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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

New Governor Meets The Senate--Also Known As The "Killing Fields," Plus: Inside the Census; We're Even More Hispanic 

This is what it looks like for a Governor in the final week of a legislative session. Susana is the cat and the fierce shepherds are the elders of the State Senate, a chamber also known as the "killing fields."

The Senate has already roughed up the Governor, refusing to bend to her will on driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants and adding insult to injury by watering down "Katie's Law," another Susana favorite. Innumerable measures will be either amended to death or put directly in the Senate graveyard in the final days leading up to the Saturday adjournment.

A couple of things are at play in 2011. The Senate is coming off eight years in which they were subjected to the bullying of powerful Dem Guv Bill Richardson. Senators are saying "never again." Then there's the Governor's agenda--although very limited--but still going up against a chamber with a majority of Democrats. And there's the historical independence of the upper chamber where the members are elected for four year terms and are less intimidated by the Fourth Floor.

With Senators having mussed her fur up some, Martinez, like the cat in today's picture, will be happy to escape this legislative session with no more injuries.

WEE HOURS BUDGET

Shortly before 1 a.m. today the State Senate approved a $5.4 billion budget--the main business of this 60 day session. It returns to the House for agreement and then to the Guv for signature, but it appears they will be getting out of there Saturday at noon as scheduled--barring any last minute snafus.

This is the third year in a row that we've had to trim the budget. State Senator John Arthur Smith told the state via the Senate webcast early this morning that the heady days when the state routinely ran large surpluses may be gone forever. No one disagreed and there was hardly any debate before the measure was passed on a 27-14 vote.

Smith and his colleagues trimmed about $155 million to balance the budget for the year beginning July 1. That is not as bad as some feared and significantly less than the $450 million the Governor talked of.

Still, New Mexico, as Finance Committee Chairman Smith said, is deep into a new economic era. The budget peaked at about $6.2 billion, so we have seen some deep cuts. The new budget--like the previous ones--does not call for employee layoffs, but the state has shed thousands of workers the last three years by not filling vacancies.

WEDGE WARFARE (CONT.)
Sec. Duran
Meanwhile, the administration continues its wedge issue warfare in the final legislative hours. Secretary of State Dianna Duran is cross checking the state's voter rolls with a list of thousands of foreign nationals who have been issued driver's licenses. Duran says so far she has found 37 instances of people voting who did not have Social Security numbers. But former state elections director Daniel Ivey-Soto says slow down.

There was a five year period--2003-2007--when a citizen did not need a Social Security number to get a driver's license. They presented other ID such as a passport. They could in fact be U.S. citizens. We need a more thorough investigation, not a rush to judgment.

There are 1.16 million registered voters in the state so 37 is an exceedingly small number. It will be interesting to see a case by case check of the 37 instances Duran cited to see if there was indeed any fraud.

NM Common Cause executive director Steven Allen called on Duran to forward her 37 cases to law enforcement. He points out voter fraud charges frequently surface but rarely end up having any basis in fact. Immigration groups point out that a Social Security number is not necessarily a way of proving or disproving someone's citizenship status.

Not that this has much to do with the larger issues facing the state, but Martinez is obviously being guided by her political advisers that this wedge issue will keep her atop the popularity polls and perhaps advance any national Republican political ambitions she may harbor. It remains to be seen if in the long-term New Mexico voters respond to the Guv's government by emotion.

CENSUS TIME

The census figures that rolled in Tuesday contained warning signals for Martinez and company. If their favorite wedge issues backfire it could give more Hispanics a reason to trek to the polls in 2012. Turnout will be much higher than it was in a mid-term election like 2010 when Susana was elected. And there are more Hispanic voters out there to be roused:

For the first time in the state's history, the Hispanic numbers surpassed those of non-Hispanic whites, according to Census data. Hispanics now represent 46.3% of New Mexico's population, or 953,403, a 24.6% increase. Non-Hispanic whites are 40.5% of the population, or 833,810, a growth of 2.5%.

"A lot of the growth in the Latino community is really attributed to birth," said Liany Arroyo, associate director for education and children's policy at the
National Council of La Raza, a Washington organization.

New Mexico is the most Hispanic state in the USA.

The batch of numbers that the Alligators took an especially close look at were for the state's three US House districts. One of them reported:

There are 701,939 residents in CD1, 663,956 in CD2, and 693,284 in CD3. So to reach ideal population in each district, CD1 loses 15,546, CD2 gains 22,437, and CD3 loses 6,891.

Translated that means not much change is anticipated when the seats are redistricted later this year to balance the population among them. The ABQ and northern districts--CD 1 and 3--are expected to stay favorable to the Dems and the southern district--CD 2 friendly to the R's.

An early problem for the Dems is not the redistricting of the ABQ district--CD 1--but finding a top notch candidate to replace Dem Congressman Martin Heinrich should he decide to leave the seat to make a run for the US Senate slot being vacated by Senator Bingaman in 2012.

The state's total population is now 2,059,179, an increase of 13.2 percent over the 2000 census.

OBAMA ON NM TV

The President says he's in our corner when it comes to ample federal funding for Sandia and Los Alamos Labs, but that still leaves unanswered exactly what budget emerges from Congress for the two facilities which are huge drivers for the state's economy. In an interview with local TV news Obama affirmed his support. And he demonstrated it recently by backing increased lab funding as part of the Start II nuclear weapons treaty.

The Japan nuclear disaster was a backdrop for the interview and the President said:

One of the things that 'it' reminds us of is that the safety and the constant monitoring and oversight that we're providing to our nuclear facilities here in the United States has to be maintained
.

House Republicans are trying to scale back the funding increases Obama has requested for the labs. Such funding is a potential 2012 campaign issue for Obama in swing state New Mexico. But the President wouldn't be giving a local TV interview at the White House because of that, would he? Of course not.

TAKE TWO

Back at the Roundhouse, the film industry says it hasn't given up on getting a better deal from lawmakers who have before them legislation capping the film tax rebate at $50 million a year. The industry has come with a TV spot urging viewers to put pressure on the Guv for a better deal. Interestingly, the commercial also puts heat on ABQ Mayor RJ Berry. ABQ is the area that benefits most from film shoots and even the ABQ Chamber of Commerce has come out for continuing the rebate program as is. But Republican Berry has been mute, refusing to break with Susana and setting him up for a hit if Hollywood heads out of town because of reduced incentives.

UPDATE: Late last night the Senate approved the $50 million cap on a 30-10 vote. However, it did amend the bill to restore a payout method favored by the industry. The bill now goes back to the House which approved a $45 million cap.

And there's also this accountability measure aimed at building support for the industry now on its way to the Guv's desk. From the Senate:

A film tracking and accountability measure is on its way to the Governor for her signature. Sen. Tim Keller says his bill would make a clear assessment of the impact of New Mexico's Film Production Tax Credit and put to rest the ongoing debate over whether the film incentives are a strong benefit to the state...(The bill) requires increased film industry responsibility, transparency and accountability in order to be rewarded with the state tax credit....

THE BOTTOM LINES

Paula Maes is now president of the ABQ School Board, not Marty Esquivel as we blogged in a first draft Thursday...It was close but our friends in Roswell came up short in the 2010 census. To be exact, that's 1,634 residents short. Roswell's population of 48,366 is that much shy of the coveted 50,000 mark when a city becomes eligible for more federal funds. Other city populations from the census: Albuquerque;
545,852; Las Cruces, 97,618; Rio Rancho, 87,521; Santa Fe, 67,947.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2011
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