Monday, March 14, 2011

No Relief On Jobs Front; ABQ Still Slammed; Politicos Stay Mum, Plus: Spaceport News, And: Dems And An "Electric" Leader 

What recovery? The latest jobless stats put the unemployment rate in the ABQ metro at a still unsettling 9.0 percent, while the state in January remained stuck at 8.7 percent. The experts say the turnaround is around the corner (we've heard that before) but January marked the 28th consecutive month of negative job growth in the city--the longest since the Great Depression. Even the professional and business classes are getting slammed, posting a year over year job loss of 3,700. That's after that sector had two down years in '09 and '10.

But it is the working classes that are really being decimated. The depression--yes, depression--in the construction and manufacturing sectors here has been merciless. We've recorded year over year construction losses for 49 months. That's four years. Construction employment in the metro is now below 20,000--the lowest since 1999. Manufacturing losses went for 39 consecutive months, before having a slight uptick and dipping down again in January.

In the Westside and Valley neighborhoods of ABQ this life-changing economy has sent them to the churches, reports a friend in the construction and hotel industry:

Joe, they are lighting candles at the churches, praying for jobs. There are simply none available. Nothing is being built and nothing is coming in.

If the official jobless rate is 9 percent, the rate that includes those who have left the work force and those that are underemployed is in the teens.

The political classes seem to be out of brainpower and maybe willpower when it comes to the ongoing jobs crisis. In Santa Fe, the House GOP put out a press release last week touting the impact of their 12 Republican freshmen members and the legislation they are sponsoring. It said they they are "fighting corruption and creating jobs."

On the corruption front, we have a new Governor who was a district attorney and who made pay to play politics her dominant issue. We don't need more repetitive ethics and corruption legislation--just a Governor serious about fighting it. We just elected one.

As for creating jobs, the list of freshmen legislation was dominated by issues that had nothing to do with putting people to work or spurring business. They included: Abortion, marriage between a man and and a woman, requiring voter ID and creating tougher rules for sex offenders. How's that supposed to put bread on the table?

And it's not only the freshmen R's. We've already blogged of the lack of a jobs message from the Democrats as well as how the new Governor treats the issue like it's smallpox.


The politicians are simply waiting for what they see as a natural and robust rebound from this ravaging downturn. But the best and brightest of our young people who represent the future won't wait. They will continue to leave while the working class kids are stuck eating cheetos and watching sitcom reruns. That's not a new story, but back when things were humming it appeared we might have been turning the corner. Now it looks as though we are retrenching.

We are still shedding jobs. The only good news--if you can call it that--is that we are shedding them more slowly than the earlier record-setting pace and that some sectors--like mining--are adding some workers. The cities--where most New Mexicans live--are under water. The city of Santa Fe is a fiscal wreck with unemployment of 7.3 percent, an astounding rate for a city that has so much government employment. There's so much red ink in the budget they could use it to restripe Cerrillos Road.

Meanwhile, at the Roundhouse the fiddling goes on with a state Senator prancing around the chamber with a snake around his neck and a state representative getting married on the House floor. What did the Romans say about amusing the masses with bread and circuses? Well, Santa Fe certainly has the circus part down pat.


The federal billions pumped into here each year become even more crucial in a stagnant, no-growth economy. On that front the recent news is mixed. House Republicans in charge in Washington are now eyeing those proposed increased funding levels for Los Alamos and Sandia Labs. The bottom line is that the budget boost may not be as much as first announced by retiring Dem Senator Jeff Bingaman.

Steve Pearce, the only R in the NM five member congressional delegation, tells us he doesn't think "there is a mood" to cut the labs. Well, DC is looking like a pretty moody place. Not that all of the Los Alamos funding can be defended, even by those of us in the pork cheering section. But Sandia has positioned itself better and has the most impact in the major metro. It's that one that Pearce needs to bird dog most and Bingaman needs to deliver for--one last time.


For southern NM, it is the Spaceport that could start rebuilding the economy in a big way, and there is a bit of encouraging news to report on that front. The new CEO for Virgin Atlantic, George Whitesides, the anchor tenant at the Spaceport, paid a visit to Las Cruces and restated the company's commitment to putting tourists in suborbital space. Whitesides, 36, told the Spaceport America board of directors that Virgin spending will total in the area of $400 million for developing the vehicles that will get the job done. (Virgin Galactic signed a 20-year lease as the anchor tenant and will pay $1 million per year for the first five years, as well as payments on a tiered scale, based on the number of launches the company makes).

Spaceport board chair Rick Holdridge made a positive move by inviting Whitesides to visit here after Governor Martinez dismissed the entire previous board and executive director. But why didn't state economic development director Jon Barela attend or Martinez herself? We are still not seeing the hand prints of the administration fully on this project and that remains worrisome.

In addition, there was apparently no talk at the meeting about the Guv's insistence that "private" money come in if need be to see the $225 million Spaceport to completion. If push comes to shove, we suppose the Legislators from the south will prevail upon Martinez to approve any extra cash needed. At least one hopes so.

We've repeated to the point of ad nauseum that the Spaceport's sole focus today needs to be on putting the first civilians in suborbital space. From that landmark event--one that will shower New Mexico with worldwide attention-- all else will flow, including the private investment that so concerns the Governor.


It is the messaging out of the Fourth Floor---or the lack of it regarding the state's economic standing and planning that stands out like a lonely roadrunner on an isolated stretch of I-40. It's mostly about illegal driver's licenses and Katie's Law. Okay, but when did they change the nameplate on her desk to "Attorney General Martinez?"

If the Guv seems stymied on the economy and jobs in the here and now, she may have better luck in laying the groundwork for the long term. She and education Secretary Skandera have brought fresh energy to the perennial education debate, offering new proposals and reviving hope that policy makers are finally getting it and ready to shake things up. Some of the ideas have been attacked as simplistic and maybe they are. But Martinez and Skandera have had strong messaging. That happens when you have a plan. Parents and most teachers get the idea--the new government is excited about doing something to turn around mediocre or even dreadful public school performance and is willing to take risks to pull us out of the basement.

Rather than pounding wedge issues like licenses for illegals or other crime related legislation in this final week of Legislature 2011, the Guv would do well to tout her educational agenda. It appears it will be the bright spot of an otherwise mostly dreary and lackluster sixty day session.


From Santa Fe, a wall-leaner comes with the conventional wisdom regarding the Democratic Party:

Legislators and Democratic politicos are openly concerned about the lack of leadership in New Mexico. Democrats need a combat approach with a "mano a mano" political style. In Valencia County, all the Democrats who made a run for office in the 2010 election lost to Republicans. Most Dem legislators are feeling "heat" and fear the 2012 elections. We just lost the Governor's race and several House seats. What's next? Democrats need a boost--a person with electricity!

The Dems had that "electric" personality with Bill Richardson, until things went south. And they had it when Bruce King was Governor. Both of them occupied the broad center of New Mexican politics, building coalitions and moving the game forward.

Today the Democrats are in limbo, awaiting the emergence of the next King or Richardson--that "electric" personality who can lead from the center without alienating the left or right. That's why many of them are scared. The sheep need a shepherd.


There are 28 executive vice presidents, vice presidents and associate vice-presidents at the University of New Mexico. Even after all the bitching about this excess? Maybe change is finally coming:

The regents concluded, however, that regardless of budget cuts to departments, a tuition increase will likely help balance UNM’s budget.

"I have no problem raising tuition if we’ve done everything to lower our costs,” Regent Jamie Koch said. Koch said he recommended cutting vice president salaries to avoid raising tuition.

(Regent Don) Chalmers said that was a feasible option. The regents requested further analysis on tuition increases and whether vice president salaries can be cut by the time the regents approve the budget March 14 (today).

It's interesting how fast they can raise tuition, but when it comes to cutting the VP excess the process takes months and months....and months.

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