Sunday, October 18, 2009

Welcome Back, Bill: Guv Gives A Little; Moves Towards Center, Plus: Senate Leader Sanchez: Don't Fence Us In; Aims For Short Special; First Day Action 

Sen. Leader Sanchez & Big Bill
Bill Richardson on Saturday started to move toward the center of the political map--the region where he and all New Mexican governors traditionally end up when grappling with the major issues of the day. And, of course, the major issue of our day is a mountainous $650 million budget shortfall.

Richardson was rapidly overstaying his visit on the left side of the fence, pounding the table that there would be no cuts in public education to solve the shortfall. Yesterday, whether by design or from pressure of a looming train wreck, he tossed in the proverbial towel and agreed to a 1.5 percent cut in public education. He suggests a 3.5 percent across the board cut in other state agencies for the current budget year which started July 1 and ends June 30, 2010.

Veteran Roundhouse observers said the Guv's compromise move will likely mean a deal will be cut and that this special session will not go completely nuclear. But there's still a lot of ground to cover. (Richardson's proposal here.)

While Richardson's move was welcome, lawmakers were not about to let bygones be bygones. Many are still upset with the Guv for waiting until the last minute to come to the negotiating table. The cynics among them argued he had planned to come there all along. They said he wanted to buttress his credentials as a "protector of kids" at their expense. Even as he announced he would agree to some cuts, he insisted that they not impact the classroom. It was essentially the compromise argument we put forth on the blog earlier in the week--go after administration and other excess.

Worries abound at the Capitol that one time federal stimulus money that will likely be used to plug some of the budget hole only temporarily solves the dilemma. But there is also an air of resignation that acknowledges that we are in the middle of this fiscal crisis, not the end. There will be budget problems for months, if not years.


The shortfall is so large that legislators may want to slash education more than Bill is willing. His plan trims $40 million, but other proposals floating around call for $90 million in public education savings and millions from higher ed. Will Bill go up to get a deal? Will legislators make him? Also, the proclamation he issued for the special session is tightly written, raising concerns, especially among the liberals, that they can't consider any tax increases to beat back the deficit. But most lawmakers agree with Richardson that tax policy should be off the table now, but on it when the legislators have their regular session in January.

Alligator analysis: The chance of any tax increase in this special session is near zero. Liberals will grandstand (that's you, Cisco) for their constituents and try to smoke out Dems who aren't with them and perhaps eye them for possible primary challenges. Otherwise, progressives are being overrun by a harsh fiscal reality. The public is simply not going to stand for solving this crisis by raising taxes without first having their representatives rid the system of excess. That's why there are not enough votes to raise taxes. After the cost-cutting and bloodletting in this special, chances for increasing revenue could improve in the January session.


Examples of Big Bill's penchant to try to control the agenda are prevalent throughout his special session proclamation, including a proviso that no salaries be reduced. That does seem to be dabbling in legislative territory, but it's hard to imagine a court fight over it right now. (The Governor's complete proclamation is here.)

In fact, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez seems determined to avoid as much fighting as possible and get his flock back home within four or five days. The Governor's threat--that he didn't care how long the 42 Senators and 70 House members had to stay there--even if it was two weeks--had to rankle the Belen leader. The Governor may have his agenda, but it does not include the calender of the Senate or its pace of work. Also, legislative leaders are mindful that each day they are up there costs about $50,000, a politically sensitive number that is constantly cited in the mainstream media.

Sanchez is moving to get a plan that lawmakers approve--not necessarily one the Governor does--and get it on the chief executive's desk in two or three days, if not sooner. He will then argue that the chamber carried out its duty and the ball is in the Guv's court to sign or veto. He hopes the House is of a similar frame of mind.

Sanchez and Company, tired of having their noses rubbed in gubernatorial dirt, have bruised egos and bad tempers when it comes to Richardson. While they now agree with much of his plans to address the shortfall, they are not going to allow themselves to be penned up like cattle and slave over a plan that satisfies only the Guv.

Over in the House, the fractures in the Dem caucus are multiple and House Speaker Lujan has his hands as full as they have ever been. But with Richardson acquiescing on public school cuts, the path to getting a bill out is smoother.

But paths have looked smooth in prior legislative sessions called by Richardson. On day one of this special a big boulder was removed from the road, but no one is yet taking down the sign that reads, "Caution: Landslides Possible."

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