Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bear Continues To Grip NM; Our Recession Round-Up, Plus: Ideas To Kick-Start Our Stalled State, And: A Dissenting Opinion On Judge Murphy Case 

Three items to blog about that drive home just how the Great Recession continues to pound New Mexico, even while letting up in neighboring states.

We learn that in Las Cruces the city budget has plunged an incredible 30 per cent from its peak a few years ago:

City Manager Garza expanded on details of a $299 million budget he has proposed for city government operations for the upcoming fiscal year. The budget is $8.5 million smaller than this year's city budget, and a far cry from the $417 million city budget during the city's 2007 fiscal year - the year before a global economic recession began to prompt budget cuts, reductions in force, and other negative impacts to all levels of government.

The census says the Dona Ana County poverty rate is 23.3 percent. Las Cruces area unemployment was at 8.3 percent in March--up from 7. 8 percent a yea
r earlier.

Tea Party types may rejoice over smaller government, but it reflects an anemic economy and the drastic spending cuts are having an impact on private companies that do biz with the city. Not to mention that there are few, if any, city jobs for recent college grads.

Now from Las Cruces to Las Vegas as the devastating recession rolls on, making history and headlines:

The Las Vegas City Schools district is anticipating a budget cut of more than $1 million for the upcoming school year. The anticipated budget reduction is the result of state cuts to K-12 education, federal stimulus funding going away and a drop in special education students, school officials said during Thursday evening’s board work session. The school district’s current year operating budget $15.1 million. When grants and all other funding is added in, the district’s total budget for the current year is nearly $27 million.

And from the Four Corners, the Bear Market continues to maul Farmington and San Juan County:

The budget approved by (county) commissioners includes $120 million in expenditures...Last year, the county budgeted for about $151 million in expenditures. In 2008 the county received $14.7 million in revenue from the oil and natural gas industry, according to county documents. The county is budgeting for $6.6 million in oil and natural gas revenue in 2012.

Holy Smokes! A 55 percent crash in oil and gas money in energy rich San Juan? Folks up there will be telling their grandkids about that--if they are still living there.


The financial wreckage in Rio Rancho from a disastrous investment in the Santa Ana Star Center is so severe the New York Times has written a report. The city is bleeding millions each year to pay for the bonds used to finance the center because the arena is is not making any money. Meanwhile, Rio Rancho has to slap on a hiring freeze and the city approved a quarter cent gross receipts tax increase to make ends meet. From the article:

The arena now consumes nearly 7 percent of the city’s $53.8 million budget, so workers have been furloughed, spending on parks has been curtailed and a reserve fund has been drawn down. In January, Jimenez, the city manager, asked for an additional $550,000 for arena upkeep and repairs, including refinishing the basketball court and buying new glass for the hockey rink.

This is must-reading for ABQ city councilors like Ike Benton who continue to talk up a similar arena for downtown ABQ. Mayor Berry also still flirts with the idea on occasion.


The new economic reality the state is dealing with is simply unavoidable, even to economists who specialize in looking for the silver lining. One of them, UNM's Lee Reynis, is now warning about something the Alligators around here have been saying for a couple of years--we do not have in place the building blocks to attract new jobs as the economy comes out of recession. She is more than a little worried as we are staring at a stark long-term employment problem, not just another year or two.

With that in mind, sports fans, once again here are a few of our favorite things to kick-start our corner of the world:

Embrace the Spaceport and work hard to build a commercial space industry around it

Build a full-fledged dental school
at UNM and create a new professional class for the state

Have the Governor and ABQ Mayor partner with the state's congressional delegation to squeeze every federal dollar it can out of Washington

Place a renewed focus on the state's tourist industry and feverishly market our attractions to neighboring states

Provide fresh tax breaks for start-up businesses and finance them by increasing the state tax on capital gains which is at an historic low

Think big and for the long-term by completely redesigning and reconstructing the state fairgrounds (NM Expo) into a world-class (and statewide) tourist destination--A new coliseum, performance art, shopping, museum, playgrounds etc. State and city bonds to pay for it?

New Mexico is stalled out. Even more than money, our leadership needs imagination and desire.


Call us naive or whatever, but count us among the skeptical over the bizarre bribery case of freshly indicted Las Cruces Judge Michael Murphy. The entire state judiciary--or at least any part of it associated with former Governor Richardson--is getting smeared and on the basis of what so far seems to be very flimsy evidence.

Murphy comes off as buffoonish in court documents. If you know how Richardson operated, the judge's assertion that alleged bagman and political fix-it artist Edgar Lopez personally delivered envelopes stuffed with cash to former Governor Richardson seems ludicrous.

This reader email commenting on the allegations that state judgeships in Cruces were sold for cash bribes in the Big Bill years swings hard:

If the prosecution were going after Lopez--the alleged "fixer"--that would be legitimate. But to go after Murphy alone is an obvious political prosecution. Just another pathetic attempt by Republicans to distract New Mexicans from their anti-working-class policies. This is what New Mexicans are going to be looking at until 2014 -- selective prosecutions as a substitute for any action to alleviate their REAL problems.

The case being handled by special prosecutor Matt Chandler, the Republican 2010 candidate for attorney general and Clovis area district attorney, has unleashed a wave of hostility toward the state's judicial system--or at least any part of it associated with former Governor Richardson. If this is the real deal, throw the book at the offenders and we'll be the first in line reversing our opinion. But we're not there today--not even close.

Richardson made his first public comments on the indictment, saying suggestions that he was part of a larger pay to play scheme that funnelled money to him "outrageous and defamatory." The full statement:

I appointed judges through an extensive process, including a thorough vetting first by the judicial nominating commission and then by my legal staff of the candidates that were nominated to me. I personally interviewed every candidate and appointed based on merit. I appointed 113 judges, including several Republicans, and the general consensus in the legal community is that we selected excellent judges who had to prove themselves to voters in elections. Campaign contributions never influenced my appointments, and any suggestion to the contrary is outrageous and defamatory.”

Our Alligators report recently seeing Chandler hanging with former GOP US Attorney Greg Fouratt in ABQ. Matt must be hoping he does better than Greg did in getting Big Bill's neck in a legal noose. Despite a lengthy investigation into a bond scandal, Fouratt failed to win a indictment.

We've been tough on wayward judges in this space over the years so we don't speak with partiality. We just get a queasy feeling as we read some of the flim-flam investigative statements and take in the natural pro-prosecution tilt in the mainstream media over the Murphy indictment. So do a number of our usually astute readers.

To be continued...


Another NM judge who made headlines for all the wrong reasons is getting out. Court of Appeals Judge Robert Robles will resign, giving Governor Martinez the opportunity to make her first big judicial appointment. Robles, a Democrat, was busted earlier this year for drunk driving. Like the embattled Judge Murphy, Robles is also from Las Cruces....

And yet another His Honor hits the mat:

Former state District Judge Sam Sanchez of Taos so abused his judicial powers that he can never hold judicial office again, the New Mexico Supreme Court said in its final order in a disciplinary proceeding. Sanchez resigned last month under an ultimatum from the Supreme court to quit or be removed from the bench. He was in trouble for jailing more than 30 people, almost all of them from Taos Pueblo, for contempt of court after an outburst by some of the spectators in his courtroom in November 2009.

The ABQ City Council approved the budget for the next fiscal year on a 5 to 3 vote, not on a 5 to 4 as we first blogged. Dem Councilor Debbie O'Malley walked out of the meeting late Monday night upset with Council President Don Harris. The three other Dems voted against the budget.

Our early morning readers on Tuesday missed this link from the Las Vegas Review Journal about ABQ Dem Congressman Martin Heinrich...

Hey, go smoke on this, Gators. Country singing legend and regular pot smoker Willie Nelson has endorsed former NM GOP Governor Gary Johnson for president. Who else could he back? Gary's platform calls for legalizing pot.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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