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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Santa Fe Session: Waiting For Some Magic, Plus: Domenici: Front Runner For What? And: Back On The UNM Beat On Your Wednesday Blog 

Taos winter sunset
No voter rebellion in Albuquerque last night. $616 million in bond issues were approved by 72 percent of the voters. Of course, the anti-tax increase crowd can argue that approval of the bonds did not raise taxes and thus are not any indication that New Mexico voters are willing to add to their tax burden to help solve the state's $600 million budget gap. But something is going to have to resolve it and with the thirty day session about halfway through, there are already whispers of gridlock and special sessions. Of course, the leadership will tell you that "magic" will manifest itself in the final days as it always has and a deal will be cut resolving the mammoth deficit.

But the House and Senate remain far apart, and this is not a garden variety budget dispute. It is the mother of all budget battles, with real government jobs at stake. It makes observers wonder why anything else is being given much attention during this session which constitutionally is supposed to be devoted to budget matters.

Just in case there is an end of session calamity we checked with our wall-leaners to find out if that proposal by Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez to borrow millions from the state's permanent funds would need more than a majority vote in the Legislature. No, it would not. A simple majority would suffice to float bonds against the rainy day fund money.

Not that anyone is saying a rainy day raid will be the end game, just that the idea is not seen as far-fetched as it was a week ago. Why? Because House tax increase proposals are truly on a collision course with Senate demands for spending cuts.

OYSTERS AND TAXES


You can see part of the reason why the state is in such a budget mess as you are out and about. Last night at Pappadeaux, a popular national seafood chain, diners were splurging on oysters on the half shell. Well, splurging is hardly the word. They were on sale for $3.99 a dozen and not a few customers were ordering a couple of batches instead of more expensive entrees. That means smaller bills and that means less gross receipts tax for the state.

(We opted out of the cheap oysters and went for the Greek salad and Andouille and seafood soup. Hey, someone has to help the state).

Mark Bernstein, co-owner of the locally-owned Flying Star Restaurant chain, told us recently that a good number of customers are coming through the doors of his restaurants but they are ordering less. That confirms the major and continuing change in consumer spending patterns that is shrinking tax collections and causing Santa Fe solons their biggest financial headache in generations.

RAEL RAILS

Dem Lt. Governor candidate Lawrence Rael is joining his rivals and dumping on Brian Colon for failing to show up for last Friday's Taos County Dem Party debate and Saturday's party convention there. Go ahead, Lawrence, unload.

If you are re going to represent the north, you have to be in the north. I was glad to attend both the Taos debate and convention. If he is truly a statewide candidate, Brian Colon should have been there. I also made it to the Valencia County Matanza he was at on the same day as the Taos convention that he failed to attend. I am very concerned about the needs of all of New Mexico--rural and urban.

We ran Colon's defense of his Taos absence yesterday. Another angle we hear is that Taos County Dem Party Chairman Chuby Tafoya--(yeah, that's one of the great names in state politics) is partial to Rael's candidacy and tangled with Colon when Colon was Dem state chairman.

Whatever the insider baseball, in the absence of any other competitive Democratic primaries, the Light Guv race is providing the major blogging entertainment for Primary 2010. Maybe we should buy some of those cheap oysters at Pappadeaux to celebrate?

WHAT KIND OF FRONT RUNNER?

Dem analysts quoted here say Pete Domenici Jr. can safely be dubbed the front runner for the GOP Guv nomination June 1st. But that doesn't mean he is the front runner at the important mid-March preprimary convention where candidates will vie to capture at least 20 percent of the delegates votes to get an official spot on the June 1 ballot. And if Domenici can be held back there in a significant way, could it reshape the race for the final stretch?

There will be fewer than 500 GOP delegates at that GOP convention next month. That means less than 100 delegates gets you to the magic 20 percent mark. This is political hand-to-hand combat at its best as the five GOP candidates work feverishly to secure their share. It really is a test of organization, ability to persuade and character under pressure--traits that are important to governing a state as well as begin good at politics.

Domenici's name and the buzz that he might be the strongest general election candidate against Dem Diane Denish should alone carry him over the 20 percent mark, but Allen Weh, Susana Martinez, Doug Turner and Janice Arnold-Jones can be expected to continue to apply the pressure. Domenici is being careful not to set expectations for the preprimary, but because of who he is they will not be low.

Denish unloaded on Domenici (not by name) at a recent legislative dinner, revealing that she thinks he is the likely nominee. But that is not necessarily the view shared by many Republicans. The party has suffered major division in recent years, making it difficult for any one hopeful to get major momentum going into the preprimary.

ASSESSING THE ASSESOR

Bernalillo County Assessor Karen Montoya will kick-off her re-election campaign this week, but the Democrat may not have a free ride for the Democratic nomination. Guess who might be back? Former Assessor Mark Carillo who served eight years in the post and was term limited before Montoya took over. Nothing official just yet...

THE MEDIA BEAT

A reader writes from Santa Fe:

Why is the Albuquerque Journal afraid of a little competition? The New Mexico Broadcasters Association is considering asking the Legislature to give local governments, like your local school board or city council, the option of turning to radio and TV stations to inform the public about upcoming meetings and other public information.

As it stands now, newspapers have a monopoly. Governments must publish public notices in local newspapers. And of course there is a cost--to taxpayers. So, why not give governments a choice between newspapers, radio or television to get the most bang for taxpayer money? Why
shouldn’t newspapers have to compete with broadcasters--or even the Internet--for government business?

Ironically, the Journal’s editors haven’t yet seen fit to assign its team of legislative reporters to cover this issue. Wonder why?

Reminds us of that old joke. "The worst thing about capitalism is competition."

FOLLOW-UPS


UNM Regent Jamie Koch was confirmed to a second, six year term--not four years--as we blogged in our first draft yesterday. He served one year of that before winning Senate confirmation Monday to the second term. Koch's complete opening statement before the Senate Rules Committee can be read here. In it, he explains an audit questioning whether all UNM faculty is living up to their required work loads. The faculty gave Koch a vote of no-confidence.

We first spelled the first name of State Senator Dianna Duran (R-Dona Ana & Otero) with only one "n." We did that even after we Googled her name as we blogged of her bid for the GOP nod for Secretary of State.

Do we have a Starbucks deficiency?

THE UNM BEAT (CONT.)

Back to UNM for a moment. It is the kind of tinderbox issue that is going to start landing on the front-door of Diane Denish soon. The presumed Dem Guv nominee is already being looked to for leadership on the issue from blog readers like Sarah Nezzer:

I've sent her (Denish) campaign two emails involving my (and many others) concerns about UNM's hierarchal structure, athletic funding, loss of faculty, and top heavy pay structure. I then asked for official stand on anything having to do with UNM. And she said...well, nothing. I have yet to receive any response. In an economy as hard hit as NM, the fiscal drain of UNM should be a concern to government officials and taxpayers alike. Furthermore, all parents and students of the University should be concerned to see such a fine institution going though such turmoil.

Shouldn't that force be one that is educating students to their fullest potentials? How can that happen when we still are losing faculty to other institutions, and freezing vital staff positions so that our VP's can collect on their hefty salaried positions? I hope that with your constant attention to this issue, and your readers interest, this will become a hot button topic at election time.

We hope it will as well, Sarah. The Guv candidates on both sides have a lot of homework to do to answer the tough questions that will be headed their way in the months ahead.

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