Monday, February 08, 2010

Will The Real Democratic Party Please Stand Up? Lujan-Denish Tax Rift Shows Divide, Plus: GOP Light Guv Race Intrigues, And: Spotlight On Santa Fe 

Lujan vs. Denish
Will the real New Mexico Democratic Party please stand up? House Speaker Ben Lujan has called out Lt. Governor Denish for dissing a House approved increase in the state gross receipts tax; Big Bill is expressing worry about the House passed surcharge on higher income taxpayers; President Obama is proposing to hike the tax brackets for top tier taxpayers and some Dems in the NM Senate are against any tax increases at all.

Not that the Dems aren't usually a mishmash in our fair state, encompassing conservative cowboy country, the Spanish North and major urban areas, but with the economic stakes never higher, the fractures seem more severe and maybe even threatening to the state's majority party as it seeks to retain the Guv's office this year.

Speaker Lujan and Denish have never been cocktail partners, but Ben's blast of Di after she said she would not support the half percent gross receipts tax boost--"It is unfortunate that the Lt. Governor opposes the courageous action taken by the House with support from education, health and labor advocates"--reveals the party's frustration over a lack of coherent tax policy in the face of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression.

For her part, Denish argued: During these tough economic times, the last thing New Mexico families need is a tax increase on all of their purchases, and I won’t support it...

Denish's camp argues her stance insures that the Light Guv does not alienate critical independent votes in the fall election. She does not face Dem primary opposition so the Dems who like the House's tax package can't do much about it--until November.

But Denish was careful not to directly attack the 1.5 percent income tax surcharge Lujan chaperoned through the House and that we think has appeal among middle and low income voters of all stripes. Also, her voice has yet to be firmly heard on increasing state tax brackets on the highest income earners, rates that were dramatically rolled back by Big Bill and the legislature in the 2003 bull market and now thought by many experts to be out of whack in a time when revenues are collapsing.


Richardson expressing worry over the tax surcharge is the latest in his long line of statements on taxes that break from what the Democratic White House believes and what history may show to be a turning point. Some insiders we speak with think Richardson believes his legacy is inextricably linked to his personal income tax cuts. But he seems to have forgotten the other half of the equation--how he leaves the state positioned for the long term after eight years at the helm.

He could give cover to Dems if he had adopted the Obama tax plan--a slight increase in the top tax brackets as well as an increase for high earners on their capital gains--mainly stock sales--as well as their dividend income. Tax rates on those are at historic lows. Speaker Lujan is in the Richardson camp on those. We await Denish's stance.

Ironically, Richardson appears to be ending his administration in the camp of his longtime rival--conservative Dem Senate Finance Chair John Arthur Smith. He looks at tax increases like a five year old looks at Brussels Sprouts. He hasn't seen many, if any, that he likes.

Republicans on the national level have done a marvelous (or dastardly) job for two decades of demonizing any tax increases for anything, but the wheel of history appears to be turning toward a more balanced approach--cut the fat out of government, but have those who benefited the most from the great expansion of wealth pay more of a fair share of the tax bills.

On both taxing and spending in New Mexico, we are now squarely in the era of no easy choices. The fractures in the Democratic Party over these essential issues shows that the days of reckoning have arrived.


GOP Guv candidate Janice Arnold-Jones will join Doug Turner as the second R hopeful to buy broadcast time for her candidacy. Janice is operating on a tighter budget than Doug so there won't be expensive billboards or TV spots as he has done. Instead, she will take to the radio airwaves this week as R's around the state prepare to pick delegates to their March preprimary convention.

The radio buy is meant to spark interest among party loyalists who will attend those local meetings and then decide in March which candidates will get sanctioned for the June 1 primary ballot. A candidate must get at least 20 percent of the delegates at the preprimary to get that official spot.

Arnold-Jones is expected to come with a bio spot and another on the economy.


How about that low-key but nevertheless quite intriguing race GOP race for Light Guv? Our Alligators and insiders see ABQ State Senator Kent Cravens, '02 Guv nominee and contractor John Sanchez and former Clayton area State Rep. Brian Moore as all likely to get the needed 20 percent of the delegates at the preprimary convention to make the June ballot. They are not as optimistic about the chances of Santa Fe's J.R. Damron.

Sanchez is seen as strongest in the southern part of the state where he became well-known during his Guv run eight years ago. Cravens center of strength is in Bernalillo County and Moore is getting solid support on the East Side.

If all three get on the ballot at the convention, who has the money advantage could be a deciding factor come June 1. Sanchez may be able to self-finance, giving him a financial edge over Cravens and Moore. But if someone has a real strong convention showing that could send money that candidate's way.

Rep. Giannini
When freshman Dem State Rep. Karen Giannini was listed as not voting on that controversial half percent increase in the state's gross receipts tax, the campaign alarm bells went off.

Giannini won election to her ABQ NE Heights seat in 2008 over Republican Justine Fox-Young. Some analysts wonder if it was a fluke, considering the huge landslide Obama had in Bernalillo County or whether the seat has indeed gone Democratic after decades under Republican dominance. That the House leadership would let Giannini skip out on a key tax vote indicates that they aren't sure.

Giannini's Republican challenger, former Senator Domenici aide Nate Gentry, has already been spotted going door-to-door in the district. Giannini's absence on the tax hike vote surely caught his eye, too.


The New York Times came with an extended narrative Sunday of the joys of visiting Santa Fe. (These pieces tend not to to touch on socio-economic conditions). They do this update every couple of years, but this year their travel section piece is especially welcome as the capital city's long-suffering economy would be well-served by an infusion of East coast tourists.

The author's take on approaching Santa Fe from ABQ on I-25:

It’s still one of those approaches, those arrivals, that seems mythical, impossibly grand. The highway reaches away, straight at the mountains, like a long drawbridge into a castle.


Mayor David Coss
We're not surprised to see the latest poll results from the New Mexican showing Santa Fe Mayor David Coss with a comfortable lead over his two rivals in the March 2 mayoral election.

Even though Coss has presided over the beginning of what appears to be a secular (long-term) decline in the Santa Fe economy and although property crime has gone from a nuisance to often rampant, Coss has responded, if not always effectively, to these new concerns.

Also, from studying news accounts, it seems the mayor's chief rival, attorney and former city manager Asenath Kepler, has been successfully dubbed a "Republican." She is indeed one, but that is about as popular in Santa Fe as canceling Indian Market. Coss's other rival, City Councilor Miguel Chavez, appears too laid back to pose a serious threat.

From the poll conducted Feb. 1-3 among 400 registered voters:

Of the 400 registered city voters contacted, 51 percent said Coss would get their vote if the election were held today. Meanwhile, 27 percent chose Kepler and 8 percent Chavez, with 14 percent still undecided.


Looking over the blogging we've done over the course of the Santa Fe' mayor's first term, we find it is mainly about the ups and downs in the economy and property crime. Our long-expressed concerns are shared by Santa Feans who told the newspaper's pollster their two chief concerns are indeed the economy and property crime. Development and growth issues have slipped down the list as the city struggles with its new future.

Coss has few self-inflicted wounds. For example, his administration has not been caught in the ethics net that often snares politicos around here. But if Kepler can't redefine Coss in the closing weeks and loses--Mayor Coss's second term may be more challenging than his first. The heady days of year round tourist-packed hotel rooms are long gone and an ever expanding state government providing good jobs is also a thing of the past. As for crime, the rate remains too high and could worsen unless Coss and his new police chief get tougher.

The "City Different," celebrates its 400th year of existence this year. Watching the woes and challenges of the 21st century play out in the now nearly ancient city held dear by so many here and around the world is painful, but its storied history is a welcome reminder that survival is embedded in Santa Fe's DNA.

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