Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Food Fight Over Tax Hikes? Big Bill's Budget Plan Unveiled, Plus: A Rose Colored Aggie, And: An Evening With Gary Johnson & Cheech & Chong 

Food fight anyone? Big Bill came with his budget balancing proposal Tuesday and like the Legislative Finance Committee he calls for a $200 million tax increase to avoid even deeper spending cuts. And neither Richardson or key lawmakers are ruling out reimposing the gross receipts tax on food purchases.

(AP coverage here; Guv's complete proposal here. Guv's news release here.)

When it comes to his first full-fledged budget during an economic crisis, Bill sure isn't listening to us. Rollback the '03 tax cuts for the wealthy? Nope. Increase the capital gains tax on stock and other asset sales to generate sorely needed tax revenue? Not in the cards. Eliminate or reduce some of the myriad of "tax credits" that cost the state millions? Not in this budget.

About all three of those proposals heard here, Richardson asserted Tuesday:

We’ve used these tax cuts and incentives to successfully create thousands of jobs in the state, and I will not give up these tools when we need them most.

We won't beat the proverbial dead horse and again ask for hard evidence of that claim or even note that unemployment here has set recent records, but we wouldn't be worth our blogging pajamas if we didn't point out that in the middle of a devastating recession a Democratic Governor and Legislature don't seem too concerned about a tax code that has gone from progressive to regressive. One wag calls them "The Republicrats."


A food tax would especially draw the wrath of senior citizens on fixed incomes, not a group the 70 members of the state House likes to trifle with considering each of them faces re-election this year and the old folks love to vote. Presumed 2010 Dem Guv nominee Diane Denish was first in line to say she wouldn't touch the foodie tax with a ten-foot pole. Come to think of it, they may start selling 10-foot poles at the Rio Chama by the end of the next legislative session.


Bill says any tax increase that is approved should be "temporary," ending when the economic recovery begins. So when does the recovery begin and that new tax--whatever it is--end? When the unemployment rate goes down? When state revenues increase? On this one the cynics and the conservatives are united in their belief that once passed, tax hikes rarely go away.

And let's not be sure that it's a sure thing a big tax increase will make it through the Legislature. The 25 House R's are united in their opposition which means about ten Dems need to join them.

If you're thinking about giving House Speaker Lujan a gift, you might try a book on the ancient northern New Mexican art of sheep herding. He'll need it to keep his Dems together on any tax hikes.


Do you sense that the relationship between the Guv and the Legislature is less toxic than it was during last fall's '09 special session? Back then it rivaled the prelude to a nasty divorce. But listen to what LFC Chair Lucky Varela is saying about the Guv's budget:

It's doable. The governor, for some reason, is attempting to work with the Legislature...

Well, let's not press our luck, Lucky, and try to divine just why. We all agree a tamer Big Bill is a better Big Bill.

As we said, House members are up for re-election and there's a little thing called a race for Governor coming up. Too many food fights among the majority party and those love starved Republicans could start to get some attention.


But it could get toxic real quick when lawmakers start deciding which of the $150 million in capital outlay projects--aka "pork"--to cut. Bill is proposing they axe the pork to help balance the budget and lawmakers are indicating they will, but both sides have their favorites.


Liberals will argue strongly against the Guv's proposed three percent across the board cut in state government, saving $158 million, but it will get kudos from conservatives and independents.

Richardson also aims to save $4 million by doing away with the "double dippers." Those are the state workers who retire only to go back on the payroll and draw both a paycheck and a retirement check. If the double dippers are dumped, the unanimous rejoinder will be: "It's about time."


It wasn't expected to pass and it didn't. And then some. The plan to carve out a separate city in Bernalillo County's South Valley crashed and burned Tuesday when 93 percent--that's right--93 percent of those voting rejected the idea. The real shocker was the huge and unpredicted turnout. 23,000 were eligible to vote and 6,819 cast ballots. That's a 29 percent turnout. And advocates for the city wanted the post-holiday election to dampen turnout! Hey, don't try to pull a movida on Valley voters. They've been playing La Politica for centuries.

The big worry was that a new city would mean higher taxes, not something freshly frugal voters are warming too these days.

Barbara Couture
It's all roses and smiles this week for Barbara Couture, the new president of New Mexico State University. Not pictured in this Sun-News snap is the state budget crisis that lurks in the background. For now it's a fresh start for the head Aggie who was senior vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Nebraska since 2004.

She will likely be a frequent visitor to the Santa Fe Roundhouse when the session gets underway January 19. One of her first tasks will be to protect the school's funding. To that end, the NMSU regents seemed to have struck a fair bargain with their new leader. Her annual salary is $385,000 plus perks. They also gave her 500,000 reasons to keep that smile on her face for five years. That's the amount of her bonus if she stays that long.


We blogged Monday of the PR reprieve the University of New Mexico is getting as the Lobo basketball team scales the national rankings. That led this reader to give a rare-shout-out to Loboland leaders:

Hooray for (basketball coach) Steve Alford. It appears that people don’t realize that the more the Lobos win, the more money comes into the University, the more we have to hire and pay faculty resulting in a better and increased student population. Its all ecosystem. I also think that (UNM) President Schmidly has tried to bring some big ideas in, and change is hard. I think that he has taken more than his share of heat for past mistakes-Caldera anyone?

Louis Caldera preceded Schmidly as UNM president.


Coverage in the state's press of the re-emergence of former NM Governor Gary Johnson has been complimentary, but there's an obvious major obstacle to any revival of his political future .

Johnson is flirting with an independent or Libertarian Party run for president in 2012 and will speak in New Hampshire this month. But coverage here has barely touched upon the controversies he left in his wake, especially over his fervent advocacy for drug legalization. And the issue isn't going away. Johnson will attend the Marijuana Policy Project's 15th anniversary gala Jan. 13 in D.C. Headliners for the event? Famous comedic dopers Cheech and Chong.

Well, we suppose that makes good copy for the press, if perhaps not very good politics for ex-Governor Gary.


It's the new Tiger Woods game in which you use the up/down keypad arrows to help Tiger avoid the fate that awaits him at the hands of his enraged wife. Incumbent politicos better hope voters aren't as mad as she is this year.

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