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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

On The Job: Unemployment Drops But So Does Size Of Work Force, Plus: Balderas Backer Says Heinrich Is "Nervous," And: Big Bill Handicaps GOP Prez Race 

The state's big drop in unemployment in March is a mixed blessing. While the US Labor Department reports the NM jobless rate plunged from 8.7 per cent to 8.1 percent--the largest in the USA--the state work force is shrinking as people give up looking or move out of here. From the government:

The largest over-the-year percentage decrease in employment occurred in Kansas (-0.5 percent), followed by New Jersey and New Mexico (less than -0.1 percent each)....

Our problem is creating jobs in the face of what seems to be a brain and labor drain as the work force decreases or flat lines: From the AP:

New Mexico's payrolls have fallen by 6,800 since February 2010. The drop mostly reflects small losses from many firms rather than any large layoffs, business leaders say.
"It's like a duck nipping at our ankles. It's a little bit here and a little bit there and before you know it, it becomes a big number," said Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.

Construction firms and governments have cut jobs. And while the state produces oil and natural gas, it hasn't benefited as much as its neighbors, Texas and Oklahoma. That's because those states produce more oil. New Mexico focuses more on production of natural gas, said Jim Peach, an economics professor at New Mexico State University. Natural gas prices haven't risen nearly as much in the past year as oil.

HARD LUCK LAWYERS

Alan Malott, an attorney and columnist for the ABQ Journal, notes this week that graduates of the University of New Mexico law school can no longer count on getting work in the area:

....UNM School of Law.... is proud of its high graduate placement rate, but jobs are scarce now.... especially if you want to remain in the Albuquerque/Santa Fe area. Budget cuts in both the public and private sector, as well as computer programs and research services outsourced from the same neighborhood as your computer tech support, have also impacted the market for new graduates.

Governor Martinez naturally tried to paint a brighter picture and focused on the decline in the actual unemployment rate, not the rot that lurks below the surface:

We still have a lot of work to do, but I am encouraged that New Mexico’s unemployment rate saw the largest monthly drop in America...In a bi-partisan fashion, we recently put our financial house in order without raising taxes and by cutting wasteful spending, while protecting key priorities like classroom spending. It is critical that we continue down the road to economic recovery by helping small businesses hire more New Mexicans and that means opposing job-killing tax increases....

Not to pour cold water on any celebrations, but the fact is New Mexico finds itself pretty much back where it was before the Great Bull Market gave us a reprieve. The state is a wonderful place to live, but getting a good job here and keeping it remains a challenge for a substantial number of its residents. Like her predecessors, our new governor is going to find this to be a challenge she faces each day of her term.

WAITING FOR THE TURN

The worst of the Great Recession appears to have passed here, but getting the economic party going again is proving as difficult as reigniting a college dorm party when the beer keg goes dry.

Besides looking for growth in the work force, we keep an eye on gross receipts taxes flowing into the state and ABQ. It is a major source of funding and perhaps the most accurate measurement of economic activity. Right now, the Mayor says the city is flat. Ditto for the state.

POLITICALLY SPEAKING

While Gov. Martinez will surely jump to take any credit from a declining unemployment rate, she is not on the ballot again until 2014. It will be President Obama, seeking re-election next year, who will be best positioned to cash in on any upswing in our economically tentative state.

But Martinez will play. She announces she has formed a political action committee (PAC) to influence the outcome of the 2012 legislative contests. All 112 seats in the House and Senate are on the ballot next year, so there will be plenty of places for her to spend the money.

She raised questions when she took money from her campaign account during the recent legislative session to run radio ads against legislators reluctant to support the repeal of driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. From that perspective, this PAC is a good approach as it keeps the money for her re-election--still years away--out of the mix. It may also give her chief political adviser, Jay McCleskey, something to do in the next cycle. Someone will have to produce the media ads the PAC will want to run against Dem legislators. Do you think any of the ads will be about those driver's licenses? Does Chuck Franco like baloney sandwiches?

NERVOUS HEINRICH?

Balderas & Heinrich
The back and forth continues now on the Dem US Senate contest, with a retort to an emailer friendly to Dem US Rep. Martin Heinrich.

Back blogging is Theresa Trujeque, a political operative backing State Auditor Hector Balderas who will decide if he will get in this contest by the end of the month. She comes with this:

What is it about Balderas that is making the Heinrich supporters so nervous? First, Hector has not even announced he is running and they have started throwing salvos at him. Second, the first quarter FEC report the emailer referenced on the Tuesday blog is for donations collected January 1 - March 31, 2011. Heinrich didn't announce he was running for the Senate until April 2nd. Therefore, these donations in no way indicate support, union or Hispanic, for Heinrich's race for the Senate. The next quarter report will be more telling.

....I am most upset that they seem to discount a native Hispanic in the race simply because he hasn't run for federal office before. 2 1/2 years ago, Councilman Heinrich had the same questions raised about him and now there seems to be a double standard--Balderas receives no benefit of the doubt and Heinrich supporters want an anointing of his candidacy. While money is an important component in any race, both candidates will have to prove themselves....

Thanks, Theresa. What do you use in a New Mexico political anointing, anyway? Do they smear a combination of red and green on the candidate's forehead and if it sticks, he gets no primary challenge? Or am I am mixing things up with Ash Wednesday?

BILL BEAT

Just because we miss him (if only a little) here's Big Bill with
an early handicapping of the 2012 GOP presidential field:

....Romney should not be underestimated. Pawlenty should not be underestimated. The rest of the field, I don’t believe, will have the gravitas or the fundraising strength to compete. My worry has always been a dark-horse conservative without an extensive record, but the way that Republicans are proceeding, the way they are playing up to the tea party, their comments on the budget and their anti-Obama rhetoric is going to sink them.


Okay, Guv, you still have a good game, even if you don't have a team to play with.

WORTH IT


We recently asked readers to judge if the $245,000 two-year redo of the Bernalillo County website was worth it. Paul Roybal, the county's chief information officer, responds:

....It did cost approximately $245,000....It did not take two years to develop the site--it took two years from the point of contract negotiation....We collected over $40 million in on-line property tax payments on the old site. The on-line payment functionality has been re-engineered to allow for expansion of e-government transactions. One example is allowing seniors and families to register and pay for programs at the Parks and Recreation Department.


The Transparency Portal, which will debut in August, is being developed in-house at little cost and will provide more information than most other portals in New Mexico government. For example, it will have the ability to display scanned images of actual signed contracts....


Our mission is to allow citizens to conduct as much business on-line in a environmentally conscious manner. Nevertheless, we will continue to conduct business in traditional paper-based methods. I suspect we will see a paperless bathroom before we see a paperless government agency.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2011
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