Friday, November 06, 2009

ABQ Congress Race: Waiting For Some Sparks, Plus: Friday Clippings From My Newsroom Floor: Double-Dipping, Space Wars And Photo ID 

We'll start off with this invitation to the Nov. 16 ABQ fund-raising lunch Vice-President Joe Biden will host on behalf of NM Dem US Reps. Martin Heinrich and Harry Teague. Lunch is going for $1,000 a pop at the Hotel Andaluz downtown. That is the former Hilton, originally built in 1939 and recently reopened. A $2400 contribution gets you lunch and attendance at a reception for the Veep. The cash will be split evenly between Teague and Heinrich, but northern Dem Congressman Ben Ray Lujan isn't forgotten. He won't get any of the money but the invite dubs him "a special guest."

This is the ice-walking stage for Heinrich and Teague. We're all watching to see if they step to heavy and fall in the pond, giving their opponents an opening. Some say Teague already has by supporting controversial climate legislation. But what about Heinrich? He was castigated as a far-left Dem in '08 but he went on to rout his Republican rival by some 10 points.

If you are the R's, you have to be worried about the ABQ seat slipping away. Republican Jon Barela has had a so-so fund-raising start and the only available path right now to take Heinrich down is to tie him to unpopular national polices and hope Obama is sinking a year from now.

But Heinrich has access to the ABQ media market and has been forming an identity that connects with local issues and people. He is inoculating himself slowly but surely from the national environment. Even his opponents admit it has been well-executed--so far.

R's think Barela is an ideal candidate, a smart, Hispanic lawyer. His initial fund-raising efforts have been somewhat anemic, but he is more a victim of Heinrich's initial success. Barela needs an opening to get heard. Right now, when it comes to the ABQ congressional race, it's all quiet on all fronts.


During this state budget meltdown we are hearing more than ever about those notorious double-dippers--government employees who retire with a nice monthly pension check, but then show back up on the state payroll at high-paying jobs, drawing two reliable checks. But how does that actually impact the budget? Someone would be doing the job the double-dippers were doing. The question popped up again this week when Light Guv Diane Denish said, if elected Governor, she could save $7 million a year by curtailing double-dipping. Reader Daniel Klein has the explanation:

...The state has to pay 100% of the double dippers retirement contribution (into PERA or ERA). So here is the math. The state says there are 2,200 double dippers. Let's say on average the double dippers salary is $50,000 and their average retirement contribution rate is 10%. That means the state has to pay $5,000 each year into the retirement fund for each double dipper. Multiply this by 2,200 double dippers and we get $11,000,000 that the state budget must come up with...

Now, I am sure the Lt. Gov. numbers ($7 million savings) are more accurate for each double dippers salary and retirement contribution rate. I'm just making the math easier to understand.

Denish says she would make some exceptions when it comes to double-dipping by public safety employees because she believes some of those positions are hard to fill, but Klein takes the opposite view:

There are plenty of great candidates out there. This is just a way for public safety to continue the good old boy system. Many will point to the ABQ police and say they have a hard time hiring. Hogwash. The problem is the hiring system. It can take months to hire a police cadet at $17 an hour. Yet Sandia Labs can hire someone who needs a security clearance within a month.

And the debate will go on, especially when the Legislature meets again on January 19.


Our defense Wednesday of the planned Spaceport for southern NM drew praise and darts. That's not surprising as there is no guarantee the public investment will pay off.

Here's a sample. First, Bill McCamley, a former Dona Ana County commissioner, who is now running for a southern Public Regulation Commission seat:

Though the cost is high, it is one of the few projects we have in the state that has the potential to bring private money in to our economy from outside the state. Furthermore, it gives us the chance to create jobs that will allow our talented young people to stay here in the state rather than having to move to nearby urban areas to find quality work.

But longtime reader Richard Anklam says we were way too indulgent when it comes to the Spaceport:

One thing we know for certain is that deadlines have slipped. They’ve yet to pave the runway, and Virgin Galatic is at least a year behind...The economy would likely dampen the optimistic projections even if Virgin and the Spaceport were really up and running. The $100 million (legislative capital outlay) you mention was only the initial investment, but the total price tag is much higher..We raised gross receipts tax in two counties...But capital spending aside, what economic activity is really taking place? And how much in the near future can we count on?

The report shows manufacturers’ headquarters, and assumes that propulsion, avionics, and airframes will be manufactured here...We have no good track record of attracting manufacturers, and the Spaceport doesn’t do much to change that...Our tax structure simply isn’t conducive...

Eventually the spaceport will see use and realize some of the promised benefits, but the less we get and the longer it takes to get it only reduces the return on investment and potentially to a point where it doesn’t make sense…

Total state investment in the Spaceport, including local taxes, is put at $198 million. MSNBC recently visited the project and filed this report.


From the NM GOP:

On Wednesday, Governor Richardson held office hours to hear constituent concerns...In order to speak with the governor, however, New Mexicans must verify their identity by presenting a valid state driver’s license. It’s curious that in order to talk with the governor for five minutes, New Mexicans are required to provide more proof of identity than when they participated in the very process which elected Mr. Richardson. And yet, research shows that New Mexicans overwhelmingly support legislation that would require individuals to show photo identification before casting a ballot.

Photo ID is required in ABQ city elections, but not statewide balloting.


We had spelling lapses with some names in Thursday's blog. For the record, it is Julie Dreike who was a district office manager for ex-Rep. Wilson and now is an employee of the federal Veterans Administration. Jeep Gilliland, also on Berry's transition team, is a former president of the New Mexico Federation of Labor-AFL-CIO, made up of various labor unions. And the first name of the wife of the late jurist Gene Franchini is Glynnie.

Thanks for tuning in this week. From Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan.

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