unemployment rate in December came in at 6.7%, making it the highest in the nation for the second month running. The state reports the crash in oil prices has, as expected, led to a crash in energy jobs:

Mining (oil, gas etc.) contracted by 2,600 jobs, or 9.2 percent, in December. Growth has been negative since May.

As has been true since the economy went south over five years ago, it is jobs held by the non-college educated portion of the workforce that is feeling the most pain. Take a look:

Construction was down 1,500 jobs, or 3.5 percent. Similarly, transportation, warehousing, and utilities was down 5.1 percent, representing a loss of 1,300 jobs. Retail trade posted a loss of 900 jobs, or 0.9 percent. Manufacturing lost 700 jobs, representing a decline of 2.5 percent.

That trend in losing working class jobs continued when nearly 300 call center staffers were let go when Sprint in Rio Rancho this month announced it was closing.

In the short-term state lawmakers can help by tapping into some of the hundreds of millions of unspent capital outlay dollars that are gathering dust, according to the state auditor. That would spark construction activity.

The state says the generally low-paying leisure and hospitality industry continues to score big gains.

MORE BIZ BEAT

Not only does NM have the highest unemployment rate in the USA report, there's this:

 Wages are low and stagnant: The October 2015 average weekly wage of $709 was the third lowest in the country. Wages fell 0.7% between October 2014 and October 2015, the seventh-worst change.

Again that takes you back to all those waitress and waiter jobs being created here, but not  the higher-paying variety. Not that that's all bad. For a state with a meagerly educated workforce, they can be a lifesaver. And the Martinez administration and the Legislature have stepped up.  Spending on advertising and promotion went from $2.5 million in FY11 to $9.1 million in FY 16.

SIMON SAYS

Kubiak
The R's haven't had a Bernalillo County District attorney since the 1990's but attorney Simon Kubiak will try to change that this year. He says he will seek the GOP nomination for the DA slot. And he's doing it with an interesting Libertarian twist. He says, if elected, the office will not go after recreational users of marijuana or prostitution cases, but instead husband resources to take on more serious crimes. That sounds new, but one of our Legal Beagles counters with this:

The DA's office hasn't prosecuted misdemeanor marijuana cases for 20 years. Those are police officer prosecutions. The same for prostitution. Kubiak's plans aren't really anything new. Just like the Republicans to sell you something you already had--and might not have known it.

Well, that's a taste of what Simon will receive in the general election. He most recently challenged Dem BernCo County Commissioner Debbie O'Malley but lost in the heavy Dem district.

Dem DA candidates so far are Ed Perea and Raul Torrez. They will duel out in the June primary. Kubiak, 41, a graduate of Valley High, will be the decided underdog but remember back in the day when R's got elected regularly to the DA post?

DA Kari Brandenburg has not made a formal statement on re-election plans. She has held the office since 2001.

IT'S LONG BALL

Senators Udall & Heinrich
The long term challenge the state faces in pulling itself out of second-world status is not lost on NM Senators Udall and Heinrich. On the opening day of the current legislative session they again urged the lawmakers to approve a constitutional amendment that would ask voters to use a small portion of the state's nearly $15 billion Land Grant Permanent School Fund for very early childhood education:

. . .  A disproportionately high number of New Mexico's children tragically and unfairly experience hunger, poverty and poor health, Udall and Heinrich wrote. New Mexico is at a critical juncture. The economy is stalled, families are struggling, and more needs to be done to ensure our children are in the best possible position to succeed later in life.. . Education provides children with an opportunity to improve their own lives and the lives of their families. Unfortunately, our education system is also failing. New Mexico ranked 49th in education in a recent national report, yet study after study shows that children who have access to high-quality child care and pre-kindergarten programs are more likely to succeed in later grades, leading to higher graduation rates and providing a path to the middle class. We owe it to our children and our economy to make smart investments in effective early childhood programs that we know can help families break the cycle of poverty. Nothing is more important for our state at this time than improving the well-being of our children," the senators concluded. If we fail at this, we fail at everything else, including long-term economic progress. 


Critics of the Senators claim taking money from the immense fund is a "raid" that will harm future generations. Hmm. What would the generations from the 1950's and 60's think of New Mexico having the worst childhood poverty in the USA and ranking nearly last in education? Is that the future they envisioned?

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Bring On The Coalition: The Way Out Of The Driver's License Mess Is Obvious But Not Easy, Plus: ABQ Crime Beat And Spaceport Counterpoint; Problems Persist 

Rep. Pacheco
ABQ GOP State Rep. Paul Pacheco argues that he has worked hard to get Gov. Martinez to compromise on driver's licenses for undocumented New Mexicans and it's time to approve "driving privilege cards" for the undocumented but no licenses.  But Pacheco conveniently forgets that a majority of Republicans in the state Senate--11 of them--voted last year for another compromise that Democrats also supported. It sailed through the Senate but was buried in the GOP-controlled House. That measure allowed the undocumented to have licenses (not cards) but ones that would not comply with federal Real ID requirements.

The way out is simple, if not realistic, given the lockstep nature of the House Republicans. If only three of them joined the 33 House Dems in supporting a two-tiered license system we would have a bill on the way to the Governor. Would she sign such a compromise that had at least some bipartisan support in each chamber? She'd have a hard time saying no, given the level of frustration over the long-running dispute.

It's how the federal government got a budget recently--some R's in the House majority voted with the Dems--leaving the radical Republicans in the dust. The question is if anyone has the guts in that House GOP caucus in Santa Fe to do the same?

How about you, Rep. Dianne Hamilton? If the speculation is true that you're retiring from the House, you can sign up for the compromise. Now we're down to two. Since you're negotiation skills with the Governor proved somewhat fruitful, Rep. Pacheco, we leave it to you to round up two more R's and put this issue behind New Mexicans once and for all. (Or maybe just one more R, if you go for the coalition compromise).

THE CRIME BEAT

A reader writes of the spike in the number of homeowners shooting and killing criminal suspects in their homes:

It should come as no surprise that Albuquerque citizens are arming themselves and that self-defense shootings have increased dramatically. Since Mayor Berry was first elected in 2009 Albuquerque’s violent and property crime rates have increased by 14%. In 2015, murders spiked by 53% with citizens literally being killed in their driveways or in their homes. Do not expect things to improve any time soon with people choosing to protect themselves with their guns instead of calling 911 for the police. APD averages 15 minutes to dispatch a police officer to a 911 emergency call. By the time a police officer arrives at a scene after you call for 911 for help, you just may be seriously injured or dead. APD has only 404 sworn officers assigned to the field services responding to 69,000 priority one 911 emergency calls a year. Expect things to only get worse thanks to Berry and APD Chief Eden's mismanagement of a once great police department.

THE SPACEPORT BLUES

Christine Anderson
Reader Brent Eastwood is a political scientist specializing in international affairs who is an avid follower of the NM Spaceport. He writes again from DC with the latest developments and his reaction:

Joe: If you remember my last complaint, that the NM Spaceport America website featured untruths, misleading statements and flat-out whoppers, well, here we go again.

Claim One: “We are the home to Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo.”

Not according to Virgin head Richard Branson. Uh, there’s been a change of plans. Again.

Sir Richard said on January 4, 2016, that he wants to support a new bid to become the main tenant of a Spaceport in the United Kingdom. Yes, the British Government is building a new spaceport in England and Branson wants to “operate its SpaceShipTwo suborbital vehicle from a future British spaceport.”

So either the spacecraft stay in Mojave, California or they get shipped to England, and New Mexico never sees them launch.

One week later, NM Spaceport Executive Director Christine Anderson said that Branson’s remarks about the British Spaceport were “simply a slip of the tongue.” http://spaceportamerica.com/press-release/spaceport-america-q-a-with-christine-anderson/

I guess we are to conclude that this was a Freudian slip. Anderson said they were asking for a “correction to the news article,” even though it was covered in numerous media outlets and all indications were that Branson was indeed sincere about his yearnings to launch from England. This “blame the journalist” charade is getting kind of old, don’t you think?

Claim Two: “We are also home to SpaceX’s Falcon 9R.”

Still misleading and inaccurate; still not corrected.

If and it’s a big If, if, SpaceX ever lands one of its “recycled” rocket boosters on one of the floating barge /drone ships that it is operating, the NM Spaceport will get to “test” the recovered booster in New Mexico. The only problem is that SpaceX has failed to land the booster successfully on any of its floating barges. Unfortunately, they failed the mission again on a barge in the Pacific Ocean (Sunday the 17th). The “hard landing broke the landing leg,” according to SpaceX’s Elon Musk. So again, we wait and wait for another big-name pseudo-tenant to get its act together.

Claim Three: “Give us another $2 million and we will be build the critical and essential southern access road.”

Still no construction on this “road to nowhere,” and according to Anderson, the project is still not out to bid! Here is her latest “dog ate my homework” explanation…

Doña Ana County road engineers have completed the road design and it has been submitted to the BLM. The draft Environmental Assessment is being prepared by Spaceport America environmental contractors and should be delivered to the BLM on Jan. 8. The EA will be made public for a 30-day review on the BLM’s website. If all goes smoothly, it is expected DAC can release the Request for Proposals in mid-May with an award in July 2016.

Huh? It’s the usual stuff. Lots of acronyms and bureaucratese, lots of promises, lots of excuses, lots of “trust me” and zero results.

Claim Four: “Just give us more money.”

Yep you guessed it. She wants more money because there is a shortfall in her operating budget. She’s asking for another $2.8 million from the legislature this session. Anderson is calling this a “bridge” year. That’s right. Another bridge year until the Virgin spacecraft fly. She promises that this will happen in 2018. I think this qualifies the whole project as a “bridge to nowhere.”

The arguments of Spaceport Director Anderson can be found here.

UNPRECEDENTED

Reader Steve Cobble writes from DC in reaction to our calling the state's loss of population for two years in a row "unprecedented":

Joe, You're right about the unprecedented nature of New Mexico's population exodus. The last time the Land of Enchantment lost population that badly was probably when the Pueblo Revolt threw the Spanish out in 1680! 

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Monday, January 25, 2016

Another Bear Raid With More Layoffs Strikes The Metro And Energy Fields, Plus: Smith And Ingle; Can They Hold Off The Radical R's? And: Gay Makes Susana Sad With 3rd Grade Reversal 

Hold on to your Monday hats. Here comes the state's real deal business coverage plus the most insightful coverage of the shennanigans in Santa Fe. In other words, the stuff you won't get anywhere else. . .

The Bear is back yet again, signaling that 2016 will be another turbulent and troubled year for the state economy.

The Bear just didn't conduct a raid on the pantry in Rio Rancho, it trashed the entire kitchen, with Sprint laying off its entire call center work force of nearly 400. For some perspective, that's nearly one percent of the city's entire 42,000 workforce gone with one strike of the paw. And with continued downsizing at computer chip maker Intel expected in the months ahead, the City of Vision's economic black eye could get even darker.

Sprint was a morale breaker, coming  as it did on the heels of the news that in November the state had the highest unemployment in the USA. It followed the more predictable bear raids on the state's energy fields, with oil giant Schlumberger announcing an unspecified number of layoffs in Hobbs. Then there was word out of Carlsbad that the commodities depression is hammering the potash industry causing 35 layoffs there.

UNPRECEDENTED

One of our readers said our use of the term "unprecedented" in describing the state's loss of population in our post WWII history needs to be amended because way back in 1980 the state lost population for a year. Okay, but now we have two years of losing population and we may be headed for a third. As we've said the economic transformation going on around here is unprecedented.

While the Bear continues its ravaging ways, don't look to Santa Fe for any comfort. They're playing cops and robbers up there for 30 days, seemingly oblivious to the ongoing downsizing of the economy and the subsequent lower quality of life for many of their constituents.

Hey, maybe the state's economic development planners will offer incentives to U-Haul and Bekins so they can lower the rates for all the folks who want to get the hell out of here.

SO POLARIZED

Ingle & Smith
The state of this state's polarized, drifting and going nowhere politics is no better symbolized than by the never-ending squabble over driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. Here you have the spectacle of two of the most respected guys around the Roundhouse--GOP State Senator Stuart Ingle and Dem Senator John Arthur  "Dr. No" Smith--treated like ants at a picnic by the radical House Republicans and their misguided acolytes in the business community.

Their compromise Smith-Ingle bill offering a two-tiered license plan to comply with federal Real ID rules passed the Senate last year with solid bipartisan support only to founder in a House that is under the thumb of the Governor's political machine. It again seems determined to not solve the problem but use it for political advantage at the November election.

The radical R's say Smith-Ingle does not comply with what the Feds want but the Feds have said no such thing.

There was hope that low-energy but seemingly reasonable House Speaker Don Tripp and his politically astute wife and GOP National Committeewoman Rosie Tripp--could tear themselves away from the skirts of the machine and grease the skids for that Senate compromise. But the Tripps seem more ready for the rocking chair than for a rumble.

Still, Smith and Ingle labor on:

“Stu and I are talking, and we’re going to try to get something through,” Smith said.

Forge on, fellas. The only advice we can offer you as this Governor continues to stymie compromise comes from an an old love song:

Look somewhere above her
Pretend you don't love her
Pretend you don't see her at all

GAY'S GOT GAME

Sen. Kernan
GOP State Senator Gay Kernan is sure not seeing Martinez at all. In yet another sign of this Governor's increasing weakness in the post-pizza party era, Kernan is dropping her longtime sponsorship of the bill to hold back third graders who don't meet certain reading standers. Kernan, a retired teacher, says the facts from other states where retention has been adopted dispute its effectiveness.

Maybe the Governor will agree with Gay and thank her for that? Or maybe Gay will find out her license plate has been run through NCIC, her dating habits from college examined and the school she used to work at terrorized with budget cuts.

Yeah, Gay, it can get creepy fast when you take on this bunch.

NOISE FROM NORA

GOP Roswell State Rep. Nora Espinoza appears to be readying an exit from the Roundhouse and a run for secretary of state. A conservative newsletter reports:

(Reader) John sends a petition for Nora Espinoza who is seeking signatures to be placed on the ballot for Secretary of State. John writes, "If you are so inclined [to gather signatures] -- filing deadline is 2 February -- and if you have Republican friends, please get their signatures as well. Nora is a sitting State Representative from Chavez County, a naturalized (Panamian born) US citizen, successful business woman."

Nora has great hats but when it comes to her getting elected SOS it's all hat and no cattle. Probable Dem nominee Magie Toulouse Oliver should have no problem lassoing her.

Often imitated but never duplicated. . .

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