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Monday, January 25, 2010

Political Jobs Cut Or Shifted? Plus: NM Bank Woes, BillBoarding Harry Teague, And: Kiki & The Gators And Much More On Your Monday Blog 

We're hearing from lawmakers and capitol observers concerned that efforts to really trim the fat from state government in this budget crisis is, in some cases, amounting to musical chairs. The Governor announced with fanfare that he would let go 59 of his political appointees, but he would not release the names, raising suspicions that they could be placed in other positions without anyone noticing. Now our sources say that appears to be happening. From deep on the inside comes this:

I understand that the previous Deputy Secretary at the Workforce Solutions Department--Theresa Gomez and the Administrative Services Director (ASD) Lloyd Garley--have both been moved to “Temp” Division Directors with end dates of June 2011 and are being funded from federal stimulus dollars. In addition, the department has brought on another Deputy Secretary--Teresa Casados---and are in process of advertising for a new ASD. No cut backs here.


The Workforce Solutions Dept. formerly known as the labor department, has been a notorious political dumping ground for time immemorial. Our political system is set up to hand out a certain amount of patronage, but with a $600 million state budget shortfall, cries are being heard from far and wide for reality to be recognized.

New Mexico's soft private economy doesn't help. State government jobs are among the most valued. They offer the benefits and salaries that the private sector here too often doesn't. That makes political opposition to real reductions stiff indeed. But hard choices beckon in this ravaging recession. Are the Governor and Legislature, for example, going to permit service cuts to the disabled and genuinely impoverished while continuing to favor a political class that treats a government job as a lifetime sinecure?


New Mexico needs a knock down, drag out fight over its future employment and salary priorities. But budget watchdogs fear it may instead get a game of musical chairs or a version of kick the can down the road.

BANKING ON IT
Rep. Egolf
At first blush the proposal from Santa Fe Dem State Rep. Brian Egolf to
move the state's money out of Bank of America and into banks and credit unions based in NM makes a lot of sense. It could amount to $1.4 billion that could be used by our community banks to stimulate local lending.

But Egolf had some cold water splashed his way only hours after the proposal made the rounds. New Mexico's Charter Bank, based in Santa Fe with ABQ and Rio Rancho branches, had been shut down by federal regulators for being "unsafe and unsound."
(Depositors did not lose money, The Feds turned the bank over to Beal Financial Corp. of Texas and all branches will be open today).

The shuttering of Charter again points out the pitfalls of managing the state's accounts with any kind of agenda other than absolute safety. Look at the trouble we got into when the State Investment Council started doling out money from the billions in our Permanent Funds for investments in risky private sector hedge funds and the like.

Our local banks deserve a shot at managing the state's cash accounts, but Egolf's proposal--while appealing on a populist level--is not a no-brainer. The Charter Bank fiasco, brought about by questionable commercial real estate loans, drives home the point that bank safety at all levels can't be taken for granted. Fortunately, Egolf's measure calls for studying the feasibility of dividing up the state's cash in local banks and not mandating it. The Charter Bank closure and the collapse of First Community Bancorporation shares (it has 40 NM branches) make safety, as bankers used to say in the good old days, "the prudent course" to follow.

CAN THE VIOLINS

We're well aware of the argument of some local bankers that the feds are being too tough in analyzing their commercial real estate loans. But unlike some in the mainstream media, we aren't getting out the violins.

What we see is "for sale and "for lease" signs across this state more numerous than a swarm of locusts and a slow but undeniable decrease in the value of commercial and residential real estate. If the feds are now being too tough, they and the Congress that bailed out the banks were way too lenient. Let the pendulum swing back and let the clean up of the casinos--aka the banks--continue.
Rest in Peace, Charter Bank.

HEY, WE WERE ONLY JOKING


Harry Teague. There's a posse on your trail.

We ribbed the southern NM congressman when we chatted him up last week on this blog:

We joked with (Dem US Rep. Harry) Teague, asking whether he will put up a billboard in Hobbs of Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and himself. He laughed aloud and replied: "No, I won't, but they (the R's) probably will."


But now we get an actual billboard (well, at least an altered image) from the National Republican Congressional Committee which we post here today. It features Harry, Nancy and the Prez and how it might look on a highway down in conservative Hobbs. We've got to believe that the real deal is not far behind.

Teague is being challenged by Republican Steve Pearce who held the seat before he vacated it for a run at the US Senate. This is Teague's first re-election test.

NO MORE LOW PROFILE
Maggie Hart Stebbins
Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins has been around public service a while so when we ran into her recently we asked why we had never crossed paths: "I've always liked to keep a low profile," she informed.

But her days of a low-profile are long gone. Hart, 47, was appointed by Big Bill in May 2009 to fill a vacancy left on the Bernalillo County Commission when Deanna Archuleta took a job in D.C. Now Maggie must win the June 1 Dem primary nomination as she seeks her own four year term to the seat which represents a large swath of the ABQ SE Heights, including the university and Nob Hill areas.

She appears to have two primary opponents. One is Arturo Archuleta who was among those Big Bill considered appointing to fill the commission vacancy last year when the prize went to Hart. We haven't seen an official announcement from Archuleta, but Hart says she believes he is in and she is off and running. Archuleta is the Executive Director of the Mexicano Land Education Conservation Trust, a non-profit organization aimed at providing technical assistance to Spanish and Mexican community land grants.

Also, Danny Hernandez, a longtime UNM Dem area activist and a member of the metro flood control authority board confirms he is challenging the new commissioner and says he will run a grassroots campaign. We don't know of any R's yet seeking the seat.

Hart Stebbins, who has four children with husband Eric, had her kick-off event over the weekend which was co-hosted by a who's who of ABQ area Dem liberals. They included Jim Baca, State Reps Al Park, Danice Picraux and Gail Chasey, plus Senators, Griego, Keller and McSorley. That kind of support is going to bring campaign cash for the ubiquitous mailings that are part of these commission contests.

Hart has spent her first year learning the ropes on the five member commission, but she did sponsor a major piece of ethics legislation. It won plaudits with the libs but was dissed by the ABQ Journal which said it was passed in haste. Her progressive background has worried some business types, but we note that so far both her potential challengers are coming at her from the left.

The 1985 Harvard/Radcliffe grad worked until recently as a projects manager at the Mid-Region Council of Governments where she was marketing manager for the Rail Runner. Previously she toiled for Raymond Sanchez when he was Speaker of the House. She has also worked on Capitol Hill in D.C.

The county commission has three Dems and two R's. The winner of the June primary for the Hart seat can be expected to hold it for the D's come November.

UNM WOES (CONT.)

Did you see the latest from the University of New Mexico? No big deal. Just falsified time sheets, an unauthorized bonus plan and failing to pay employee overtime. All that from a recent audit of the Biology Department and you can add it to the stack of afflictions our Harvard on the Rio Grande suffers from. It seems all segments of the university are in need of a thorough scrubbing.

Imagine this. The Legislature makes a special appropriation of $2 million a year for two years for the office of the State Auditor to hire ten forensic auditors who do nothing but look at the books of UNM and other state agencies and start finding the "fraud, waste and abuse" that we hear the politicos mouth about so often.

Okay, all you cynics, please stop rolling in the aisles with laughter. A fella can dream, can't he?

KIKI AND THE GATORS

That was a fun pic we posted Friday of House Appropriations Committee Chairman Kiki Saavedra shining shoes at the capitol. We suggested he would use any money he made to help balance the state budget. We also urged him to take a look at the 19 UNM vice-presidents making $4.5 million a year as a means of saving some cash. But that comment, not surprisingly, brought this Alligator strike via email:

Joe, I agreed with you a while back when you called for sweeping changes at UNM...Your blog exemplified everything that is wrong with UNM. Kiki Saavedra is not worried about controlling exorbitant VP salaries as much as he is making sure they keep paying his son, Marc, nearly $150,000 to lobby the Legislature.? He gets a 45K raise in salary!! UNM is in dire straits because of these guys.

UNM lobbyist Marc Saavedra, son of Kiki, had his salary boosted in the past couple of years from $94,000 to about $135,000 as of Feb. '08, according to the ABQ Journal.

THE KOCH REPORT


And then there's University of New Mexico Regent Jamie Koch who recently told us he expects he will finally have a confirmation hearing before the Senate Rules Committee this legislative session on his reappointment to the board by Big Bill.

That committee is chaired by ABQ State Sen. Linda Lopez who is running for the Dem nod for lieutenant governor. Insiders are tracking this one, sending us state records that show Jamie gave Linda a $1,000 contribution last August. So how are we going to get an unbiased examination of Koch's tenure from Senate Rules? Koch responds:

...I have raised some money for her. There is nothing hidden about these efforts. You will find my name on her list of contributors going back a number of years. I supported Ms. Lopez when I was state Democratic party chair. I supported her when she ran for state senator. I have encouraged her to run for Lt. Governor. I have supported many Democratic legislators and will continue to do so...I support people for public office because I believe these people are capable of doing a good job, not because I expect anything in return.

When I look at your blog, I see ads from various politicians, none of whom will get a free pass from you just because they advertise..Likewise, I do not expect to get a free pass from you or any of the legislators. I welcome the opportunity to state my positions clearly so people will know where I stand.

Thanks for the note, Jamie. However, I don't think we are in comparable positions. You preside as a regent over the state's largest university which is funded by millions of taxpayer dollars. We preside over a privately financed Alligator pond. But we appreciate the bump up in status.

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