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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Gaming The State Cash Crunch; Breathing Room for New Guv? Plus: Susana's Chefless Mansion; Ground Chuck For Chuck? And: The Dance Of Heather & Jeff 

The state cash crunch for the budget year that starts next July is a moving target. The Journal this week put the low end at $200 million, down from the $250 million that we've been seeing. The high estimate is at around $400 million. $200 million is nothing to sneeze at, but if it comes in that low it would be a break for the new Governor and her budget team--and it might mean a much less contentious 60 day legislative session. (Unless the Guv now wants the bigger number so she can demand more structural changes). The Legislative Finance Committee comes with its proposed budget Friday and Governor Susana must have hers out by next Monday. Maybe then we'll get a firmer fix on how light the state wallet is. Or maybe not. It will be interesting to see how far apart the two sides are.

If the state is only shy $200 million or thereabouts, will Martinez return to her pledge to not cut education and Medicaid? She made that promise in the campaign but then retracted it, saying the pledge was based on a budget shortfall in the $200 million area, not $400 million.

The estimates are all over the map in part because the low estimate assumes lawmakers will renew savings measures they took last year. The $400 million shortfall estimate doesn't make that assumption.

DEM HIT

Susana's backtracking on her promise not to cut the education and Medicaid budgets roused Richard Ellenberg, chairman of the Santa Fe County Dem Party. He comes with this:

I am not sure Martinez should get away with claiming there has been an increase in the deficit. If I have followed this correctly, the $200 million shortfall figure in the campaign was the rough amount of additional cuts or revenue enhancements required to balance the budget. The $438 million shortfall estimate is the shortfall if cuts already made are allowed to expire. Neither figure has gone up since the primary. They are based upon the same budget figures, but make different assumptions about the renewal of cuts already made.

The $89 million additionally required to keep education whole due to the expiration of federal stimulus funds has not changed since the election began. What has changed is that the state revenue estimate has increased $50 million, making keeping the commitments she made on education and Medicare easier to keep.

MANSION LIFE

Gourmets may fret, but the Guv's chefs are gone. Susana confirms that the two culinary experts who helped keep the pounds on Big Bill have been banished from the Mansion. And the manager of the home is taking a $25,000 salary cut. Total savings: About $179,000. Not really big bucks, but big on symbolism in these spare times
.

Susana says she will keep a short order cook to serve the first family. Does that mean Chuck is reduced to eating ground chuck? Surely, they'll come up with a nice cut of steak for him when the need arises. And when the uptown crowd comes to the Mansion to dine, will it be a burger and fries or a fine dinner from a Republican caterer courtesy of the gubernatorial expense account?

Yes, the gubernatorial high life may be at an end, but the good life will go on...

MORE MANSION LIFE

Governor Martinez does not seem enamored with the idea of living in Santa Fe, even though she gets that cool Mansion to hang out in. She indicates she will spend ample time at her home in Las Cruces. How much time will be closely watched. Meanwhile, in the name of fiscal conservatism, many of the nation's new governors are deciding to forego the Mansion perk altogether and remaining in their own homes.

FROM THE MAIL BAG

Reader Kimothy Sparks writes about Governor Martinez's naming of her cabinet:

You are so right! Denish-Colon and the Democrats would have had a full cabinet named the day after the election. They would have looked at the list of major donors and awarded them respectively. It's refreshing to see this new administration take it's time and vet each candidate for a cabinet or administrative position. Shows a lot of integrity and honor for the new governor.

Longtime ABQ South Valley politico Andrew Leo Lopez is back in 2011. He has this comment on whether First Gentleman Chuck Franco needs a $105,000 assistant like the one former first lady Barbara Richardson had:

Franco needs a calendar clerk to keep him on schedule. There will be a lot of demand for his appearances especially at charitable events. Chuck will also have to travel with his wife and he will at times stand in for her at public events. So he does need an assistant to keep him and his calendar humming.

Reader Doug Crandall, former chair of the state Public Employee Retiree Association (PERA) comes with reaction to Monday's "idea corner" blog:

I don't disagree with the idea of providing a tax credit for employees who hire current state employees (though I sure would like to see some details on how it works!), but I'm not sure how your reader determined that a state employee receiving $40,000 actually costs the state $60,000. It is my understanding that the state pays about 16% into PERA and 2% into Retiree Health Care. If you add the employer contribution for Social Security and Medicare it is still under 30%. The rest, presumably, comes from paid vacations and sick leave, but I have a hard time believing that it makes up another 20% of salary. I know this is just an off the wall idea, but I think all budget issues need to be examined with real figures and meaningful savings, not just gut ideas.

WILSON WATCH


One of our Alligators comes with a jaw-dropper of a question:

Joe, Have you heard anything about this rumor that (former ABQ GOP Congresswoman) Heather Wilson is skipping the US Senate race against Dem Jeff Bingaman in 2010 and is planning on waiting for UNM President Schmidly to depart so Gov. Martinez's regents can select her to be the next UNM president?


We've heard those rumblings, but Schmidly, who has been stricken with cancer, is back on the job and has not indicated he is stepping down. Susana has three spots to fill on the Board of Regents that expired at the end of 2010. When she fills them, it would appear to give her a friendly majority of at least four out of the seven regents--enough to get a pick approved for Prez.

Meanwhile, Heather, 50, is keeping her options open for that US Senate race. From Roll Call:

Wilson is considering running for Senate in New Mexico, giving the GOP a potential top-flight challenger to Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman.

“I am considering running for the Senate, as well as other opportunities...A number of factors go into that. Ultimately it’s a decision about what is the best use of my talents and gifts.”

One of the "factors" Wilson will weigh is her polling and whether it shows Jeff, 67, to be vulnerable as he prepares to seek a sixth term. She just finished heading up Gov. Martinez's transition team which kept her name in the news.

As for Jeff, he told radio reporters this week:

I generally don't make a decision about a re-election campaign this early and I've indicated to people that in late February or March I would try to make a decision by then.

Two below the radar Republicans--Greg Sowards and Bill English--have announced they will seek the 2012 GOP US Senate nod. Neither is perceived as a major threat to Bingaman. That is not the case with Wilson.

If she doesn't go for it does Jeff waltz in or does another heavyweight emerge to take the baton?

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