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Friday, February 06, 2009

Era Of Limits Arrives In Santa Fe; Budget Cuts Finalized, Plus: Political Hotbed At UNM: The Latest Action; A Senate Hotseat For Regent Koch? 

Just how good the good times were to New Mexico was on full display this week as the Legislature and Governor moved to cover a $450 million shortfall. Yes, the axe fell but the pain was minimal as money set aside for "pork" projects was diverted to the general fund and state agencies were nicked for minimal cutbacks for the budget year that ends June 30. Major services will suffer no cutbacks and while there is a hiring freeze, unlike other states we won't see any layoffs--at least not yet. And the biggie--no tax increases.

The Guv and the Legislature didn't hurt themselves by pretty much uniting in public. That gives us guarded confidence that our leaders can avoid a nightmare scenario like the one unfolding in California. The R's tried to make some hay over the Guv's proposed equestrian center, but it was cut, just not eliminated. In the end, the bill cutting the politicos precious capital outlay by $94 million--including the Guv's--passed on a 38-4 vote.

And there's still more leftover pork (capital outlay) to help cover Santa Fe's next big project--covering another huge shortfall for the budget year that starts July 1. But that's where the rubber could meet the road. How much will that shortfall be? Estimates will come at the middle of the month. Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith is not optimistic, saying New Mexicans need to prepare themselves for a stunning number. Early betting is that a reduction in pay for all state employees could be needed to keep the state solvent. It's easy cutting pork fat, not so easy cutting into bone. Can the unity we've seen thus far withstand real pain?

POLITICAL HOTBEAD AT UNM

Senator Lopez
University of New Mexico Prez David Schmidly and Board of Regents President Jamie Koch will appear before disgruntled faculty who have called a meeting over a proposed no confidence resolution in Schmidly, Executive VP David Harris and Regents Chairman Jamie Koch. Harris won't say whether he will go to the meeting. Schmidly says he doesn't have the power to order Harris to attend. Which raises the question: Mr. Harris is being paid $428,000 a year, plus perks. Who does he answer to?

Meanwhile, Koch has been waging a PR offensive since uttering abrasive comments over the faculty petition seeking the no-confidence resolution that sent them on the warpath. He came with a general commentary on education in the ABQ Journal, but there isn't much specific about the very high administrative salaries and the charges of cronyism that are at the heart of campus discontent.

All of this is grist for the mill at the Legislature. Taxpayers foot the bill and their representatives conduct the oversight. Koch is up for reappointment to the Regents, giving Senators a chance to hold him accountable.

Senate Rules Committee chair Linda Lopez gets the nomination first. She is pledging not to go soft on the UNM story when Koch comes before her committee:

"(The turmoil) does have an effect, and...when any of the regents come in front of our committee there will be questions, many questions...I can...promise that will happen. It will not be a smooth-sailing, no-questions-asked hearing."

Lopez's performance (and those of other committee members) may be as closely watched as Koch's. And it just isn't the administration she will be asked to scrutinize, but also the faculty and whether the state is getting a bang for the big bucks paid to them. Koch might have fun answering that question.

On the whimsical political side of this, one reader wonders what would Lt. Governor Diane Denish do if the vote in the state Senate to confirm Koch ended in a tie? In that highly unlikely event, she would get to cast the tie-breaking vote for or against her old political ally. Such a vote looked a lot easier for her a year ago.

TOO POWERFUL?
Jamie Koch
Is it welcome accountability or a power grab that strips Schmidly of authority and places it in the hands of Regent Koch, a former chairman of the NM Democratic Party? That's the question being asked in light of this news item:

University of New Mexico regents will play a bigger role in writing next year's budget, requiring the president and others to justify the funding their offices receive.
"We're doing something that's never been done before," regent President Jamie Koch said, adding that the board will not rubber-stamp anything.

While some see the consolidation of budget power with Koch and the regents as beneficial in a time when the budget of the university is being subjected to cuts, others see it as a diminution of the UNM presidency and further evidence of how politicized it has become. From the e-mail bag comes a Senior Alligator with longtime UNM ties:

...The Alligators know a movida when we see one. Jamie takes over after setting up his "mark"! Poor Schmidly, this would not have happened to Dan Lopez! Of course that is why he wasn't chosen as president. Now we can watch the denouement and the further decline of UNM. Where is Richardson's hand in all of this and will Linda Lopez' committee take Koch, Harris and Schmidly to the woodshed?

Many, many questions about the direction of our "Harvard on the Rio Grande." Senator Lopez will need a thick briefing book to get through them all.

RACETRACK WHERE?

Have the Tucumcari racino advocates heard the same scuttlebutt we have about the Moriarty racino?

The Quay County Gaming Authority agreed to extend its option on land near Interstate 40. The authority (made) efforts last year to land a race track license from the New Mexico Racing Commission. It voted unanimously to renegotiate its option on about 250 acres of land for $6,000. ā€œIā€™m not trying to give anyone false hope ... but we want to keep our options open,ā€ said Warren Frost, executive director of the authority and an attorney from Logan.

Paul Blanchard, president of the Downs at ABQ and major Friend of Big Bill, won state approval to move out of the fairgrounds and into Moriarty. But questions have been raised about the status of the financing for the new racino. Tucumcari residents will definitely stay tuned...

THE BOTTOM LINES

From David Letterman: "Ladies and gentlemen, while you were applauding that joke, another Obama nominee dropped out."

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2009
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