Friday, September 25, 2009

Brother, Can You Spare A Job? NM Recession Hits Harder; We're On The Econ Beat, Plus: Mayor '09: RJ Berry & A Girl Named Maria; Your Blog Starts Now 

It's starting to remind us of the 1970's around here. That's when double-digit unemployment was common in many counties and the unemployment office was usually backed up and/or broken down. The newest jobless stats say job growth in NM is at a 65 year low. The August unemployment rate has now soared to 7.5 percent, a nearly 13 year high, but the numbers nerds repeat what they have been saying throughout this recession--the measurement appears too low:

Job growth is at a 65-year low, while the unemployment rate is still at only a 12½-year high. Individual data series provide differing readings of the severity of the current downturn. To more accurately gauge local employment conditions, we suggest looking
at all the workforce indicators published in this report...

In other words, the unemployment rate is under reported.

For the ABQ area, which includes Bernalillo, Sandoval and Valencia Counties, the official jobless rate for August climbed to 7.4 percent. If we recall correctly, that is a new high for this Great Recession and one of the highest levels on record. The manufacturing base in ABQ has been clobbered. Overall, we've lost 14,500 jobs over last August. Statewide we've dropped nearly 31,000. Santa Fe is now at 6.3 percent unemployment, a job loss of 2,200 over the year. And that's a government town. The Las Cruces area matches ABQ's 7.4 percent unemployment number.

This is a slow, grinding recession and in many ways breathtaking in its scope. We thought we had seen the worst. We're not so sure as jobs continue to disappear. You business owners know how much you are feeling it as traffic slows at your front doors.

In the ABQ mayoral race, Democratic candidate Richard Romero has been the most aggressive in addressing the jobs plight, envisioning a future government structure in which there are far fewer political employees and deputy directors. He also calls on economic planners to switch focus from going after big business to growing small businesses. He wants renewable energy jobs as a centerpiece of a new economy. (He has a five minute video on the local economy posted prominently on his Web site.) State leaders might want to lend him an ear. While avoiding layoffs is admirable, in the long-term it is no substitute for the fundamental restructuring that Santa Fe needs, but which the administration is reluctant to tackle.


There are, of course, real people behind the jobless numbers. Governor Richardson has been given migraines over the multiple computer screw-ups at the Workforce Solutions Department. He recently named Ken Ortiz as the new director. Ortiz should forget about any vacation for the rest of the year. He has thousands of New Mexicans to serve. He also needs to be thinking about getting enough money to extend unemployment benefits for months at a time. This downturn shows no signs of abating--at least not on the jobs front. If he hasn't already, maybe Bill needs to assign a top aide just to ride herd on the labor agency. Right now, it is arguably the most important one in his cabinet.


Keep Don HarrisWe share the wariness of key state Senators like John Arthur "Dr. No" Smith over the gimmick of using short-term bonds to cover the mammoth $433 million shortfall--perhaps more--that the state faces this current budget year. But we also fully see the point of finance secretary Katherine Miller that the alternative to that may be throwing even more people out of work by laying off state employees. However, it's difficult to share Secretary Miller's sentiment that furlough is the other "F" word. There is real suffering going on in the private sector and government employees have no God-given right to be exempt from the pain.

Can the administration and Dr. No and Representative Lucky Varela find room for compromise? How about if the Guv entertains furloughs and reduced hours (starting with the highest paid employees) but legislators take layoffs off the table? Then, how about if Dr. No and Company agree with the Guv that we issue some short term "sponge" bonds, but not $135 million?

New Mexicans are tired--many are very scared--and they want compromise, not a body count, when the Governor calls lawmakers into special session to deal with the crisis.


It got sticky for GOP mayoral hopeful RJ Berry this week when Mayor Chavez and Dem Richard Romero agreed to release their recent tax returns, but Berry refused. Marty says in '08 he took in his $107,000 mayoral salary and over $5,000 in royalties from three oil companies (We're waiting for Romero's numbers). Chavez stuck it to Berry for his refusal and Berry's campaign came back with this:

...Berry has complied with all transparency requirements required by...and has disclosed his sources of income on the candidate financial disclosure statement...
Chavez wants Berry to release tax returns that include personal information pertaining to his family. This is not required by law and Berry’s family members are not running for mayor, therefore he will not subject his family to this invasion of privacy...

But it was KKOB-AM radio that issued the tax return challenge, not Chavez. One can understand Berry's reluctance over releasing tax info and we don't recall candidate tax returns being released in past mayoral campaigns. But this is a game of political poker. Romero and Chavez anted up. RJ didn't and he got dealt out.

Maria & RJ
And Berry finally addressed the implication in Chavez's attack piece (see Monday's blog) that Berry is hiding behind the skirts of his wife--Maria--because she is the actual owner of Cumbre Construction--and as an Hispanic qualified for nearly $50 million in contracts under the federal government's minority and women owned business program. RJ told KKOB radio's Jim Villanucci Maria is not a front for him. That she has a solid work record of her own and that Cumbre represents "twenty years of blood sweat and tears."

Maria is the owner. I am the chief operating officer. Maria started in 1996..She is a licensed general contractor. I joined her. I was working for a large construction firm. I quit my job to join her...She runs the company...She is there every day...a lot of midnights..and 80 hour weeks. Maria started working with me back in the 80's. She worked part-time for almost a decade..What we have here is a political machine and mayor who knows he is is losing on the issues.

According to this article, Maria (Medina) Berry worked for state government as an income support specialist before getting into the construction business full-time.

Berry also released records showing that RJ Berry Enterprises, Inc. has generated income and paid taxes. That's the business consulting firm that Chavez said had no sales and no income. Marty uses it to debunk Berry's TV ad that says he is a "successful businessman." The records show that Berry paid about $7,000 in state taxes from RJ Berry Enterprises over two years. (Records posted here.) The Berry campaign says that makes Chavez's claim that the business had "no income" factually incorrect.

This all started when Berry cut that TV ad calling himself a successful businessman, clearly meaning his involvement with Cumbre Construction. Maria has actual ownership of the company, though the pair work together. But Chavez's campaign focused on a business listed as being owned by RJ Berry, not Maria, and saw state records that appeared to show it was largely dormant. The Chavez hit piece implied that it was that business that Berry was talking about on his TV ad--not Cumbre--so how could Berry label himself a success? Berry was then supposed to be embarrassed into acknowledging that Cumbre was minority-owned, how it was all a sham just so he could get construction contracts meant for minority owned businesses and that he wasn't a successful businessman after all.


Got all that? If not, relax and join us in honoring Maria's entry onto the brighly lit stage of La Politica. For your listening enjoyment, here's "Maria," from Westside Story. RJ, you can sing it to your bride.


Just as our Alligators get done saying "cap and trade" may not pose as much of a threat to southern NM Dem congressman Harry Teague as some Eastern pundits think, comes the news that the only New Mexico company listed on the New York Stock Exchange--PNM Resources--announces it is dropping out of the GOP-oriented US Chamber of Commerce:

We strongly disagree with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's position on climate change legislation and particularly reject its recent theatrics calling for a 'Scopes Monkey Trial' to put the science of climate change on trial. We believe the science is compelling enough to act sooner rather than later, and we support comprehensive federal legislation to meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect customers against unreasonable cost increases.

Who do you think the PAC for PNM will be giving money to? Harry Teague?

Bit players continue to play in the below-the-radar race for the 2010 NM GOP Guv nomination, but the heavyweights remain on the sidelines waiting for Heather Wilson to make a move. The latest example is the endorsement of Allen Weh by former GOP state Senator Steve Komadina. That came in response to Susana Martinez's endorsement from Jack Fortner, a Farmington attorney who was appointed to the University of New Mexico Board of Regents by Democrat Big Bill.

Just about all the big names with financial firepower as well as the state's elected Republicans remain sidelined. However, if the bit players are delegates to the pre-primary convention next March their endorsements will help the candidates in their efforts to get the 20 percent of the convention delegates necessary to get on the June primary ballot.


You can now get real New Mexico green chile in LA? That's news.

Thanks for tuning in this week. E-mail your news and comments.
Reporting to you from Albuquerque, New Mexico, I'm Joe Monahan.

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