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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bill's Numbers: How Good Or Bad? Plus: Santa Fe's Struggle; Mayor Pressured By New Reality, And: Bingaman In The Rose Garden; The NM Torch Is Passed 

There's no arguing that New Mexico's Governor has taken a hit in public popularity over the endless pay to play scandals and the lousy economy clouding the headlines, but the insider argument continues on just how much of a plunge Big Bill has suffered. The SurveyUSA poll for June has his approval rating of just 48 percent, up from his all-time low in that poll of 42 percent reached in April, but still below the key 50 percent level. However, the Guv's office says its own polling tells a different story:

The Governor’s campaign commissioned a poll recently (May 18-21) that shows his job approval rating at 58 percent--down from 71 percent in October 2007, but higher than the less reliable Survey USA poll. The pollster surveyed 600 registered voters with a margin of error at +/- 3.9 percent. Perhaps more interesting, 72 percent of voters believe that Gov. Richardson can be effective in the final year and a half of his term.

Where Richardson stands with the public remains of import not just for his own legacy, but politically. If he is ranked low, he will be baggage for the 2010 Dem Guv nominee; if he is relatively strong it will deprive the R's of a major argument.

If you take the two polls and average them, Big Bill has an approval rating of 53 percent. Where the numbers head in future months could be a function of the federal grand jury investigations into pay to play.

THE SANTA FE STRUGGLE

Mayor Coss
Is Santa Fe Mayor David Coss falling behind the curve? Gross receipts tax collections keep plunging, again coming in much lower than expected in April. That means the city budget just drafted is already outdated. You can't blame the mayor for keeping his fingers crossed and wishing for an economic rebound, but something more fundamental has happened and needs to be addressed. The epic boom in tourism in Santa Fe and America is over for now. The tax money generated by it in the 90's and early part of this decade is not going to be replicated anytime soon. Santa Fe city government appears to be in need of a restructuring so it can operate at permanently leaner levels. Either that or raise taxes.

Coss is up for election next March and it seems he would rather cut in response to each monthly drop in tax collections. He wants to avoid layoffs at all costs. But Councilor Bushee and others seem more aware of (and less politically impacted) by the new paradigm. They are calling for deeper cuts to stabilize city government. Coss has a responsibility to keep the nation's oldest capital city humming along for the benefit of not only Santa Feans but the state and nation. Month to month budgeting is causing Santa Fe to really look like a "City Different," but not in a good way. Can't Coss and the Council have a "reality-based" budget meeting?

CARRIED AWAY

Unlike ABQ, Santa Fe did get carried away with the crazy housing speculation. As those bubble prices adjust (crash) construction jobs disappear. Add to the mix the lack of new state government jobs and you have a job market that is shrinking and a recession continuing. Occupancy for Santa Fe apartments is now just 83 percent. The median home price is now bouncing around the $350,000 level. That's down from the April 2005 all-time peak of $470,000, or a plunge of about 25 percent. The median has been as low as $308,000. Will we eventually break that level?

The mantra that comes from the state spinners---"It's not as bad here as it is elsewhere"--is true for some parts of the state, but not for the storied city of Santa Fe and its budget-embattled leaders.

THE NM TORCH IS PASSED

When we saw this AP photo Monday of Dem NM Senator Jeff Bingaman locked in conversation with the President of the USA in the White House Rose Garden, it struck us that the title of New Mexico's "Senior Senator" and the full weight of that responsibility has now come to rest with Bingaman. For decades he toiled in the shadow of GOP Senator Domenici, but with health care and energy dominating the debate, Bingaman, chairman of the Senate energy committee and a key member on the finance panel, is becoming, like Domenici before him, national in stature. But unlike Pete, Jeff has never seemed to hunger for the role.

Bingaman, first elected in 1982, isn't going to be able to save New Mexico from all budget pain in the years ahead, but if he uses his new found power well, he can lessen the blow. History has been kind to our population light state, usually giving us at least one major figure with heft to let Washington know we exist and then some. In the post WWII era, first came Democrats Dennis Chavez and Clinton Anderson followed by Domenici. Now, as the power of Washington is fully embraced by the new Democratic administration, the New Mexico torch, as we see in today's photo, is passed to the veteran Bingaman. Will he grip it with as much enthusiasm and vigor as his predecessors?

THE BOTTOM LINES

We don't think Jeff's new power will go to his head, but just in case, we give you (and the Senator) this headline from Monday's "Nightly Business Report" aired nationally on PBS.

"A Congressional Difference of Opinion--Senator John Bingaman, D-NM

Is that what his wife calls him when she's mad? By the way, Bingaman's son is named John.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2009
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