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Friday, February 12, 2016

The Bottom Falls Out Of The State Budget; It's Mostly Oil But There's More To Blame Than That, Plus: More News, Comment And Finger-Pointing Over The Big Legislative Story On A Fiery Friday Blog 

Sen. Smith
Jaw dropping numbers over the state's dour financial outlook now have legislative insiders saying a special session to deal with the crisis may be inevitable and that it could come as soon as April. The doomsday scenario has the state losing upwards of $800 million in the months ahead. That is huge when you consider the legislature is looking at spending $6.3 billion for the budget year that begins July 1.

State Senator John "Dr. No" Smith, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, argues that no one is to blame, that plunging oil and natural gas prices have cost the state hundreds of millions in taxes and royalties. Maybe in Santa Fe they think no one is to blame but out here in the real world where real people face potential budget cuts that will cause real pain, there's plenty of blame to go around and the arrow points straight up La Bajada to that little building called the Merry Roundhouse.

The Martinez administration has had five long years to diversify the economy and failed utterly. This administration and the one before it engaged in years of tax cutting--the personal income tax, the corporate income tax, the capital gains tax, etc.etc. That has cost the New Mexican treasury much of its gold. Senator Smith finally admits the tax-cutting is hurting but still believes it is good long-term policy. But what about the long-term financial health of our state and its people? While we cut taxes we continue to plunge into poverty, joblessness and depopulation. Senator Smith's home county of Luna is faced with double-digit unemployment, the highest in the state.

Yes, it's mainly the crash in oil doing in the budget but we've done nothing to buffer ourselves. Instead, Santa Fe made it worse. And the great downsizing goes on unabated. The latest:

University of New Mexico officials said Thursday that they have eliminated 44 open staff positions, resulting in $1.7 million in savings that will help offset a projected $3.3 million tuition shortfall. President Bob Frank told the Board of Regents the culling of vacant positions is part of the effort to make ends meet as it continues to lose state funding and tuition revenues.

At least Smith is agreeable that every possible tool must be on the table, including raising revenue via tax hikes. Gov. Martinez is still strapped tightly to her ideological chair of no tax hikes--ever. But if we come anywhere near those doomsday numbers that chair is going to start rockin'.

LARRY'S HIDEAWAY

Rep. Larrañaga
That we are faced with this debacle with only a few days to go in the legislative session speaks volumes about the political and fiscal mismanagement the state suffers under. Take, for example, ABQ GOP State Rep. Larry Larrañaga, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee where the budget originates. Where in the name of deficit spending has he been? Well, busy whipping up a fantasy budget that was predicting money was tight, but not that we were about to fall off the fiscal cliff. That's where he was at. He had to know better and that surely deserves this Alligator strike from inside the Roundhouse:

This is a budget session. We should have focused on the budget crisis the day it started. Instead, Rep. Larrañaga chose to play politics with the budget at the request of the 5th floor to sell crime for three weeks. The 5th floor (Gov Martinez chief political adviser Jay McCleskey) knew crime would not sell if people understood the scope of our budget crisis. So, Larrañaga passed a budget that showed growth in revenue to keep crime alive. 

As recently as Wednesday Larrañaga said the House GOP put money in the budget to pay for increased incarceration. What money did they put into the budget? We do not have any new money. We are in an actual deficit. Larrañaga has lost the respect of many people for playing political games during a crisis.

That's right. More blame. And you can throw in House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, a solider of the Governor's machine who has treated the budget crisis as if it were a case of the chicken pox. He refuses to touch it.

Then there's the cheerful but feckless Speaker of the House, Rep. Don Tripp. Has anyone heard a peep out of him protesting the ludicrous "all crime all the time" session  engineered by Martinez and company while the budget implodes? And what about fiscal newbie Rep. Jason Harper, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee? Not a word. Does the cat have his tongue--or does Jay? You really don't have to ask.

And then there's the calcified Martinez Department of Finance and Administration, putting out nonsensical statements in the face of Dr. No's budget warnings saying they're not really sure there is a budget problem. And they even have a real doctor in charge--Dr. Tom Clifford, now also a political tool of the Fifth Floor. Tell us it ain't so, Tom, but you know it is.

And all this from the political party that prides itself on "fiscal responsibility?"  Aah, the heck with it, just order another vodka and pizza pie and party like it's 1999.

AN EXCEPTION 

Dunn
Well, not every Republican in Santa Fe is in lockstep on this. Out of the blue comes GOP State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn (he of the black hat) with the statement that should have come from our MIA  Governor:

They’re (the legislature) going to have to do both – they’re going to have to cut expenses and they’re going to have to figure out a way to raise revenue.

Maybe Dunn's DNA would not allow him to tout the zombie-like statements the GOP is putting out about taxes. After all, back in the day his famous father was State Senator Aubrey Dunn Sr., the stern but very knowledgeable chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Dunn's dad knew how to run a railroad (and a newspaper and apple orchard, too) and also stand up to a political machine. Where are the likes of him these days?

Look, this land commissioner is to the right of Attila the Hun but if he's going to call Santa Fe out on its bullshit, the anti-Martinez Republicans (currently in hiding) should give him a look for the '18 gubernatorial nomination. And we hope Lt. Gov. John Sanchez heard that.

The best the administration's minions can do is urge calm." They just don't get it. If anything is causing panic it's the absence of any sign that the Governor or her staff is equipped to deal with this reality. They are being led by a political consultant who specializes in character assassination, not by policymakers who understand a budget, care about outcomes and who are serious about governing. (And if you read that truth anywhere else, give that fella a gold star).

But the nonsense extends to both sides of the aisle. Which is our cue to say hello to Northern Dem Senator Carlos Cisneros. He says it would do the Senate no good to look at any revenue enhancements because the big, bad Governor has said she would not support any. Carlos, what's up with that? Are you afraid she's going to throw a beer bottle off a balcony at you? Here's the deal, Carlos. You get elected and then you try to do something. "Try" being the operative word.

It's a mess, alright. Let's do the clean-up with some Senior Alligator disgust:

The problem, Joe, is also our civic culture. It is so cowardly and so corrupt that nothing will be done about our real problems--which is not, despite what the news media and Martinez want us to think--not having enough people in prison. And the people who are about to take it on the chin even harder than they have been, are the people who can afford it the least - the rank and file of New Mexico. People who don't have the means to hang out at all-night pizza parties in luxury suites at the El Dorado Hotel using their political power and connections to avoid entanglements with local law-enforcement.

Amen. That really inspires you to run for something--like the state line.

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Behavioral Health Upheaval; Was It Pay to Play? Plus: Berry's Buses Draws Reader Reaction, Santa Fe Mayor Talks Budget Pinch And Rio Rancho Mayor On Bond Debate 

I
We often talk about how the creepy crawlers come crawling out from under the rugs during a second gubernatorial term. It's no different for Susana Martinez. This week saw Attorney General Balderas report that 10 behavioral health providers thrown out of business by the administration over fraud allegations amounted to much ado about nothing and that he will not be bringing criminal charges. The real gold, if Balderas or anyone else is interested, is the campaign contributions and political connections that may have been behind that decision. Arizona companies were hurriedly brought in to take over for the accused providers. The mantra during Big Bill's second term was "pay to play." Deja vu?. . .

BERRY'S BUSES

The news that the President's budget includes nearly $70 million in federal grant money for Mayor Berry's controversial plan for rapid transit along a stretch of Central Avenue has brought out the readers. Let's take a look.

Reader Jeff Baker writes of the plan:

I’m trying to understand the logistics of riding ART up and down Central. I live 2 miles north of Central Ave. Suppose my wife and I want to go downtown for dinner and a movie. Are we supposed to walk 2 miles to Central, hop on a bus, and ride it downtown? After the movie is over, do we hop on a bus, ride it east, get off the bus, and walk 2 miles home? Or, are we supposed to drive from our house to Central, find a place to park, and then take ART downtown? Will there be designated parking lots for folks like us who want to take the bus for the Central part of our commute? It’s questions like these which keep me up at night.

Reader Mick chimes in:

ART will make the most profitable section of NM's Route 66 bankrupt and back to two lanes like in the 50's. Hisoner doesn't really understand that former Mayor Chavez's plan wasn't well received and neither is his. Maybe someone will take up the cudgel against Berry like Berry did against Chavez over this rapid transit nonsense.

Ken Hughes, Transportation Chair, Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, writes:

Joe, I was the first executive director of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, an international nonprofit that works to increase safe and sustainable walking, bicycling and transit riding in cities around the world. 30 years later, separated bike lanes, and bus rapid transit systems have taken off in cities around the world. The group's evaluation of Albuquerque's proposal shows it has the promise to be the best bus rapid transit system in the US. While some Nob Hill merchants' currently oppose it, over time this at-grade subway project will truly benefit not only Nob Hill but the entire corridor, indeed, the entire city, enticing 8 to 15 times the project costs in private investment as properties adjacent to ART stops become more valuable in clusters of commercial and residential activity. No other injection of public funds comes close to this type of catalytic change. But of course, there are always some people who resist change, no matter what form it takes.

DATELINE SANTA FE

He finally came with something of a plan to solve Santa Fe's $15 million budget crisis, but Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales--who gave his state of the city speech this week--is presiding over a city that has lost mucho mojo. You can raise taxes, as Gonzales and the council are proposing to solve the current crisis, but you only get one bite out of that apple. The bloated government is a relic of boom times past. A tax increase now may put off more painful decisions for a time, but unless Santa Fe gets rejuvenated economically, pain there will be.

And sometimes you need a tax boost, as we believe is the case out in Rio Rancho. Here's Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull's full statement in reaction to news articles that reported he would not publicly support the $9 million Rio Rancho bond issue on the March 1 ballot, an issue that would mean a slight increase in property taxes:

Joe,  Your assessment – based on reading quotes from two articles that my position on the city’s upcoming road bond question has flip-flopped is completely incorrect. For the record, and so that there is no future confusion by anyone, I support the passage of the road bond question that will be on the city’s March 1 ballot, and this has always been the case. Since becoming mayor, I have analyzed the city’s budget, met with professional staff regarding the condition of Rio Rancho’s roadways, and received input from residents and businesses. What all of this information clearly shows is that Rio Rancho’s roads are in need of improvement, addressing roads is a top priority for community members, and existing city resources are not adequate to meet that need. For these reasons, I support passage of the road bond.

Ultimately, it is up to the voters to decide whether or not they want to slightly raise their property taxes to address two major roads in Rio Rancho that are used by more than 20,000 motorists daily. In the past, some City Councilors prevented voters from even having the opportunity to decide whether or not they wanted to raise their taxes to support road improvements. I firmly believe that giving people the opportunity to decide if they want to invest in their community is paramount. Investments such as these enhance quality of life, protect property values and encourage business investment. This is why I broke the tie and supported placing a road bond question on the March 1 ballot.

Berry, Gonzales and Hull. It's not always easy being a mayor around here.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Berry Is A Man In A Hurry When It Comes To His Buses And More On The Rio Rancho Mayor's Bond Dilemma 

Mayor Berry is a man in a hurry when it comes to turning the first shovelful of dirt for a controversial rapid transit plan for a nine mile stretch of Central Avenue, part of which would run through the Nob Hill shopping district. He's in a hurry to turn dirt because with each passing day more controversy ensues, with now over 150 Central Avenue businesses opposed to what some of them are fond of calling "Berry's Boondoggle."

But the plan receive a girt boost this week President Obama included nearly $70 million in find for it in his annual budget. The project is expected to cost over $100 million with the city shouldering about $10 million of the cost. If all this sounds remarkably familiar to the "street car" that Dem Mayor Marty Chavez proposed and was derided for by Mayor Berry when he ran againt Chavez, that's because it is.

Chavez was also looking to spend in the $100 million ballpark for his transit legacy project that became one of the reasons he lost to Berry in 2009. But flash forward and both Republicans and Democrats on the city council are supportive of the Berry buses and that has the Alligators in full hypocrisy watch. One of them writes:

I absolutely love the blatant hypocrisy of conservatives and Republicans who went bananas over Mayor Chavez's streetcar plan Where is all that conservative and GOP outrage and concern over wasteful federal spending and what this will do to our national debt? Well, if it's Republican, I guess it's all right.

For many the plan seems out of sync with the times. The city has been flat on its back economically for years. Only this week we lost 150 good paying aerospace jobs and earlier we forfeited 400 Rio Rancho call center positions. In the middle of an employment crisis and when one of the largest front-page advertisers in the local paper is Bekins moving company, there's no shortage of critics who say Berry hasn't just taken his eye off the ball, he's on the wrong playing field.

The $100 million grand plan would tear up Nob Hill and narrow traffic through the neighborhood that the biz folks say would take a big bite out of their bottom lines. One major landowner on Central is so upset we would not be surprised to see a lawsuit to stop the project and slow down Berry who wants to start building the project as early as May. Never mind that fast buses already come barreling down Central Avenue every few minutes, many of them mostly empty.

What could ABQ do with $70 million in federal cash? How about devoting it to improving the quality of the workforce for the jobs of this century that are bypassing the town?

President Obama is probably oblivious to all this. The $70 million is just another line item in a $4.2 trillion budget. But the President could do better for his own legacy and the progress of the city, if he did not lend his name to what amounts to a legacy project that Berry can brag on but which will make little difference for our future.

PARSING IN RIO RANCHO 

You might see it as a distinction without a difference but Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull wants us to know he "personally" supports raising taxes to finance needed road repairs in the city, but as mayor he is not taking an official position in support of the $9 million bond issue that is on the ballot March 1. Early voting starts today.

Hull talked with us after we blogged Tuesday of his apparent back down from his initial position of supporting the bonds and the accompanying small property tax increase homeowners would incur. Hull says "it is clear to anyone" who has heard him talk about the bonds that he is for them, but he says he has received advise not to openly endorse the bonds in his capacity as mayor. We told him that that argument holds water in a partisan contest, but the bonds are not a partisan election. Hull says his decision to stay officially neutral on the bonds--but personally supportive--has nothing to do with a possible Republican primary election down the road in which any elected officials who supported a tax increase would be accused of GOP heresy. Hull says he has no future political  plans that are inhibiting him from giving a hearty endorsement of the bonds. However, his name has been mentioned in GOP circles as a possible lieutenant governor contender.

Republican Mayor Berry also refused to publicly endorse a tax increase recently, although it was clear he wanted the gross receipts tax hike to finance improvements to the BioPark. So while citizens made a firm voting decision, the mayor of ABQ was able to have his cake and eat it, too.

 Most mayors of the past have gladly endorsed general obligation bonds loudly and publicly--even if they meant a tax increase. But we live in an era where the radical Republicans contend that any tax increase for any reason is unjustified and anyone in the party who wants to advance better not support a wee tax hike, even if it's to improve desperately needed roads.

The bottom line is that Mayors Hull and Berry may have found a way to hang back on vital public issues without alienating their radical base, but in doing so they have also diminished the power and relevancy of their offices.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

It's Hard Being A Republican; Rio Rancho Reverses On Street Bonds, Plus: California Street And The State Economy 

Mayor Hull
Republican Rio Rancho Mayor Greg Hull has pulled a major flip-flop and backed down form his initial support of a $9 million bond issue to improve Rio Rancho roads that will be voted on March 1. On our January 8 blog we expressed surprise and support over Hull's backing of the bond issue which would mean a slight increase in property taxes. We picked up his quote to the Rio Rancho paper which said:

"These roads aren't getting better and they're not getting cheaper. We need to protect our business locations and property values by investing in infrastructure,"

The headline in the business paper said:

Rio Rancho mayor makes the case to the biz community for a tax increase

We wondered then if the GOP would kick Hull out because of such heresy? Well, it appears Hull did indeed get scared and backed down. Now look what he is saying about the bond issue:

Councilors were split 3-3 on the proposal to put the road bond question on the ballot, with Mayor Gregg Hull voting in favor of the measure to break the tie. “It’s not where I stand on the road bond, but getting the (question) out to the voters so they can make an informed decision,” Hull said. “The tie I broke was to send it to the voters. As a community, we need to explore every option on how we’re going to repair our infrastructure.”

For a fleeting moment we thought we spotted a Republican Mayor with some huevos who would stand up for his city and we praised Hull for his common sense. But by backing down Hull has shown the worst instincts of today's Republican Party--an inflexible, ideologically driven agenda that refuses to change course even when confronted with facts and circumstances that contradict their position--like the need to repair crumbling roads in Rio Rancho.

Mayor Hull, for your squeamish flip-flop, you've just suffered an Alligator strike. You are so busted.

DRINK LIBERALLY

Reader Vicki Farrar writes:

Great News, 'Burque! Liberals can rejoice again because we have a new place and time for us to Drink Liberally" again. Its been more than 5 years since Albuquerque Liberals had an active Chapter. Now, due to popular demand, we will have an Albuquerque Chapter at the wonderful Northeast Heights location of O'Neills on Juan Tabo between Candelaria and Comanche! Find us on the heated indoor patio. Come to our first meeting at 6 PM Wednesday, February 10th and get a chance to win a free Drinking Liberally T-shirt. Come hoist a glass for democracy!

CALIFORNIA STREET

Abandoned Smith's
Socorro resident Mary Garcia sends this pic of the abandoned Smith's grocery store on California Street and adds:

California Street is a testament to the fact that New Mexico is last in the nation for unemployment and the recession we have in this state- many empty buildings, closed businesses and restaurants.

And ABQ reader Jason Libersky writes:

One benefit to living in a state/city with no economy and a semi-major airport is I just left my house at 2:00 for a 3:00 flight, parked (in the parking structure), got through security, grabbed a coffee, and am sitting here at the gate by 2:15. I suppose, at this point, you just have focus on the positives of living in an economic ghost town.

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Monday, February 08, 2016

Will NM Play On Presidential Trail? Candidates For Primary Finalized; Plus: Mayor Berry Hit On Double-Dipping, And: Buckhorn Tavern Redux 

You never know. Maybe this is the year when New Mexico's very late presidential primary makes a difference. While right now we have hot nominating contests in both major parties, the pros think by the end of March the matter should be settled, but just in case here are the official NM prez candidates as certified by the Secretary of State:

Democratic Party: Hillary Rodham Clinton and Bernie Sanders; Republican Party:Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina John R. Kasich, Marco Rubio and Donald J. Trump.

The odds of all these candidates still being in the race come June 7th is slim to none, but if the nomination is still up in the air and New Mexico matters, we'll be ready.

DOUBLE-DIPPING

Then there's the mayor of ABQ so determined to shift responsibility (and blame) for his mismanaged police department to Santa Fe. . .

Our Alligators listed the double-dipping bill that would allow retired police officers to rejoin APD and other state police departments and continue to keep their pensions while drawing paychecks as DOA at this year's legislative session. They still feel it will be that way when it gets over to the Senate. Meantime a House committee in the Republican-controlled House has approved the measure to bail out Mayor Berry's understaffed department. APOA VP Shaun Willoughby wants to get some digs in before the measure passes out of the House:

Mayor Richard Berry would have everyone believe that we’ve lost hundreds of officers over the past six years as a result of the state’s repeal of double dipping. It’s the argument he’s currently using to try and convince state lawmakers to overturn their repeal. Conveniently, he fails to mention that the 25% drop in officers coincides with his time as mayor. Ask those who’ve worn the badge under the Berry Administration and they will tell you it isn’t double dipping, or retirement changes, or increased scrutiny that has officers headed for the exits, but rather it’s how this administration deals with and treats its police force. Deteriorating staffing numbers are actually a result of years of low morale. 

BUCKHORN REDUX 

Rowena Baca & Michael Olguin
We'll get to the story on this photo in a minute but first. . .

Lee Huntzinger was one of many readers who were quick to correct us for a geography error in the first draft of the Friday blog. We said the Buckhorn Tavern was north of Socorro:

OMG Joe. Lol, I bet your inbox exploded this morning with folks wondering if you got lost in Texas or just turned your map upside down! As penance, you should drive back down and take a picture of the old Hilton bar while you knock down a green chile cheeseburger at the Owl :-). I've been eating burgers at the Buckhorn Tavern in San Antonio for 40 years, but I always had to go SOUTH from Socorro to get there! It's a tradition when we go to the Bosque to see the birds.

Jerome Block wrote:

If you were having a hamburger North of Socorro, you must have been at the Lemitar truck stop!

Self-described Las Cruces senior citizen Violent Cauthon writes that you should go deeper into the south to find the dream burger:

Joe, Joe, Joe, who are these consumers who believe the Owl Cafe green chile cheeseburgers are worth talking about? I have told you before about Burger Nook on Madrid off N. Solano in Las Cruces.

And reader John somehow ties in the Buckhorn to the news that the US Hispanic  Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Gov. Martinez to be the GOP VP candidate:

Hello Joe, Did you happen to read the glowing news story on Susana Martinez being touted by the Hispano Chamber? I had to read three times and came to the conclusion that the national Hispanic group had to be referring to another Susana and another New Mexico. And yes, Joe, the Buckhorn burgers Are that Gooood! Maybe the Hispanics mentioned above should have asked folks at the Buckhorn about Susana. . .

Now about that photo posted with this story. It pictures Rowena Baca the owner of the Owl Bar and Cafe, located across the street from the Buckhorn in San Antonio and Michael Olguin, former state House Majority Leader and brother of Buckhorn owner Bobby Olguin. We talked about how many politics consider Rowena's Owl the Republican pit stop in San Antonio while Bobby holds court for the Dems. But judging from this pic, the burgers are really bipartisan--besides tasting great.

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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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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.

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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.

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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
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