Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Meddling With Medicare: Will It Hurt R's Here? Plus: PNM Side Of Great Rate Debate, And: News And Notes From The Guv Beat 

Will Medicare be the Republican's Waterloo in New Mexico 2012? Who knows? But at this early stage it is a certain headache for the GOP hopefuls lining up for the state's open Senate seat and the ABQ congressional seat.

ABQ Dem US Rep. Martin Heinrich, seeking the '12 Senate nod, is coming with a major blast of the "Ryan Budget Plan" that would revamp Medicare. He does so in a just-received mailer to his constituents that was paid for by taxpayers. In it he dubs the budget passed in April by the Republican-controlled House the "Ryan Budget to end Medicare." He charges that it would "end the Medicare guarantee for seniors and "eliminates Medicare as we know it."

Coming in an official House communication and not a campaign piece give the charges extra kick.

The controversial remake of Medicare has already sent GOP US Senate hopeful Heather Wilson to the sidelines. She has refused to comment on the Ryan budget. And GOP consultant Dick Morris writes that the House leadership should have another vote on the budget so House freshmen can reverse their support of the Medicare plan or else face the prospect of being flunked for re-election in 2012.

Heinrich and the Dems have been on the defensive because of the sluggish economy. Medicare and Social Security are giving them a chance to get on the offensive as well as change the terms of the debate.

We've been here before. In 2010, with GOP opponent Jon Barela closing in on him, Heinrich came with a TV ad featuring a senior citizen who seared Barela by warning him "not to mess with my Social Security. Barela had refused to rule out privatizing the popular program. While some of his supporters insist another ad accusing him of being a lobbyist had more impact, the Social Security ad was devastating to Barela among seniors and may have cost him the couple thousand votes he lost by.

Now it's the privatizing of Medicare. And again it is going to be very tricky for Republicans in moderate New Mexico. Where will ABQ GOP congressional candidate Dan Lewis come down? And when will Heather come off the sidelines? She will have to eventually.

The bottom line is that if national R's don't provide an escape hatch on Medicare, New Mexico Republicans could suffer disproportionally. Don't say we didn't tell you.


Martin Heinrich is getting some good press--in Nevada. It's little known that he is a native of the Silver State. He was born there and moved as a youngster to Missouri and later New Mexico. His Nevada background was enough for the Las Vegas Review-Journal to take recent notice as they talked up his Senate candidacy:

His paternal grandfather, Olaf Heinrich, ran a feedlot in the farming town. His maternal granddad, Lester Bybee, was a Battle Mountain gold miner. And his father, Pete Heinrich, spent many years toiling in mine exploration for Anaconda Copper before becoming a utility company lineman and moving the family to a small ranch in Missouri.

But they always found their way back to Nevada for vacations and family visits. For a youngster raised with a respect for the land and the outdoors, Fallon meant alfalfa fields and irrigation ditches, big shade trees, and a backyard that stretched for endless miles.

"I remember visiting my grandparents as a kid," Heinrich recalled...They lived in a trailer in the middle of nowhere near some mine. It was just a great adventure for a young kid to wander around the sagebrush, find rattlesnakes, and visit with my grandparents."

Those are some authentic working class roots. Now that he's running for the Senate, will you see Martin look to the Nevada establishment--those who run the state's casinos--for a bit of campaign cash?

Heinrich remains the front-runner in his race for the Dem Senate nomination against State Auditor Hector Balderas. He continues to pile up the labor endorsements. The latest:

The unions endorsing Heinrich’s campaign are the American Postal Workers Union Local 380 (APWU), the Bakery Confectionery Tobacco & Grain Workers (BCTGW) Local 351, the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 953, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) District Council 88 and Local 823, the United Steelworkers of America District 12, and the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 251.


We blogged Monday of the big proposed PNM rate increase and how some think the electric company should cool it during this downturn and go for a smaller hike. It sure would help with the budget shortfalls taxpayers are dealing with in their public schools. No response to that, but PNM communications director Valerie Smith does come with this:

The earnings you reference are not PNM earnings. PNM is one of three subsidiaries owned by PNM Resources, a holding company. The earnings are for the total holding company and not just PNM. They were heavily driven by our Texas operations. Executive pay is also based on the holding company and not just PNM.

Executive bonuses are not in rates. And just a fraction of base pay....Over a half billion dollars of capital improvements to keep power reliable and meet growth in the state is the driver (of the rate increase).

Second, the morphing from 11 percent to almost 20 percent isn’t correct if you’re just talking about the current rate case. The rate case is 10.8 percent. What opponents are citing is the fact that bills currently have other charges included. For example, there is an energy efficiency line item. This is to meet a state requirement...There is currently a fuel charge that gets adjusted – up or down – every July depending on the actual cost of fuel.

The 20 percent references what the bill impact would be if we reached the cap on every single one of these line items. Without the rate case before the commission, there are no caps. The caps were included as customer protections. The charges would occur without the rate agreement because two of them are needed to meet the state law for renewable energy and energy efficiency. What wouldn’t occur would be the customer protections.

Since 2007, we’ve cut our officer ranks in half. We have cut our dividend in half. We have cut our workforce by 15 percent. We have reduced our operating expenses by $30 million...But we must invest in power plants, power lines and power systems to provide businesses and residents the reliable service they expect and need. That’s what this increase is about.

As a stand-alone company PNM posted a $53.6 million profit in 2010.

In Monday's blog we said ABQ Public School Board member Katherine Korte is a Republican. She says she is a registered independent.


PNM sold its natural gas business a couple of years ago--lucky them--because the PR disaster that has befallen the new owners in the wake of the widespread gas outage during frigid temps--continues unabated. The Rio Grande Sun comes with some aggressive reporting on which natural gas suppliers failed to deliver desperately needed gas to Gas Company of New Mexico during the crisis. But still no answers:

Company spokeswoman Monica Hussey has refused to say who produces and processes the natural gas for the Company. The private Company is not required to tell the public from whom it buys gas, Hussey said. We are prevented by contract from disclosing this information,” she stated.

Hussey added the gas the Company buys originates in the San Juan and Permian Basins in northwest New Mexico, and southeast New Mexico and west Texas, respectively. She said the Company has 60 suppliers or more.

The Federal Energy Regulation Commission denied a request under federal sunshine laws to inspect documents pertaining to gas processing plants in Texas that Company officials have previously said experienced power outages leading to its supply shortages.

Can northern Congressman Ben Ray Lujan or Senate energy committee chairman Jeff Bingaman help the Sun find some answers?


On a 5 to 3 party line vote, the Republican majority on the ABQ City Council late Monday approved a $467 million budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The budget includes Mayor Berry's proposal to use $3 million in expected surplus revenue to back $50 million in bonds for public works projects--a proposal we blogged about Monday and which drew opposition from council Dems. However, the bonds would have to be approved by voters at the regular October city election, instead of by a super majority of the council as Berry first recommended. Just what the bonds will be for is still under discussion. The budget also includes a one percent pay raise for employees making less than $50,000 a year

Governor Susana confirms that she will ask the special session of the Legislature called for redistricting to also consider a ban on driver's licenses for illegal immigrants--a measure she tried and failed to get passed during the recent regular session. Will she be able to get the votes in the Senate this time around? Whether she does or not, she does like to use this issue to keep the Dems on the defensive. The session is expected to be called for September....

And it seems one of the Guv's critics went over-the-top in opposing her being named as the commencement speaker at last week's graduation ceremonies at Western New Mexico University in Silver City:

Professor Janet Wallet-Ortiz, who has taught English at the university for 24 years, called the choice "outrageously insensitive and disrespectful." I really wonder how many students would have chosen Gov. Martinez to speak at their commencement if they knew her record. During her first legislative session, Martinez actively fought to make state employees' pay cuts permanent - even going so far as to threaten Sen. Morales with vetoing the entire budget if he did not submit an amendment to that end."

What? College graduates trained in critical thinking only want to hear from speakers they agree with? How about those whose successful life stories might inspire them? Or is that also "insensitive?"

Well, in the end the Friday ceremony went well and absent any protests. Martinez spoke of her personal journey, telling the class of 2011:

"The only thing you own is your story--make it a good one."

And on that, the Governor has bipartisan support.

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