Friday, February 19, 2010

Wanted To See A Trainwreck? Santa Fe Delivers A Doozy; Era Of Pain Takes Hold; Legislature Freezes; Special Session Set, Plus: Our Tortilla Manners 

It's like Christians versus the Muslims in the City of Faith also known as Santa Fe, scene of one the worst legislative train wrecks in a quarter century and with more crashes nearly certain to come.

The enormity of the task facing the body politic is now evident to even the church mice hiding in the basement of the Loretto Chapel down the street from the Roundhouse.

We're going to need some religious conversions and fast if this Legislature is going to get off its California kick. That's when you meet and meet again and get the same results, or no results.

With the failure of the 30 day session Thursday we're now 0-2. The October special to address the ever-growing state budget shortfall was known as the "kick the can down the road session." And here we are again--staring at that ugly ol' can.

But they didn't really even put a toe on the can this session. Neither House or Senate came up with realistic plans to close the now $600 million budget gap (and likely to grow).

So now it's on to a $50,000 a day special session set to begin Wednesday. This is only the first time since 1984 that the Legislature has failed to produce a budget at a regular session. And that happens to be the last time the state was in anywhere near as serious a mess as we face today.

But it is different this time. Oil and gas prices snapped back in the 80's and the problem was solved. Even soaring energy prices won't do the trick this time as the state is still wallowing in a consumer led recession. There are predictions of even more trouble when the next state budget projections come in early April.


No one serving in Santa Fe will benefit from this debacle, but it is the majority party Democrats who have the most on the line. Richardson is calling the special session right away because the longer this eyesore is viewed, the more it is going to drag down the D's. He is saying he believes the House and Senate are close to a deal. To that Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico will say: "From his lips to God's ears."


It was not a pretty session for Big Bill, his last regular one since he assumed the Guv's chair in 2003.

Senators blocked one of his appointments to a state board — the first time that had happened since Gary Johnson's first administration. The Senate overwhelmingly voted to override two of his vetoes from the previous session — though House Democrats made sure the override attempts ended with a thud.


As the Democratic train jumps the tracks, the Republican nomination for Governor is getting more valuable by the day. Negative campaigning between the five hopefuls has now erupted publicly and will get only more intense as the smell of power begins to intoxicate.

For example, Doug Turner has now joined with Pete Domenici Jr. in asking that Dona Ana County District Attorney Susana Martinez take a leave of absence from her DA job because she is devoting full-time attention to her Guv run.

Bernalillo County Republicans meet Saturday to select delegates to the March preprimary convention. Everyone is going to try to be figuring out which Guv candidate, if any, seizes momentum here.


Lt. Governor Diane Denish, soon to be the 2010 Dem Guv nominee, may have the most at stake. But she seems as flummoxed as House and Senate leaders over how to get a budget compromise, or just doesn't want to deal with the mess.

In her official response to the train wreck, she expressed disappointment that the Legislature did not pass several ethics bills. Ethics? That's it? That's like talking about a leaky faucet while the house is burning down. But Di appears to be doing what your mom told you to do in these circumstances: "If you can't say anything good about someone, don't say anything at all."

Denish has a limited role at the Legislature, presiding over the State Senate. But the longer Santa Fe fails to produce, the more peril it poses to her. After all, she is an incumbent and Santa Fe's political Holy War will only stoke more anti-incumbent emotions.

As this crisis deepens pressure will grow on the Light Guv to unveil a specific fiscal plan, but for now the budget baby belongs to Big Bill who in turn has passed the crying little one into the arms of a bitterly divided Legislature.


Denish and the Dems might be wise to avoid toying any more with that toxic tax on food, but it is still making the rounds at the Roundhouse. A reinstatement of the gross receipts tax on food in any form--including sugary foods--could bring back bad memories. Remember what that penny a gallon gas tax did to former Dem Governor Bruce King in '94? It was a ready made call for voter rebellion and R success at the polls.


The legislative leadership can only hope for a better special session than the disappointment they presided over this past month. Senate Majority Leader Sanchez, Senate Pro Tem Jennings, Senate Finance Chair "Dr. No" Smith, House Speaker Lujan and House elders Varela and Saavedra could not get the job done. They would be fired in the private sector. Plain and simple.


Ben Lujan lost some control of his Dem caucus this session. An every man for himself attitude developed as the economic crisis slapped individual lawmakers in the face. Seeing the Speaker teetering a bit renewed speculation that come 2011 he could again be challenged for his leadership role. But the bench is not bursting with prospects.


The Senate hates taxes and the House hates spending cuts. And the word hate isn't too strong. Like the Middle East, Santa Fe is not an atmosphere conducive to compromise.

We are witnessing the slow and painful birth of a new political era in New Mexico. It will be one in which conservatives will eventually have to capitulate to tax increases and liberals will have to acquiesce to spending cuts. But who wants to be first to let go of the days of wine and roses?


What passed and didn't pass (besides the budget) in the 30 day session is detailed by The AP.


That controversy over the tortilla tax had us wondering here if our habit of wrapping our chicharrones in a tortilla and dousing the treat with red chile was proper tortilla etiquette. Helpful readers, including Taos attorney Helen Laura Lopez, come with the welcome response:

Joe, It is proper etiquette to wrap anything in a tortilla, except a tax bill. Chicharrones on the side can be picked up with tortillas.

On your way north, stop by El Parasol in Española for a chicharron burrito. Come up to visit us in Llano San Juan (Taos County) and I will make you a green chile tortilla buffalo burger. Soft warm tortillas are the soul of many good meals.

We're on our way, Helen. And if we have time we'll do some people watching at the cool lobby of the Taos Inn.

Thanks for your company this week. From Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan reporting.

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