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Thursday, October 29, 2009

State Budget: Reality Denied? Plus: Sex Scandal Roils Sheriff's Race, And: Bill's Plane Vs. The Newspaper's Plane; Where They Headed? 

Even as his counterparts around the nation bow to the inevitable and trim their budgets, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson remains impervious to arguments that he should do the same. Instead, he has launched a full-scale offensive against trimming state agency budgets under his control and that the Legislature mandated at its recent special session. He appears to be laying the groundwork for a veto of the budget fix by the Nov. 12 deadline. If he does, it will again put the executive and legislative branches back on a collision course.

Bill has trotted out his secretary of human services as well as his corrections secretary to warn that health services will suffer and prison closures will be needed to meet the Legislature's required 7.6 percent reductions in their budgets by June 30, the end of the current budget year.

But is that really spooking the public this Halloween week? They are already contending with a record 8 percent unemployment rate in ABQ, a statewide rate nearing 8 percent; a crash in housing and commercial real estate; a slashing of credit available to them and a plunge in the value of their retirement accounts. Furloughs--in which government employees are forced to take unpaid time off--may seem downright gentle to the thousands of New Mexicans ravaged by the most unforgiving economic breakdown of their lifetimes.

Still, the Governor does not budge. Of course, he is correct that in an ideal world the Legislature would give up $150 million of their pork projects, transfer that money to the General Fund and use that to make the 7.6 percent cuts. Maybe he even says that in his veto message, but it still does not address the fundamental crisis the New Mexican government faces.

The budget shortfall for the year that begins July 1, 2010 is estimated to approach as much as $1 billion, when you include the drying up of federal stimulus money. And the $150 million in cut capital outlay would only solve this year's budget woes. The argument is that we need permanent savings. What about next year and the year after that?

LINES IN THE SAND

The Guv isn't the only one drawing lines in the sand. Republicans insist on no tax increases--not realistic--and liberals insist on nothing but taxes--also unrealistic.

The middle ground, as usual, is where the answer lies. The executive needs to come with a mix of permanent spending cuts and tax increases--now. It's too late to kick the can into the next administration. When the Legislature meets in January it will be charged with filling the budget hole still remaining for this budget year, and to draft a budget for the next year as well.

The media is reporting unchallenged the claims of the human services and corrections secretaries that the 7.6 percent budget cuts will result in calamity. But would it? Haven't these secretaries considered selective employee furloughs? Oops. Forgot. That word has been banned by Big Bill. Maybe someone will call in Auditor Balderas for a reality check to see just where these budgets can be cut without the dramatic consequences alleged by these political appointees?

What is clear that someone needs to prepare the state workforce for the pain that is to come in the ensuing years. That pain has already come in spades to Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico who we think will generously share their morphine drips.

ANOTHER WAY

Legislative insiders say the Guv does not need to force legislators to disgorge their capital outlay projects (although many of them need to be) to meet that 7.6 percent budget cut to agencies under his control. They say Big Bill still has most of the $58 million in federal stimulus money he was allotted and can divert that money to make up for the cuts. Some of it has been appropriated for local government use, but has not left the treasury. They say he could re-target those funds.

OPINION IMPACT


The Guv's political acumen is his strong suit. We're sure the dog and pony show he is orchestrating about the impact of the budget cuts will probably meet with public approval. But the party will soon be over. The state Constitution mandates a balanced budget, and unless the Governor gets another job and is gone in January, he will have to face the budget crisis head-on.

The relationship between the branches of government is so poisonous now, we would not rule out a stalemate and a constitutional crisis that could endanger the state's standing in the financial markets.

Usually, these things have a way of working out before the breaking point is reached, but these are not usual times. During the special legislative session neither the Governor or the Legislature could force themselves to administer the necessary pain. Until you see signs that both sides are willing to deal, don't rule out the worst case scenario.

SHERIFF TURMOIL
Kristy Sanchez-Trujillo
One of the leading contenders to replace Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White may take himself out of the running. Cris Sanchez told us Wednesday night he will make a deicsion soon. Sanchez's daughter, Kristy Sanchez-Trujillo, 33, an Albuquerque Public Schools mid-school teacher has been fired over accusations she had sex with a 13-year-old boy. She taught 7th grade social studies at Jimmy Carter Middle School, and the boy was a student at the school.

We mentioned Sanchez this week, a retired sheriff's lieutenant, as a favorite of Bernalillo County Commissioner Art De La Cruz. The commission will name someone to fill out the remainder of White's term. He is going to work for the city.

At least 20 persons have applied for the $68,000 a year job. Another name thought to be near the top of the list is that of ABQ police commander Conrad Candelaria. The commission says it plans to make a decision at its Nov. 24 meeting.

Sanchez-Trujillo is presumed innocent, but the charges are so sensational that Cris may be knocked out of the game.

DOUG'S DAY

So what did Doug Turner say during his six stop tour making official his entry into the 2010 GOP Guv race Wednesday? Well, stuff that sounded as much aimed at independent voters as those in the ever-shrinking GOP:

We can no longer allow the divide of party lines to rule the Roundhouse. It’s time to come together as New Mexicans, not politicians, finding common sense solutions to turn our education system around, keep and grow companies in New Mexico, and enhance transparency in government. Voters should be the only influence over government, not special interests.


Can Turner get enough Republicans to respond to that message which has strong appeal to independents? He has to secure 20 percent of the delegate vote at the party's March pre-primary convention to win a place on the June 2010 ballot. With four candidates in the race so far, that is far from a done deal.

With no Heather Wilson in the race, Allen Weh has taken the lead position for the GOP Guv nod. He has the most money, is best-known in party circles and as an Anglo Republican with extensive military experience, he best matches the prevailing party demographic.

Supporters of candidates Turner, Susana Martinez and Janice Arnold-Jones are all starting to chant the "Weh Can't Win in November" argument, as they sense that the lone Anglo, conservative male in the race is poised to break out.

The Diane Denish club agrees with their Republican counterparts that Weh is likely the weakest GOP nominee, but the presumed Dem Guv contender faces a more hostile environment than she did only three months ago. With a very unsettled electorate, the Denish camp can't discount the possibility that even Weh, seen as too hard-right for moderate NM, could not somehow make a race of this.

WELCOME ABOARD, DOUG

The state Democratic Party has been quick to welcome all the GOP Guv candidates as they make their runs official. Doug Turner has now received his Democratic love note.

We wish Doug Turner luck as he begins his transformation from political operative and special interest lobbyist to candidate. However, while Turner may have an impressive track record helping politicians and special interests get ahead, New Mexicans deserve a Governor with an impressive record of helping families get ahead. New Mexico families need a Governor who is prepared to make our state a leader in the 21st century economy and...that’s not Doug Turner.


But haven't we had eight years of Democratic rule to "make our state a leader in the 21st century economy?" Just asking.

THE AIR WAR


The state's $5.5 million Cessna Jet has been a longtime lightning rod for Big Bill's administration. A September column from the ABQ Journal's Thom Cole renewed interest in the use of the aircraft when he reported it was difficult for the public to track its flights. He reported that Public Safety Secretary John Denko, citing "security concerns" blocked the release of the info. Now from the email comes this provocative retort to Cole from a friend of Bill:

I'm sure you saw Thom Cole’s ridiculous column and the even more ridiculous editorial about the state blocking the public from being able to monitor the status of the state’s aircraft in real time on the Internet. They worried that the public won’t be able to monitor the flying habits of “fat cats.” Ironically, the “fat cat” publisher of the Journal doesn’t see a need for the public to know when and where the Journal’s plush Falcon 200 is flying.

Go to FlightAware and plug in the tail number (N999TH) for the plane owned by Journal Enterprises Inc. and you get the following message: Journal Enterprises Inc.---This aircraft (N999TH) is not available for tracking per request from the owner/operator.

Despite the fact that the Journal is privately owned, I would think the ownership would hold itself to higher standards if they are going to take shots at public officials. I mean, how is the public going to know whether the Journal plane is or is not flying around some of the very same public officials it covers--officials like former (Republican) Sen. Pete Domenici?

Fun stuff, but we didn't see anything in there about the Guv unblocking the flight info so the public can see where their jet is going. Also, taxpayers don't pay for the expensive maintenance or the fuel pumped into the Journal jet.

TACO WATCH

An update on the Kirtland Air Force Base fighter wing known as the "Tacos," a story we have been following for months because of its potential economic impact on ABQ. From US Rep. Martin Heinrich:

President Obama signed into law Wednesday the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010, which included language secured by (Heinrich) that prohibits the retirement of the 150th Fighter Wing from Kirtland Air Force Base until the Secretary of the Air Force has submitted a detailed plan that includes the identification and description of a follow up mission for the Fighter Wing (commonly referred to as the “Tacos”).

That's an annual payroll of $15 million, according to Senator Bingaman's office. There's no guarantee for future years, but for the next one it appears the Tacos will not be crunched.

POTTER'S PUNCH
Earl Potter
Former NM Democratic Party chairman and Santa Fe attorney Earl Potter thinks we overreached when we blogged Wednesday that all of those on the search committee to pick a new state investment officer had given sizable donations to Big Bill's presidential campaign. In light of the scandals shaking the State Investment Council, forcing the resignation of investment officer Gary Bland, we thought the contributions highlighted how politics remains wedded to investment policy, but Potter sees it differently:

Joe, You’ve gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. It’s appropriate to suggest that those receiving government contracts or subsidies should not be permitted to make contributions to those officials in charge of conferring those benefits. But you take this impulse in an absurd direction by suggesting that those State Investment Council members who make campaign contributions to the Governor should be disqualified from making recommendations for State Investment Officer. Exactly what corruption are you trying to prevent here?


Just how are Steve Feinberg and Andrew Davis, whose businesses have nothing to do with state government or any state investments, compromised in their recommendations for State Investment officer by the fact they have made political contributions?

Thanks, Earl. We did not mention the State Investment Council members, but we would include them in our concerns. We think there needs to be thicker walls around our state's permanent funds. What is so absurd about wanting some members on a search committee for the state's chief investment officer to have no political connections? It strikes us as a commonsense to have at least one party who can be called truly disinterested in whether the investment officer is viewed favorably by the sitting Governor.

Let's not forget that we've got a "placement agent" who shared in $22 million in fees for securing state investments with hedge funds and other entities. Investigators want to know whether the investments were directed based on political connections. The chief investment officer resigned in disgrace amid the federal investigation.

What seems "ridiculous" and "absurd" to us is defending the status quo.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2009
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