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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Santa Fe's New Lightning Rod Could Face Hometown Heat, Plus: Following The Money--$14 Billion Of It, And: ABQ is A Pretty Big Deal 

Rep. Jeff
With apologies to State Senator "Lightning Rod" Adair, we have to reassign his nickname for the 2011 legislative session to a House member. While "Lightning Sandra" doesn't have the same cachet as Lightning Rod," she has certainly earned the moniker. Now Gallup area Dem State Rep. Sandra Jeff may have earned herself a Democratic primary opponent in the 2012 election.

Jeff, a Navajo who lives in Crownpoint, is only serving her second two year term but she became a giant killer this session when she broke ranks with the House Dem leadership and voted to "blast" out of committee and onto the House floor the controversial bill to repeal driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. Because the partisan divide in the House is so narrow, Jeff's vote was a deciding factor in rescuing the Republican backed bill which was eventually approved by the House and awaits action in the Senate.

Jeff also broke with Speaker Lujan on other bills and that has roused attorney and former Gallup Mayor Bob Rosebrough ('03-'07). He confirms to us that he is seriously weighing a primary challenge to Jeff. He says he has good relationships with the Navajo community and believes they want Dem representation, not Jeff's political brand which has recently found her in the Republican camp.

Whether there is a Jeff-Rosebrough face-off will depend on the redistricting to be done later this year in Santa Fe. If the district remains made up of part of Gallup and part of the reservation, Rosebrough will be positioned for a run. If the district becomes all Gallup, he will support Dem Rep. Patty Lundstorm who could be thrown into a primary with Jeff. Those two have tangled before.

If the Dems can't enforce party discipline on the playing field in Santa Fe then it will have to be done through the election process, if at all.

LET'S MAKE A DEAL
Sen. Jennings
Can the state Senate take the heat from Governor Martinez and her political arm? We think so if Senate Dem heavy Tim Jennings votes for a an amended bill regarding driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. Jennings said the measure that came out of committee Tuesday night and is headed to the Senate floor--possibly today--is a compromise that toughens up penalties for license abuse but does not require a Social Security number to get a license as the House passed bill does.

Jennings is from a conservative SE NM district. He says he can live with the bill. If he can live with it in light of the heat the Governor is putting on everyone, we should have a deal.

Let's face it. The Governor does not deserve a total win on this, not after uncaging her attack dogs and attempting to intimidate legislators with campaign tactics in their home districts. And Democrats do not deserve to triumph over her either as the public overwhelmingly wants these licenses either eliminated or under much tighter control.

This compromise bill gives both sides something and they each live to fight another day. The Governor, a former district attorney, calls the compromise "a sham" but hopefully she will learn that the legislative arena is not a court of law--or necessarily a court of public opinion--where everything is black and white. Maybe Senator Jennings, with over 30 legislative sessions under his belt, can help show her the way.

SAM LOSES

No, we haven't had the election for NM Dem Party chairman yet. That happens late next month, but trial lawyer Sam Bregman, challenging Chairman Javier Gonzales, was making headlines for a court loss--not a political one. Bregman's high profile client--attorney Ron Bell--was found guilty of DWI despite Sam's best efforts.

You can bet that Javier hopes that's a trend.

FOLLOWING THE MONEY

The proposal to use the state's $14 billion Permanent Funds to help cover the budget shortfall can be complicated to explain. ABQ Dem state Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino says we and Senator John Arthur Smith mislabeled the plan:

Joe...You repeated a misunderstanding about Senator Michael Sanchez' SB1. I'd like to correct this because confusion over the measure even led usually keen Senator John Arthur Smith to misspeak on television news. Both of you referred to it as "bonding against the permanent fund," something it definitely is not.

...It is actually bonding against the general fund. It would authorize up to $300 million in short term (i.e., five years) revenue bonds, to be repaid with interest within five years out of general fund revenue. The confusion comes in because those bonds would be purchased by the permanent fund--in precisely the same way that fund buys other government securities: as an investment. It actually will earn more on this investment than the market rate. It strikes me as a fully-constitutional and creative way to deal with our need for immediate cash...

Growth in the economy will produce the extra general fund revenue we will need to pay it back. We aren't threatening the permanent fund...it just gets another investment option. I hope your readers will take a look at that bill and make their own minds up.

So, what if the general fund didn't grow enough to pay off the annual payment on the bonds? Ortiz y Pino says the state would not make the Permanent Funds pay, but would use money that would have gone into that year's budget to retire the bonds.

While we may not be using the "bonding capacity"of the permanent funds, we would be using their formidable investment capacity to solve year-to-year budget woes. That's what worries Senator Smith. Will we look to the permanent funds each time we have a fiscal crisis? What are the limits? And he also worries about betting that economic growth will be ample enough to cover the bond payments. If it isn't, we would have to chop programs to pay back the fund.

There is another proposal floating around that would target money from the permanent funds to early-childhood needs. The thought being that this is where we need to break the cycle of poor education and generational poverty. It could some day have appeal to conservatives if finely targeted and had accountability.

Politically, we felt the bonding proposal Ortiz y Pino writes of hit a brick wall when the projected budget shortfall for next year fell well below the $450 million some had feared. It has come in at less than $200 million. (The AP says the House approved budget has $155 million in cuts from last year's budget. The ABQ Journal says it is $174 million.) But if New Mexico's finances continue to stagnate and its social conditions (education rankings etc.) remain in the cellar, serious discussions will continue on how to further tap into the funds which already throw off hundreds of millions annually to finance government. Leader Sanchez's proposal seems a responsible start to those discussions.

OVER THE TOP YEARS

All this state investment talk reminds us of an article in the Sunday Journal in which investigative reporter Mike Gallagher repeats a piece of information. It isn't "news" but is so outrageous it bears repeating so it is never repeated:

Marc Correra's father, Anthony Correra, was a close friend and political fundraiser for Gov. Bill Richardson, raising millions of dollars for his presidential run. The elder Correra was a familiar fixture at the Governor's Mansion...and played a key role in bringing (Gary) Bland on board as state investment officer--a Richardson appointee. Bland...had considerable authority in determining what investments the state made. Bland has said that he and Anthony Correra, a former stockbroker who agreed to surrender his licenses after an insider trading investigation, talked almost daily about the "markets" and, at one point, Anthony Correra had a desk in the SIC offices.

Talk about the fox in the chicken coop--an actual desk for a non-government employee in the office charged with investing and protecting the state's over 100 year old financial legacy.

Bland is under federal investigation. Anthony Correa made millions in "placement fees" for investments made with Permanent Fund money. He is under investigation and was last said to be living in Paris, France. Bill Richardson lives in Santa Fe, his legacy tarnished by the odious scheming. Governor Martinez and the Legislature continue to work on reform measures to restore trust in the state's investment practices.

NOT A RUMOR

The ABQ Journal says this of the possible US Senate candidacy of Lt. Governor John Sanchez:

"Sanchez is also rumored to be considering a run."

But on Monday we blogged this statement from Sanchez made to KRQE-TV:

Folks here in the Roundhouse and across the state of New Mexico are saying consider this run for the U.S. Senate...


Sanchez said for now his main focus is on the legislative session and the state’s budget but is considering running for the Senate seat. He said he is leaving all options open for now.

How is that a rumor?

And the newspaper gets some push back on an inflammatory story it ran on its front pages Saturday in which it quoted House Minority Leader Tom Taylor asserting that 30 percent of the state's film rebates go to pay actors' salaries. The paper did not question Taylor's numbers, but Jon Hendry, biz agent for the union that is involved in film making here, says a quick check of the state's film site would have shown that such salaries account for only 12 percent of the rebates. Last year about $65 million was paid in film rebates. Legislation pending in Santa Fe would cap that amount at $45 million per year

HOW BIG ARE WE?

We're kinda big...

Albuquerque is the the 57th-largest metropolitan area in America out of 940 surveyed, according to new estimates from Buffalo Business First. The Duke City's metro population at 885,805 as of Monday morning.


Following Albuquerque in the rankings were Las Cruces (199th; 213,841); Santa Fe (273rd; 150,993); Farmington (325th; 125,761); Gallup (488th; 70,283); Roswell (512th; 64,505); Alamogordo (519th; 63,313); Hobbs (526th; 61,804); Carlsbad-Artesia (581st; 53,525); and Clovis (662nd; 44,212).

STILL A CHANCE?

A reader sends
a news story and a comment:

Well, maybe there is an opening for Bill Richardson after all:

President Obama has selected Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to succeed Jon Huntsman as U.S. ambassador to China..He will make the announcement on Tuesday.

Former Governor Richardson's political career came to a screeching halt in 2009 when he was forced to withdraw his nomination to become commerce secretary due to a federal corruption investigation.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.


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