Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Senate Leader Jennings Back In Dem Mainstream; Sparring With Susana Over Medicaid, Plus: More On All Our Govt Workers 

Sen. Jennings
It has been interesting to watch the relationship between Dem State Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings and Republican Governor Martinez. A coalition of R's and conservative D's keep Jennings in the leadership slot. But the SE NM lawmaker, after often opposing Dem Governor Big Bill, now seems to be swimming more in the Dem mainstream. He could use his considerable influence to help Martinez and not get much grief for it from his rural constituency. But he isn't.

During the regular session of the Legislature Jennings lent essential cover to liberal Senators and voted against Martinez when she asked that driver's licenses for illegal immigrants be revoked. His side won. Now Jennings comes with direct criticism of Martinez for her handling of Medicaid, the insurance program for low-income and disabled New Mexicans that is fast approaching 600,000 enrolled members and is a Democratic sacred cow. Take a look:

During the past legislative session, the bi-partisan Legislature worked with the business community and individuals to address escalating health care costs and limited access to care. We passed a Health Insurance Exchange bill which was....a private sector solution to limited health insurance access. It provided a vehicle for federal funding and gave the Governor the ability to direct and continue to work with New Mexicans on the design of a health care exchange. Unfortunately, Governor Martinez vetoed the legislation and appears to be planning to move in a different direction through an Executive Order.

...The Human Services Department released a request for proposals (RFP) seeking assistance to develop an “overarching plan for the transformation of the Department’s Medicaid program,” an effort intended “to substantially change the program’s structure.” This expedited process to overhaul Medicaid on such short notice without public and legislative engagement smacks of insider deal-making. It shows disrespect to those who disagree with the Governor, as well as the legislative and public processes aimed at helping the individuals served by Medicaid....

The new GOP administration is being closely watched to see if it tries to go over the heads of the Legislature to enact a wide-ranging deregulation agenda. Besides this Medicaid move, she has attempted to remove labor board members and to overturn a key environmental regulation, both of which were overturned by the state Supreme Court.


Susana promised during her campaign to spare the Medicaid budget, but has since given herself wiggle room. The program costs the state $1 billion a year, but gets three to four federal dollars for each one it spends. In Washington, Martinez's party is sending a new signal about Medicaid eligibility:

The leaders of two leading advocacy organizations told The Hill that they expect the House Energy and Commerce Committee to move quickly on a bill that would let states set new Medicaid eligibility rules. The bill, introduced last week, would repeal “maintenance of effort” requirements (MOE) in the healthcare reform law, which block states from cutting their Medicaid rolls ahead of the program’s expansion in 2014....

Medicaid eligibility has been a major issue in NM. Household income limits have been raised in recent years resulting in more enrollees.

It is unlikely the Dem US Senate would go along with any revised Medicaid eligibility rules before 2014. But a battle over Medicaid eligibility appears to be where we're headed. Will that be part of the "transformation" the Martinez Medicaid consultants come with?

A final point on Jennings. One of our Senior Alligators says his hang-tough attitude toward the Fourth Floor signals that Republicans have little chance of cutting a deal with Jennings and Dem coalition members in the upcoming legislative redistricting session--if they ever had much of one. In other words, the Dems are going to redistrict the Senate with the interests of Democrats in mind, not the coalition.


We blogged Monday about the soaring percentage (23.1) of the state's work force that is made up of government employees. And it is even higher if you count government contractors. That brought reader reaction:

There are a lot less federal government contractors in the state than you might think. Major tests that my company has supported at White Sands are way down. As a result there were major blood lettings of employees for both Boeing and another company. Also, the number of those employed at Kirtland AFB in ABQ is also way down. My best guess is about 20% from two years ago.

The Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center (AFOTEC) use to employee 500-600 at Kirtland. I think it now employees around 180. The previous AFOTEC Commander closed down two AFOTEC detachments. Each employed several hundred military, civil service and contractors. He sent them to Eglin Fl., Colorado Springs, Edwards CA, and Nellis, NV. All of those jobs were lost from NM to other states without one word from our congressional folks.

Kirtland recently released a PR report on the billions the base and Sandia Labs pump into the local economy (which we touted), but you didn't hear about this contractor shrinkage. Maybe someone wants to ask Senator Bingaman or Rep. Heinrich what happened? Or perhaps the Kirtland Partnership Committee, set up to protect all those Air Force jobs and contracts?

This reader rues our state's heavy government employment:

Depending on the government for jobs has made us a ward of the government and a willing hostage of the politicians.

And another in the same vein from reader Steve Gudelj:

Regarding cutting government jobs too soon or too fast, I disagree. At first I agreed with your assessment, but upon further thought I believe smaller government is again the answer. Waste is waste and if we cut a position so be it. The result is a reduced tax burden for New Mexico's citizens and put New Mexico in a position to cut taxes which will promote small business, thus private jobs.

Point taken. But someone out of work is going to go on unemployment, may receive food stamps and perhaps Medicaid.

In ABQ, Mayor Berry has continued a hiring freeze and the city isn't filling some positions as they become vacant. The same for the state. That way you trim the size of government, but soften the economic impact.

There is also one unexplored avenue we haven't heard much talk of. How about more part-time government workers? Aren't there jobs that maybe take a couple of hours a day, but require that an eight hour a day employee be hired?


Still more on NM government workers who are now on the front lines of the Great Recession....

If we're reading this right, don't look for many of those 20 or so University of New Mexico vice-presidents pulling down upwards of $200,000 a year to be trimmed anytime soon:

(Regent Gene Gallegos said) "There needs to be something done about this top-heavy management. We have vice presidents that aren’t needed. There needs to be a consolidation of those functions.”

Because of contractual obligations, (UNM President David) Schmidly said he can’t alter administrative salaries. As he did when the VPs for Branch Operations and Institutional Services left the University, he will keep the least important administrative positions vacant as administrators retire. “As we look at cost containment, we’ve been squeezing the administration and we’re going to squeeze it even more,” he said. “There’s no choice, it’s the right thing to do. There’s no opposition to that.”

Also from the campus, a professor comments on the search for a new president to replace Schmidly who will leave next year:

The search committee needs to be dominated by people who know something about higher education. It would do good to have some outside search members such as the head of Los Alamos Labs or Sandia. The superintendent of APS would be another reasonable choice. Qualified alumni are a good idea too, as long as they are qualified. Qualified in terms of understanding what the challenges are that modern universities face in terms of educating their students and helping the faculty excel as teachers and researchers.


There's plenty of woman power in New Mexico politics. The latest example:

Rep. Mary Helen Garcia, a Las Cruces Democrat, and Sen. Linda Lopez, an Albuquerque Democrat, will serve as co-chairwomen of the redistricting committee.

The Legislature is expected to meet in September to redistrict congressional and legislative districts. There are 11 Dems and seven R's on the panel. The 2000 redistricting session lasted 17 days and the redistricting ended up being decided by the courts. Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez recently told us he would like to see this session get its work done in seven to 10 days.

From the DC email:

Joe, (ABQ Dem State) Representative Moe Maestas is wrapping up a trip to DC where he has been attending various meetings...

Maestas has formed an exploratory committee to weigh a run for the 2012 Dem nomination for the US House seat being vacated by Rep. Heinrich.

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