Thursday, January 28, 2010
Sanchez And The Unthinkable: Raiding The Piggy Bank; Analysis And Context, Plus: Our Budget Balance Plan--Again, And: Readers Blog On Bikes & Pete Jr
Sanchez and the Noose
Quick! Someone call Santa Fe County Sheriff Greg Solano. It looks like a hanging party is forming over at Ft. Marcy Park for State Senators Michael Sanchez and Mary Jane Garcia. But before the mob rushes them to the hangman's noose--or worse--lights them up like Zozobra, let's have the good sheriff calm the crowd so we can take a reasonable look at the senatorial duo's proposal to raid the state's rainy day funds to balance a state budget that is crashing and burning faster than the aforementioned Old Man Gloom.
We broke the news to to you November 2 of Majority Leader Sanchez's plan to propose that money be lifted from the Permanent Funds when he dropped the news to us over a plate of chicharrones at Barelas Coffee House. Now that he and Majority Whip Garcia have actually proposed to take $500 million from the $13 billion we have stockpiled and use it to to fill the budget gap, the squeals are louder than those made by the pigs when the chicharrones chefs went to work on them.
Look, Sanchez's plan will be getting as much support as a state ethics commission with real teeth (very little), but if the 112 lawmakers get to gridlock and can't pull the curtain down on this 30 day Santa Fe shindig, the table is going to get crowded with stuff you never dreamed of.
We have about $13 billion in our Permanent Funds, making them among the largest of any state in the USA and a sublime legacy to the gray beards of a hundred years ago who set them up. But there may come a time--not now--when the political consensus shifts and the crowd agrees it really is raining and that these funds will be subjected to more liberal use.
But right now Santa Fe's budget cutting blades are so dull, Emeril Lagasse would ban them from his kitchen. The public wants to see budget blood flow before it looks at the weather report to see if it is raining and time for a raid.
Sanchez and Garcia would not take the money and run. They would float bonds against the borrowed money, hopefully to be paid back to the permanent funds with tax revenues from an improved economy. That's a gamble--a big one--but with a radicalized "no taxes no matter what" business lobby and an equally radical "tax everything that moves" far left lobby, ideas that were once unthinkable are now looking as normal as an egg on top of an enchilada.
BLUE IN THE FACE
We and others have been talking ourselves blue in the face about this budget crisis and what we see as very reasonable proposals for its resolution that don't resort to breaking into the state's piggy bank or immediately throwing a couple of thousand state employees out into the streets. Let's go to the videotape:
Approve that one percent surtax on the wealthiest taxpayers who benefited the most from the Late Great Bull Market; hike the gross receipts tax by a quarter cent for three years raising $100 million a year; cut $150 million in capital outlay funds that are likely to never be used anyway; continue the hiring freeze in state government; forcefully address the bloated administrative structures at the state's universities (Hello, UNM) and public schools; eliminate hundreds of political appointee positions (live by the sword die by the sword); and encourage early retirement from eligible state workers.
AND THERE'S MORE
If necessary, furlough state employees who make above $35,000 a year, but make the furloughs longer for the highest paid; examine the millions of dollars in legal contracts doled out annually and start cutting; eliminate some of the dozens of tax credits that benefit few but cost all of us; emphasize tax credits and breaks for small, job creating businesses; raise the capital gains tax rate a modest amount. (Sorry, Speaker Lujan. You are mistaken to say there are no capital gains to tax because of the recent stock and real estate crashes. There are millions in assets that have been held for decades, have appreciated greatly and are now being sold and taxed at historically low rates). Finally, save some $7 million a year by eliminating the double dippers, including the ones hired by Big Bill, not just future dippers.
Well, you get the idea. It's like making a list of your favorite movies or books and you just can't stop. On second thought, when talking to Santa Fe it's more like repeatedly banging your head against the wall.
The danger of the Sanchez/Garcia permanent fund raid is obvious--once you start smoking crack even Betty Ford can't make you quit. But the state has been investing some of these funds in what appear to be politically connected schemes so voluminous and so harebrained that the federal grand jury looking into them doesn't have time for a bathroom break.
This reckless abandon in how our permanent savings was at times invested is a much more serious threat than the comparatively innocuous Sanchez proposal that would actually spend the money for state services, not for betting at the permanent floating crap game devised by the Wall Street casino croupiers.
Unless we soon get real leadership in this 2010 session from this Governor and Legislature--leadership that forces the lobbyists on all sides of the equation to get their feet out of the cement and compromise on spending cuts and modest tax hikes--it won't be the necks of Sanchez and Garcia in that hangman's noose at Ft. Marcy Park--it will be those of Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico.
There are plenty of folks running for Bernalillo County Sheriff this year, but ABQ Police Department Commander Conrad Candelaria won't be one of them. After telling us he was getting in, he called to say he is now getting out. It's been a roller-coaster ride for Candelaria who was considered a top prospect to replace Darren White when he left the Sheriff's office to become ABQ's public safety director. But the county commission appointed sheriff's department veteran Manny Gonzales, bypassing Candelaria who ran into a buzz saw when his foes questioned the conditions of his discharge from the National Guard. It was a technical matter, but it hurt Candelaria who was also high on the list of possibles to become the next US Marshal for New Mexico. That post is filled by the Prez, but Conrad withdrew his name. We're still awaiting a Democrat to be named to replace Gordon Eden. Meanwhile, Candelaria says he will soon retire from APD.
There are three Republicans running for Sheriff and there are a number of Dems besides Sheriff Gonzales also seeking the primary nomination. We'll gather that list for you soon.
HARDWOOD FOR LAWMAKERS
If you are hanging in Santa Fe Friday night, and want political action away from the Roundhouse, here it is:
Members of the Senate and House will “hit the hardwood” Friday night, in the much-anticipated 2010 Annual Legislative Basketball Game...Players on the House team will be wearing NM State University “Aggies” white home-team jerseys and the senators will be suited up in the University of New Mexico “Lobos” cherry red away-team jerseys. All proceeds from the event will go to the UNM Cancer Center. The game will be at the St. Michael's High School...Tip-off is 7:00 pm. Tickets cost $5
BIKER VS. DRIVERS
The comments from ABQ attorney and ardent bicyclist Diane Albert on this blog Wednesday drew a bunch of email. She called for making I-25 from ABQ to Santa Fe a toll road, saying, "As a bicycle commuter, I am tired of subsidizing those motor vehicles on the highways who do not pay their way!
Reader and Santa Fe lobbyist Domonic Silva of Las Cruces was one of the many who had sharp retorts:
Who is subsidizing who!
I'd like to tell Diane that I am tired of subsidizing bicycle commuters! I travel to Santa Fe from Las Cruces about 40 times a year. It costs me $100 in gas for a round trip. Of that, I pay about $40 in state and federal gas taxes. If you do the math, I pay about $1600 (in gas tax) a year to make just that drive. In addition I paid an excise tax on my vehicle so add an additional $1200. I doubt the tax paid on Diane's expensive bicycle has subsidized the roads I choose to drive. So remember the next time you want to get mad at a motor vehicle while you are commuting on your bike, remember who really pays for that road.
Reader Rob Rosales writes in about the coverage of the GOP Guv candidacy of Pete Domenici, Jr.:
The local media's embrace of Pete Domenici Jr. is only rivaled by their breathless coverage of a similar candidate--actor Val Kilmer. Perhaps that will be the final two-- Domenici Jr. vs. Kilmer, both inexperienced and unimpressive candidates whose only claim to fame is their name.
...These two would bore the electorate into not showing up. God forbid someone experienced (Denish, Arnold-Jones or Martinez) or successful (Turner or Weh) actually are selected to lead our state out of this mess. But in a state where taxpayers are robbed by buddy deals (and no one does anything about it), perhaps we deserve to have either of these two mediocre gentlemen assume control.
Actor Kilmer toyed with a run for the Dem Guv nod, but said he decided against it. He was spotted at the Roundhouse Wednesday.
THE BOTTOM LINES
Reader Kim Armano finishes things up this Thursday with a note we may not merit, but one that made our day:
...How you keep yourself intellectually stimulated and creative as you blog away--essentially in a vacuum with no colleagues or editor there to discipline or motivate you to be so productive--is truly remarkable.
I was going to say "keep it coming" but I know you will, regardless of my encouragement. It's very reassuring to have you as an information source and as a continuum in my Monday through Friday days.
Not that we couldn't use an editor the way we sometimes batter around the language.
We're glad to have your company, Kim, and that of all our readers across New Mexico and the USA.
This is the home of New Mexico politics. Email your news and comments.
(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2009
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