Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Bear Strikes Again; Hundreds Out At Rio Rancho In J.C. Penney Pinch, Plus: Bernco Manager Lucero To Get Boot, And: Susana's Texas: Nothing To Copy 

New Mexico's lower and middle classes continue to take body blows from the Bear Market. The latest hit comes in Rio Rancho where the J.C. Penney catalog call center announces it is shutting its doors in June. That will cost nearly 400 workers their jobs. It's due to a national restructuring by the retail company.

Many of these jobs were part-time and paid nine or ten bucks an hour. You don't plan a life around them, but you do plan survival. Their loss again tells the tale of this ravaging recession--nonprofessionals and those with only high school educations are bearing the brunt of the employment crisis.

The closing is yet another setback for once booming Rio Rancho, the satellite city of ABQ which has seen its housing bubble burst, Intel Corp. shrink its workforce by nearly 2,000 and an embarrassing solar energy venture blow up in its face.

For ABQ Mayor Berry and Rio Rancho Mayor Tom Swisstack it is a sullen reminder that the metro economy remains dormant and that tax collections around here don't seem likely to take off. What's next for these city leaders?

The layoffs come in the middle of an ABQ School Board election which also includes a $70 million bond issue for CNM, the community college that offers technical training for vocational jobs for 28,000 mostly working class students. The timing seems right for approval and we're going to vote for it. (The bond will not raise property taxes.)

The Penney's layoffs also send a message to the Martinez administration that its proposed 18 percent cut to CNM is going to be put under a powerful microscope as this state seeks to get people off the unemployment lines.


While we've noted how the professional classes are faring better during the downturn, they are not rolling in the dough. And that means some of the tony shops on ABQ's Nob Hill are feeling the pinch. One of them--Old World Imports--just closed after ten years in business as this tough retail environment drags on.


Lujan Grisham
A seven year run is coming to an end for Bernalillo County Manager Thaddeus Lucero. Insiders tell us his fate was sealed at a closed door Bernalillo County Commission meeting Friday. They say the five member panel will vote to fire him at tonight's public meeting. Also expected to get the axe is the county attorney and county fire chief.

The upheaval comes after a year of controversy at the county over Lucero and the election of two new commissioners--Dem Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican Wayne Johnson. The commission has three Dems and two R's.

Lujan Grisham and Johnson are expected to be joined by new Commission Chairwoman Maggie Hart Stebbins to dump Lucero. Republican Michael Wiener is expected to stay with Thaddeus as is Dem Commissioner Art De La Cruz. Our Alligators report Lujan Grisham pushed especially hard for Lucero's ouster during that private meeting.

One immediate concern is the hundreds of thousands of dollars it will cost the county to dump the trio and buy out their contracts. Lucero was making about $157,000 a year. Another concern is who replaces Thaddeus? How about a complete outsider with no ties to the county government culture? But with many executives losing their jobs when Big Bill left office, we wouldn't be surprised to see some of them popping up with applications for this well-paying gig.

Republican Wiener is sticking with Lucero despite rumblings by some Republicans that he should join in the dumping, especially since he is interested in having Gov. Martinez making him the new head of the state motor vehicle division. But the Dems are going to end up doing the dirty work on this one and Wiener's vote won't be critical to the outcome.

UPDATE--The commission Tuesday delayed until Friday the vote on Lucero.


Let's move it back to the economy now...

We blogged about the humongous budget deficit that threatens Texas--upwards of $27 billion. We did so after our new Governor asked us to emulate the Lone Star State in building our economy. Now here's part of the solution the Texas Legislature has come with:

The spending plan calls for a 13% hit to public education and a 7.6% drop in higher education support. Among the cuts, funding for pre-K Early Start programs would be slashed, and four community colleges would be closed. Such a drastic decline in public education support could be problematic because it would drop the education budget below a level mandated by the state, and force the legislature to change the law.

Also, the 8.3 percent November unemployment rate in Texas was actually higher than of New Mexico's---8.2%.

In light of these facts one wonders how much longer our own Governor will continue to hold up Texas as a good example of how a state should be run.


State House GOP Leader Tom Taylor gave a blatantly political explanation as one reason GOP lawmakers did not agree to make Dem Rep. Joe Cervantes a coalition speaker and oust Speaker Ben Lujan in the process . He is taking hits for it, especially from Democrats who decried its cynicism. First the Taylor statement:

" (Lujan) is the status quo," Taylor said of Lujan. "In the next election, there's more negative if you're just the status quo. There was a risk with Cervantes that maybe we'd have a big lovefest and pass a lot of great legislation. ... It lessens your chances for a negative campaign in the next election."

Taylor can think that but it was not his role to say it out loud. He's not a political consultant. He's supposed to be talking about bipartisanship and passing "great" legislation to move the state forward, not blocking bills purely for political advantage.

Taylor leaned heavily in recent legislative sessions on Keith Gardner, the former House Minority Whip, who left the House to become Gov. Martinez's chief of staff. Now that Taylor is on his own, it doesn't appear it is time to take the training wheels off.

But Taylor's political analysis, besides being too public, may also be faulty. What if Speaker Lujan decides not to run in 2012? That's a distinct possibility after he came within 80 votes of losing his 2010 Dem House primary and after it took the Tea Party imploring conservative House members not to vote for Cervantes to save his speakership.

These could very well be Lujan's final two years. If they are, the R's will need a new villain for 2012. If Lujan does not see the 2012 writing on the wall, he is gong to feel the heat, not only from his fellow Dems who will fear his continued presence will cost them their narrow House majority (37 to 33) in the House, but could also cast a pall over the political fortunes of his son, Congressman Ben Ray Lujan.

The smart money says in a year or two Lujan hangs up his bolo tie and smooths the path for a Kenny Martinez speakership who in turn makes happy with Joe Cervantes by putting him back as chairman of House Judiciary.

Now it's your move, Leader Taylor.


The Great Recession in New Mexico has so many far-reaching impacts. For example, did you know the University of New Mexico is proposing that its Championship Golf Course be shuttered? Long known as "University South" and touted as one of the best layouts in the nation, closing it would save $600,000 a year and help address an anticipated $28 million UNM shortfall due to state budget cuts.

The two UNM golf courses lost nearly $800,000 last year and have over $4 million in debt. Then there is all that land that would be on the market if the south course were sold.

Here is
a complete list of cost-savings proposals at UNM compiled at the request of the president's office.


A reader writes of the controversial nomiantion of former GOP US Senator Jack Schmitt as Governor Martinez's secretary of energy and minerals:

I get the feeling Harrison Schmitt will be Martinez's Admiral Stockdale-- kooky and out of touch. Unlike Stockdale, he can be dangerous.

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