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Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Econ Beat: Slammed Again; ABQ Firm Lets Go 700; State Official Reels; Food Tax During This? Plus: Obama Vs. The Lobos 

It's another body slam to the working class in the ABQ metro area--one of the biggest yet from the Great Recession--and reinforcing how crucial a role the economy will play in the state's 2010 election campaigns.

Nearly 700 workers, the vast majority making around or less than $25,000 a year, are going to be out of work by June as Convergys announces it has lost its contract with AT&T. The company had operated in ABQ since 2007.

Call center jobs, while generally low-paying, have been a bright spot on the state economic scene. Even normally sunny NM Economic Development Secretary Fred Mondragon was sent reeling by the news of the massive layoffs:

Very, very drastic...It's a very disheartening thing to see. It's a reflection of the economy, but that's no consolation to people who are losing their jobs.


The jobless rate in ABQ is already at a generations-high rate of 8.9% and this news could push it over the nine percent level, unheard of for this heavily government dependent metro.

And the viciousness of this economic plunge continues unabated in the Four Corners region. We are now breaking modern jobless records there with unemployment in the oil and gas rich region rocketing into the double digits. The state says:

Unemployment in the Farmington area rose to 10.4 percent in January, a sharp jump above the 9.4 percent unemployment numbers measured in December. Over the year, the region's unemployment rate has nearly doubled from the 5.3 percent of the work force that was jobless last January.


The widespread unemployment is contributing to gargantuan deficits in government in all corners of New Mexico. As the layoffs continue and further impede consumer spending, those deficits may gap larger, forcing further cuts in state and local government spending.

THE HUMAN TOLL


The human toll of all these lost jobs is, well, astounding. State Human Services Director Katie Falls reports nearly one third of our state's two million residents are now enrolled in publicly funded medical assistance programs.

(The state) has seen a 10 percent increase over the past year in participation in one of the several Insure New Mexico! publicly funded medical assistance programs with 541,639 New Mexicans
now participating.

More than 67 percent, or 323,939, of those covered are children, which is where we have focused most of our efforts over the past few years...We are pleased to serve as the safety net for those families who have lost their jobs and their insurance coverage and give parents the relief of knowing their children will continue to get the health coverage they need...

ON THE TRAIL


On the campaign trail the stark economic climate is starting to shape the rhetoric. Dem lieutenant governor candidates Brian Colon and Joe Campos are now trying to outdo one another over who is more against the dreaded food tax.

The tax managed to pass the recent special session of the NM Legislature and awaits action from Big Bill. Colon hit hard on this at the Saturday Dem preprimary convention:

New Mexico is facing hard times and we should not make those suffering pay more. A food tax is wrong. We must bring back a fair and progressive tax system...


And State Rep. Campos comes with this:

Campos is the only Lieutenant Governor candidate running who voted against both the tortilla tax and the food tax this year in the state legislature...

Leading liberal ABQ state Senator and Light Guv candidate Jerry Oritz y Pino may have been the first political victim of the food tax. He voted for it and failed to get 20 percent of the delegates needed at the preprimary to win an official spot on the June 1 ballot. He plans on continuing his campaign by filing extra petition signatures, but now Colon and Campos are in a spirited battle for progressive supporters who may be giving up on the senator.

DI'S DEAL


Soon-to-be Dem Guv nominee Diane Denish faces no June primary foe and is trying to stay in the center-right. She says she is against taxes on "working families" but refused to answer when asked if she would veto the food tax if she were governor.

That may be safe politics for now, but perhaps not for the November election when beating up on the food tax will be so popular it could put the piñata makers out of business.

Richardson is weighing a food tax veto, but does not have a populist record. What he does have is a state economy that continues to crater under his watch no matter how many articles the newspaper runs on its front page trying to deny that reality.

Anger, disgust and distrust continue to mount over the never-ending recession and accompanying job losses. Much of the loathing is reserved for a too-monied, disconnected political class that slaps taxes on those least able to afford them, refuses to restore a traditional, progressive NM income tax structure; refuses to throw overboard hundreds of overpaid political hires and refuses to prune a fat cat educational administrative class.

Other than that, have a nice day.

OBAMA VS. LOBOS


Come on, Mr. President. We know Wisconsin has more electoral votes than New Mexico, but did you have to predict our University of New Mexico basketball Lobos are going to lose to Marquette in the second round of the NCAA tourney? Or was there a political motivation to your prediction as this Wall Street Journal blog speculated:

Mr. Obama has third-seeded New Mexico going down to No. 6 Marquette in the second round, possibly as payback for Bill Richardson’s bungled nomination as commerce secretary...

Well, even the Prez agrees that the Lobos deserve to be the nine point favorite over Montana who they face off with tonight in the first round of March Madness.

MY BOTTOM LINES
Joe the Blogger
Remember Joe the Plumber?"

The man who had his fifteen minutes of fame in the '08 presidential campaign is in ABQ today campaigning for GOP Lt. Governor candidate Kent Cravens. A fundraiser will be held at 6:30 tonight at Casa Esencia. Tickets are going for $75 a pop, the low-end price for a plumber for an hour...

The wife of Dem Lt. Governor candidate Lawrence Rael, Kim Sanchez Rael, used to be involved in fundraising for presumed Dem Guv nominee Diane Denish, but the campaign says that is no longer the case:

This was true several years ago...Because of her position wit Fly Wheel Ventures, which invests funds from the State Investment Council, she is no longer involved in any of our fundraising and has not given money to the campaign since SIC fund-raising prohibitions went into effect last year...

We blogged that Sanchez was still active in Denish fundraising....

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