Wednesday, April 06, 2011

From Downtown ABQ The Latest City Hall Action, Plus: UNM Update And The Spaceport Spaceship Revealed 

Sandias (K. Borchardt)
We start things off this Wednesday from downtown ABQ and the latest news from the city beat....

A reader writes of Mayor Berry's proposal to switch all city employee health insurance coverage to Presbyterian from Blue Cross Blue Shield:

City employees have always had a choice between several health insurance plans. A few years ago, the city cut Lovelace from our choices. So I went with Blue Cross. Now we will have no choice--it's Presbyterian or nothing. It feels like a monopoly. But, of course, I will continue using my health insurance benefit as a city employee and, because I have no other choice, I will sign up for Presbyterian and will have to pay more to keep my same doctors who are not with Presbyterian --they call it 'going "outside of the plan." Maybe that is where I will spend my 1% raise?

City Councilor Ken Sanchez is raising questions about the health insurance switch which is part of the mayor's budget proposal.

Even though Berry is proposing a pay raise of only one percent for city employees making under $100,000, it could still be a flash point with conservative city councilors like Republican Dan Lewis. He's running for the ABQ US House seat and could take up tea party complaints that there should be no raises at all--even these tiny ones.

The policy analyst for GOP City Councilor Trudy Jones has left that post after being picked up for DWI last month. Jones is preparing an October re-election bid for a second term. Former ABQ GOP Councilor Greg Payne says he is undecided on whether he will seek to oust Jones from her far NE Heights seat.

Councilor Rey Garduno, a Dem, and Republican Brad Winter are expected to seek re-election this year. Four of the nine council seats are up for grabs. The R's control the panel five to four. That partisan balance is unlikely to change, but if Payne were to run and beat Jones, insiders say he would be the swing vote on the council, sometimes siding with Berry and other times not.


Councilor Winter is questioning the need to keep a $90,000 city of ABQ lobbyist in Washington, but it is unlikely he will carry the day. The mayor and six councilors recently met with Congressman Heinrich and Senator Bingaman to discuss city needs. They were told that budget cutbacks proposed by US House Republicans could put in jeopardy federal grant money coming into the city. Lobbying is needed more than ever to protect the city's needs. Berry trimmed back on city lobbyists when he took over. Lobbyist and former ABQ GOP State Rep. Joe Thompson is the main man for ABQ when the Legislature is in session. John O'Donnell has the DC contract.


We've told you how some in Texas want to go the New Mexico route and expand gambling in a big way. Now we can tell you the chances of that happening are about as good as Susana Martinez hiring an illegal immigrant:

While many in the investment community believe Texas casinos are untapped oil gushers, conservative Gov. Rick Perry and influential Republican state Sen. John Carona of Dallas have said candidly gaming will not pass in this session of the Legislature.

The onerous process to change the Texas constitution -- a two-thirds majority vote in the Legislature plus passage of a statewide voter referendum -- also makes affirmation of a gaming bill unlikely.


A UNM reader updates it on the latest action:

As expected, Suzanne Ortega is departing as provost, the senior academic officer of the university. She has been offered a top job at another university, which is probably best for both her and UNM. President Schimdly's contract runs through the summer of 2012, and rumor has it that he wants to extend it by a year or two. That would be bad for progress at UNM, since we will have an interim provost until a new president is found. The Regents need to start looking for a new president who can step in the day after Schmidly's contract ends.

On a positive note, relations between faculty and administration have improved lately. Faculty Senate Prez Rich Wood should get much of the credit. In contrast with his recent predecessors, he is not just interested in giving the administration hell. It is somewhat ironic that relations are so much better now that the budget crisis is so much worse. Schmidly has learned that any cuts to the academic core should be made by allowing the deans to figure out the details. And he just might find a VP position or two to eliminate, which would be welcome by all...

Thanks to that reader for the news. Eliminating vice-presidents at UNM has become the worst case of political constipation in the state.


Why Gary Johnson will not win the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. From his Twitter account:

Had a good weekend speaking at both Hash Bash in Michigan & the High Times Cannabis Cup in Denver on marijuana legalization.

Well, winning isn't everything for the former Guv anymore. (But remember Gary, don't bogart that joint.)


The Spaceship
The BBC gives us the scoop and first video of the spaceship being built by Virgin Galactic that will take tourists into suborbital space from the NM Spaceport:

In a non-descript beige hangar sits the Virgin Galactic spaceship. The company is hoping it will be ready to take paying customers into space within a couple of years.

All along the spaceship's cabin are windows--some to the sides, others in the roof. The windows will let the passengers see the blue sky of earth first turn purple, and then into the blackness of space. Spaceships will fly up to 360,000 feet high...And when all they can hear is silence the passengers will know they're in space. They'll be able to see the curvature of the earth and the thin band of atmosphere above. Passengers will then get around five minutes of weightlessness to float around the cabin--which will probably mean them bumping into each other, as the cabin is only seven-and-a-half feet in diameter...

Maybe we put Big Bill and Susana up there together for the inaugural flight. The video of them bumping into each other would be a smash hit on YouTube.

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