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Monday, March 02, 2009

Battle Of The Budget; Have Dems Dodged Bullet? Plus: Eclipse Redux? Say It Isn't So, And: Latest On Bill, Di & Val 

Reps. Lujan & Saavedra
With the economy flat on its back and tax revenues declining faster than Lobo coach Steve Alford can push a player to the bench, it's a lousy time for government to throw more people out of work. That's why the Dems seem to have the edge in their fight with the R's over the $5.5 billion state budget that has passed out of the state House 45-25 and now awaits action in the Senate.

The R's are arguing that the $330 million in federal stimulus money being used to plug the budget shortfall for the fiscal year that starts July 1 delays the inevitable. They say ultimately the number of state workers will have to be reduced to address the state's "structural deficit."

But the budget worked out in the House Appropriations Committee by Chairman Kiki Saavedra and company and bearing the stamp of approval of House Speaker Ben Lujan cuts the budget without cashiering state workers. They are fully aware that the stimulus money is a temporary solution, but if the economy bounces back some of the budget hole will be filled by increased tax revenues. They are going to give that a chance to happen.

R's seem to want Saavedra and Lujan to act as if there is no stimulus money, but why? If further budget cuts are needed, the Legislature will be back in session In January of 2010. (The House budget has an 11 percent reserve and we may have to draw it down). However, the R's valid point of a top-heavy state government remains. Our budget watchers say that doesn't mean we need layoffs. How about if the Legislature and Governor enforce a hiring freeze without political exemptions? And what about not filling certain positions as they become vacant and also really enforcing it?

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur "Dr. No" Smith has a good starting point with the budget sent over by his House colleagues. Thousands of New Mexicans are suffering a terrible toll due to job loss; the last thing we want is more job losses or tax increases. The federal stimulus has given the Legislature the chance to whittle down the state work force without using a meat cleaver. Chairman Smith may want to pick up where Lujan and Saavedra left off.

END GAME IN SIGHT

Where we've been and where we're going with Legislative Session '09. The sixty day confab ends March 21. The budget is the main action, but there are also all those ethics bills. Maybe, just maybe, we get one that matters this year?

ECLIPSE REDUX?

Somebody say it ain't so! More of Eclipse Aviation? We speak of the company that in ten years burned through $1 billion, laid off over 1500 employees (the remaining 800 last month) and had state and city economic planners stumbling over themselves to hand out cash and economic incentives. Well, one Phil Friedman, president of an outfit called Harlow Aerostructures out of Wichita, has emerged and is making noise about buying what's left of Eclipse at the upcoming bankruptcy auction. He says he can restart the small jet manufacturer, albeit on a much smaller scale. And get this: He says he will consider keeping Eclipse in ABQ if city taxpayers give him financial incentives!

What's the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? Mayor Marty and the city council could be risking commitment to a psychiatric facility if they fall for this one. Fortunately, the Wichita Eagle reports the scheme may be straight out of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

MORE ON MORIARTY


In picking up on our blog about the delay of the Downs at ABQ moving to a new racino at Moriarty, the wires and papers cited the Guv's refusal to support a $4.5 million measure to run utilities to the site. Reports also said a carbon dioxide line running below the proposed site has raised safety concerns, prompting Downs President Paul Blanchard to ask the Legislature to extend his racing and slot machine lease at Expo NM at least until January 2011 with an option to extend it to Jan 2012. That's a long time. And we still wonder about the unanswered question--where is the financing coming from in this environment, not to mention the customers? With what appears to be a secular peak in the gambling business--after a decades-long bull run--the Moriarty racino may prove to be a project on paper only.

REHASH STAGE?

The Sunday paper headlined an article about former Big Bill aides Dave Contarino and David Harris being treated to an LA Lakers game and a steak dinner by CDR shortly after the bond company won a state contract. But it wasn't exactly news. Back on January 7 Bloomberg reported the same dinner and basketball outing and that CDR had contributed $100,000 to Richardson political action committees. Are we getting to the rehash stage in the federal pay to play investigation of the Guv and his aides?

BILL, DI AND VAL

Big Bill continues to poll below 50% approval--41% in the latest SurveyUSA--the result no doubt of the federal pay to play investigation and the continued thumbs down the public is giving to to many incumbents because of the sour economy. Light Guv Diane Denish will continue to try to separate herself from the current Guv as she seeks the 2010 Dem Guv nod. But insiders are asking why is she already engaging actor possible rival Val Kilmer? She has come with an early and arguably obscure endorsement from a NM TV and film union, apparently to show that despite Val's Hollywood pedigree he can't carry his own crowd.

Some pros question why presumed frontrunner Di is already stepping on the accelerator when it comes to Kilmer, especially since he is not a certain contender. Better for Di to chill and watch what develops, they advise. And what is she going to do if Kilmer comes with visits from the likes of Danny DeVito? Trot out Al Hurricane? (No, he votes Republican.) Better to fight the battle on her own ground, not his.

But then the pull of Val is proving irresistible to not only Di, but to those who have sworn not to succumb to his siren song. Bruce Daniels--aka the ABQ Journal's NewsSeeker--is back on the Kilmer beat full force, even after publicly pledging to refrain. The press would have a better chance sticking to their South Beach diets than their vows to shun Val.

THE MUNOZ BLOG
Sen. Munoz
In his "Letter from Gallup," a blog from a friend with a liberal bent that we put up last week, he said he was disappointed in his new state Senator--Democrat George Munoz. Munoz voted to keep conservative Dem Senator Jennings as president pro tem and last week voted against the domestic partners bill. The freshman lawmaker blogged in this response

... I have been extremely involved (in Gallup) for many decades as a businessman, politician and active community member. What your friend appears to be unaware of, though, is that my political direction directly reflects the will of my constituents and is built on my own litmus test: What’s best for the district, Gallup and its people? That’s the question I ask myself prior to any decision I make in this arena.

I encourage your friend, who sounds like he’s genuinely concerned with the welfare of Gallup to detail his concerns in an e-mail or phone call directly to my office. That goes for any constituent. That way, I can bring those concerns with me to the Roundhouse...I don’t expect to please all of the people all of the time, but I would at least appreciate the opportunity to do so.

We don't know yet how he will be at making laws, but George is a pretty good blogger.

THE BOTTOM LINES

We just learned of the passing (on Feb. 21) of former NM attorney general and state treasurer Earl Hartley. The Curry County native was 95 and also a former state senator. He was elected Treasurer in 1982, but resigned in November 1985 after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of misusing money for a Western State Treasurer’s Association conference in Santa Fe.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2009
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