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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Runaway Rail Runner; What's The Political Cost? Plus: Some Santa Fe Gloating, And: The Lament Of Brian Colon 

Denish on Rail Runner
More Democrats are getting worried that the NM Rail Runner is going to emerge as a symbol of government incompetence in the fast approaching race for Governor. The shocking news that the commuter train from Belen to Santa Fe is only generating about 13 percent of its revenue from passenger fares only deepened the anxiety. That's only about $3 million of the train's $22 annual million operating budget, leaving taxpayers on the hook for the rest. Public transit is always subsidized, but this gap is especially wide, making for a potential hot potato campaign issue. Independent voters may be particularly upset.

Big Bill moved Monday to avert a shutdown of the Rail Runner on weekends, finding federal funds to keep the train moving. But one of our Senior Alligators, a former state legislator and a regular train rider, comes with what he says is disturbing news on management of the Rail Runner by the Mid-Region Council of Governments:

Joe, There is a definite correlation between financial problems of the Rail Runner and bad management by the Mid-Region Council of Governments (MRCOG). The Council has seen an explosive growth of spending that is not related to the Rail Runner. As a frequent rider of the Rail Runner, I have observed the following; passengers are seldom asked to pay; ticket collectors take for granted that passengers have a monthly pass, and many times collectors have no change for the cost of the ticket or amounts exceeding $5.00. Granted, no rail system is profitable, but we should run the Rail Runner like a business. I have always suggested that the private sector should run this system.

We'll run any response from MRCOG, but it sounds like something the state Department of Transportation may want to look into. The Rail Runner cost the state $400 million to build. It made its inaugural run into Santa Fe in December 2008.

THE POLITICAL TRACK

The political impact of the troubled Rail Runner on the Dem Light Guv campaign of Lawrence Rael has already been mentioned. Lawrence was head of MRCOG and is taking credit for the Rail Runner. Then there is presumed Dem Guv nominee Diane Denish. She may have some tough questions to answer about how she sees the future of this train. However, maybe not too many if the R's nominate Allen Weh as their Guv nominee. When he was GOP chairman Weh was supportive of the Rail Runner.

The long-term future of the Rail Runner remains troubling because it was not modeled after the expensive European model of speed--lots of speed--like well over 100 mph. That is hurting the train as cars race past it from ABQ to Santa Fe. And then there's the recession. Fewer state employees mean fewer Rail Runner riders and lower gross receipts tax revenue means less money to fund the train,

Is the Rail Runner headed for the rust dump? Probably not. But how long can Big Bill find money in various nooks to keep service cutbacks from occurring? He hopes long enough to make it through this election year and preserve what he sees as a crown jewel of his legacy and not a White Elephant.

A LITTLE GLOATING
Terri Cole
There's nothing wrong with a wee bit of gloating in politics and Fred Nathan of Think New Mexico does just that as he points out that the ABQ Chamber of Commerce and its head honcho, Terri Cole, have finally thrown in the towel on reinstating the tax on food as a means of solving the state's budget crisis. Opines Nathan whose group spearheaded the fight against the tax:

(The Chamber's) advertisement Monday on page A-5 of the ABQ Journal, stated the group opposes all tax increases. Presumably this includes the food tax.

"We will strongly oppose any approach to balancing the state's budget that relies on creating new taxes rather than making significant cuts to the growth in state government," said executive director Terri Cole in the advertisement.

Fair enough, Fred. But now if we could only get Think NM to stop its campaign to reinstate the gross receipts tax on what it considers "junk food" like sugary drinks. That tax would also hurt low income New Mexicans.

Hey, if Fred loses on that one, do you think Terri will loan him the towel she threw in when she couldn't get the food tax back?

GENEROUS SENATORS

One of the Democratic US Senate seats imperiled in this topsy-turvy election year belongs to Senator Michael Bennet in our northern neighbor of Colorado. He was appointed to the seat when Ken Salazar was named Secretary of Interior, but now is hanging on for dear life as he must face voter this fall. He already shows a 12 point deficit to his likely Republican foe. Trying to ride to the rescue are NM Dem US Senators Bingaman and Udall who will host a $1,000 a pop party for Bennett at the ABQ home of Kevin Washburn on Feb. 20. Udall and Bingaman can afford the generosity--neither of them is up for re-election this year.

Meantime, Senator Udall made some national news Monday when he talked of changing the Senate's filibuster rule. Currently it takes 60 Senators to get anything of consequence through the Senate.

And Senator Bingaman's office informs that Ken Gonzales, an assistant US NM attorney and the man who insiders have tapped as most likely to be appointed by the President as the state's next US attorney, worked for Bingaman "from Sept. 1996 until March 1999, advising the Senator on matters involving the criminal justice system, transportation and rural development. He left for a job in the US attorney's office."

We had an item up briefly last week that said Gonzales also had a relative who worked in communications in Jeff's office, but Bingaman's spokesman says, "I know of no relation of Mr. Gonzales' who was employed by Senator Bingaman."

THE JET SET

The Guv and Light Guv are exempt from the restriction on us of the expensive state jet. Wonder if that will be part of a 30 second campaign spot when Light Guv Diane Denish faces off with her GOP opponent later this year? Duh.

NO SURPRISE HERE

What will it take for the dead-tree press to deal with economic reality and cease the hometown cheerleading when it comes to the economic mess facing this state? Now we are told NM-based Charter Bank, closed by the feds because of its shaky finances, should have been allowed to keep its doors open. Why? Because New Mexico is not in as bad as shape as Florida or Nevada. And we little folk just don't get it! Of course, this is the same press that supported the bail out of the banks which led to more outrageous Wall Street bonuses and heavily promoted the ill-advised public support of Eclipse Aviation which also ended in disaster.

Thanks to the feds finally doing their job, we may be spared some of the worst fallout from the real estate recession/depression that is slowly and viciously laying waste to balance sheets across our state. It's not happening 2,000 miles away as the newspaper insists. It is happening right around Journal Center. Once again, Rest in Peace, Charter Bank.

A HUNTER FOR LYONS
Robert Corn
Look out Pat Lyons. It is game on for that southern and east side Public Regulation Commission seat you are going after. Former Roswell State Rep. Bob Corn has announced he will also seek the GOP nod for the seat being vacated by Republican David King.

We're going to get some blogging material out of this one. Lyons, current state land commissioner, has been making headlines over a controversial land swap involving the White Peak area in the north. And Lyons is the subject of angst among R's for other controversies during his eight years in the land office.

Roswell is the largest city in the district. That's good news for Corn. Lyons is from a ranch in the northern part of the district, but has major name ID.

Lyons and Corn are a rarity in today's GOP--two established power players going at it for a nomination. Let the entertainment begin.

BRIAN'S LAMENT
Brian Colon
Dem Light Guv contender Brian Colon is lamenting the passage of the years as he marks his 40th birthday today. But that won't stop him from raising money from the occasion. Colon will party with supporters ($40 a pop) at his house on birthday nite.

You've got to give it to the former Dem Party chairman. He's lost almost as much weight as his age--about 35 pounds--and he's kept if off. Still, Colon's lament over aging can't be taken too seriously.

Brian, we've got ties older than you...

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