Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Experts Say Spaceport Vote Will Be Close; We Have Polling Info; Also: Guv's Team Says Poll Supports Special Session, And: Joe Carraro Is Wide Awake 

"If anyone thinks this is going to be a 60-40 vote for either side, they're thinking wrong." So said one insider working feverishly in Dona Ana county this week to win approval of a controversial quarter cent gross receipts tax boost to help finance the construction of a nearly $200 million Spaceport. It's a pet southern NM project of Governor Big Bill and his economic development chief Rick Homans. Election Day is April 3.

The question everyone is asking is: Will it pass? It appears so, but it is not a done deal and the vote could be very close. My sources tell me the only professional polling on the issue was done in January and it showed only 53% support for the tax with 42% opposed.

"This will come down to turnout. The polling concludes that campaigning would not make much of a difference; only a small pool of people will bother to vote and their minds are basically made up," reported one in-the-know player.

The Governor's fingerprints are all over the election as the Victory Group, the campaign arm of Butch Maki and Associates, a Big Bill favored lobbyist, is running the campaign for the tax. There is no organized committee fighting the issue, but there is always a significant constituency against raising any tax.

There are about 96,000 registered voters in Dona Ana where turnout for any election is notoriously low. My experts say 10 to 15% will vote on the Spaceport tax, giving us a turnout of between 10,000 and 14,000.

A turnout skewed with older voters who are more anti-tax could kill it, and that in turn would kill the Spaceport. But the pro-tax campaign is determined, canvassing door-to-door, doing direct mail, setting up a Web site and identifying and getting their voters to the polls. Preliminary analysis of the 2,000 early and absentee votes cast give them reason, they say, for "cautious optimism."

But the opposition is not shy. Private citizen Greg Lennes, working it hard, blogs in that he is for the Spaceport, but against the tax.

"Residents should vote a resounding “No” because it is unfair. If the Governor and the wealthy Spaceport tax proponents have their way, the increase of one quarter of 1 per cent for the Spaceport would result in a new tax rate of 7.375% for Las Cruces. Albuquerque has only a 6.87% rate. The new Spaceport will benefit all of New Mexico especially Albuquerque. Although this regressive tax is imposed on persons engaged in business, the tax burden is passed directly to consumers and residents on fixed income." Argues Lennes.

Chairwoman Perez
The Spaceport tax would raise about $6.5 million a year to help construct the nearly $200 million project which has already received approval for $115 million from the Legislature, but it has proved politically divisive as reflected by the five member Dona Ana County Commission which agreed to call the vote at the request of the state.

Although Democrat Bill McCamley is outspoken in support of the tax he has been unable to bring aboard fellow Dem commissioners Oscar Vásquez Butler and Dolores Saldaná-Caviness. Vásquez Butler calls the tax "corporate welfare" for Virgin Atlantic which plans to use the site and is owned by British billionaire Richard Branson. Saldaná-Caviness has said she is neutral. Democrat and new Commission Chairwoman Karen Perez came with an election shocker when, after supporting placing the tax on the ballot, she said she is urging it be voted down because, among other things, an environmental impact statement has not been completed. GOP Commissioner Kent Evans and the chairman of the Dona Ana county GOP both favor the tax.

Big Bill will be in El Paso and Las Cruces Thursday, but our insiders say his Cruces visit is not specifically to campaign for the tax. The Guv previously held a big rally for the tax, but has relied on Homans to bring this one home. If he does, the onetime candidate for ABQ Mayor will have a major feather in his political cap. If he doesn't he might find himself grounded, along with the Spaceport.


Sources in the know and who usually are not out of line in spinning us, say a poll done for the Governor shows 58% of the public favors Bill calling the special session of the NM Legislature which has devolved into chaos with the Senate refusing to meet. They try for a third time Thursday.

The results ring true as the Governor remains exceptionally popular in the state and most voters give him the benefit of the doubt. Still, 58% is not overwhelming and while chief executives are usually the winners in short-term political battles, it is the long-term relationship with the Legislature that could end up costing him. That is, if the relationship isn't cut short by the Guv ascending the national political ladder.


Senator Domenici's role in the U.S. Attorney scandal is back in the headlines with the announcement that Attorney General Gonzales' liaison with the White House will take the Fifth when she testifies before the Senate. Monica Goodling has a connection to Domenici's effort to oust then-NM U.S. Attorney Iglesias.

Carraro (wide awake)
Get the wet noodles out and give me ten lashes. I guess ABQ GOP State Senator Joe Carraro should do the honors because it is our error concerning him that forces this mea culpa. The photo we posted Tuesday showing Senator Joe "napping," as we put it, was taken AFTER the state Senate had adjourned the special session, not during the few minutes it lasted. Apparently some of his constituents didn't take to the pic and emailed and phoned Joe and told him to get to work.

As the veteran lawmaker explained: "I wasn't napping. I was thinking; thinking that I would have bills in the special, but to pass them would take more than an up or down vote. My bills would require debate..my package on ethics that would totally eliminate gifts from lobbyists--not just the $250 limit proposed; eliminating campaign contributions from anyone doing business with the state, rather than limiting it to $2300; and opening closed conference committees so all legislators and the public know what is in legislation..."

OK, Joe. Take a nap. You've earned it.

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