Friday, June 03, 2011

Friday Clippings From Our Newsroom Floor: Spaceport Potential, State Goverment Jobs And Minnie Gallegos 

Blogging New Mexico
We noticed this while over in Arizona recently and the potential of our own Spaceport America immediately came to mind:

University of Arizona has won a NASA contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars to send an unmanned spacecraft to study and take a sample of an asteroid that's potentially hazardous to Earth.

The mission, estimated to cost up to $1 billion and last more than a decade, is the largest space contract in the school's history. Previously, the university's largest space contract was the $428 million Phoenix Mars Mission in 2008.

Nice catch for Arizona. Could NMSU and UNM someday compete for such funding? They might--if we have an up and running full-fledged Spaceport fully embraced by our political leadership.


LaDonna Giron, an ABQ attorney, isn't buying what the Spaceport naysayers are selling and writes to "New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan" with this:

Thank you for writing on the spaceport and for keeping this project in the public consciousness. There are everyday folks like me who marvel at the ambitious goal of bringing spaceflight to New Mexico.

I am not a scientist nor could I afford space flight. But, I have a 9 year old daughter who is captivated by space, who dreams of a career with NASA, and the possibility of space travel for all. Having a spaceport will make her happy and I assume will inspire many NM children to pursue science and technology careers.

Too many New Mexicans can't fathom why we need to invest in these projects. Your blogging, although focused on the political aspects of spaceport policy, will likely help the public understand that there are practical reasons for investing in the Spaceport and for that I am truly thankful.

It's not just about putting rich tourists in space--the aspect of the project that seems to provoke the most derision from the critics. It's about building on that foundation and providing job opportunities for all those 9 year olds out there.


We've been shedding government workers of late, but the very long-term trend still has us gaining:

New Mexico had a 10-year upswing in federal, state and local government jobs, adding 14,300 positions. In the past year, the state has lost 3,200 government jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A total of 187,600 New Mexicans held government jobs in April 2001, a figure that grew to 201,900 by April 2011.


Those highly coveted state jobs with their health and retirement benefits and most important--their security--are becoming harder to come by and a whole lot less secure. Back in March we ran a newspaper report that showed the carnage since the state slapped on a hiring freeze. Updated figures show the numbers are not quite that bad, but still enough to sink the hearts of those who have their eyes on a state government prize. Here's the word from the Legislative Finance Committee:

The total number of state employees was down slightly in May compared with April, continuing a decline that started with a freeze ordered by the executive in December 2008. The State Personnel Office reported the state employed 22,430 full-time workers on May 16. The figures for April 1 were 22,752 and 25,808 for December 1, 2008. Those figures represent a month-to-month drop of 1.4 percent and a total decline of about 13 percent over two and a half years.

Among the ten largest agencies, those with the biggest drop in employees were environment, shedding 16 percent of its workers and transportation has 6 percent fewer employees than in Dec. 2008.

That's nearly 3,400 workers gone from the state payroll. Most are good-paying jobs never to return.

By most accounts, the state was top-heavy with employees. With a 13 percent reduction we have made a painful adjustment. It probably has given us more efficiency but also hurt by way of decreased economic activity. Look at how the Santa Fe area has been hammered by the recession.

For a number of generations state government jobs have been at the top rung of the career climb here. They still may be, but there is much less room on the ladder.


Whether it was a superior investment team or the lucky stars up above, this is good news for the states many retired educators:

Over the past five years the New Mexico Educational Retirement Board (NMERB) fund returned 4.8% per year, ranking in the top 24% of the same group of public funds. While the five-year results are below the target return of 7.75% per year, capital markets have been very turbulent over this time period. For example, the S&P 500 index, a widely followed group of large U.S. stocks, returned only 2.6% over the same time period. Given the market environment with its continued volatility, ERB’s investments have done well.

The fund now has about $9.5 billion. There was discussion during the past legislative session of dramatically increasing the years of service needed for an educator to draw a retirement check, but that would appear to be off the table for the foreseeable future. The fund seems solid and educators should reap the benefit for years to come. In other words, there is no need to panic.


Nice write-up"for Dem US Senate candidate Hector Balderas from the WaPo's Rachel Weiner.

Minnie Gallegos, 82, longtime Santa Fe Democratic Party activist and former county chairman there, passed away this week. We asked former State Rep. Patsy Trujillo of Santa Fe, now working in Washington for the Department of Homeland Security, to remember her:

Minnie Gallegos was ahead of her time. She knew what being inclusive meant, which describes the Democratic Party. And she was. She had a warm smile, infectious laugh, and was politically savvy. She was the County Chair for over a decade. Her legacy is that she always made sure you felt welcomed to the Santa Fe Democratic Party.

She greeted you with a big abrazo (hug in Spanish). She could meet with Presidents, but always had a personal relationship with the plebe (common folk). She loved wearing her big turquoise jewelery, sharing stories with her compadres and maybe if you were lucky sharing a shot of Patron. She loved her community of Santa Fe and they loved her back. She always made everyone feel welcome. Thank you for your public service, Minnie!

And thank you, Patsy, for that remembrance.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

Glad to have you with us this week.

Reporting from Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan.

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