Thursday, July 21, 2011

Reality Check: Pumping Up Susana's Resume, Plus: Senate Summer Polling, But No Surprises, And: Latest Spaceport News 

Politicians often believe if they keep repeating a misstatement of the facts their version will finally be accepted. The latest example comes in promotional material from Governor Martinez for her visit today and Friday to the Aspen Institute in Colorado to hobnob with 200 top Republican Party campaign contributors:

In her first six months in office, Martinez cut taxes to attract new jobs to the state, passed legislation requiring all schools to be graded A - F, downsized state government, and successfully closed the largest state budget deficit in New Mexico history--without raising taxes.

Trouble is, unless you use some kind of Alice in Wonderland math, Martinez did not close "the largest deficit in state history." That was done under former Governor Richardson when....guess what?....taxes were raised. The 2011 session of the Legislature--her first--cut less than $200 million in year over year spending.

Martinez gets credit for enforcing an even sterner frugality when it comes to filling vacant government positions and she has also trimmed salaries for her top appointees. However, she said before presenting her first budget that there would be no need for government layoffs. That has not turned out to be the case. The Public Education Department announced a reorganization and recently announced 33 layoffs. Some of those laid off have able to find jobs elsewhere in state government, but it is no guarantee all of them will.

As for the tax cuts, where? Personal income tax rates, the gross receipts and the property tax rate were not cut a dime. The Legislature did pass what the AP called a "tax incentive" for the Union Pacific Railroad. The company will pay no New Mexico taxes on diesel for its locomotives as it expands operations into southern New Mexico. By the way, that same tax break was approved under Dem Governor Big Bill but it expired before the company could get the project started.

Susana did win approval of her proposal for grading the public schools, even as her other major reform proposals bit the dust, but she does deserve credit for that one.

The Governor has taken baby steps in her first six months in office, not the giant leaps that are awarded her in her official propaganda. She didn't perform terribly, but it's in a politician's DNA to stretch as much as they can. That's something that never changes.


So far, it's Eric Griego and Marty Chavez for the Dem nomination for the ABQ US House seat, but the rumbling over former Sandia Pueblo Governor Stuart Paisano joining them is getting louder. His backers say he has the ability to raise the funds for a run. On the Republican side, a Senior Alligator says we can "take it to the bank" that economic development secretary-designate and 2010 ABQ GOP congressional nominee Jon Barela will not run again. Okay, but those banks aren't what they used to be....


More political news during these dog days of summer. The latest US Senate poll in the race for the GOP nomination says this:

Magellan Data and Mapping Strategies released the results of an autodial survey of 799 likely 2012 New Mexico Republican primary voters (on July 19th). The current ballot test shows Heather Wilson leading by 35 points with 56% support followed by Lt. Governor John Sanchez with 21%, Greg Sowards with 5%, and Bill English with 2% with 15% undecided. Heather Wilson has dropped 3% since our poll in late April when she had 59% of support, but she still maintains a significant lead over the rest of the field.

Sanchez picked up a couple of points as he became an official candidate. Wilson should stay ahead all the way into 2012 and then some. Then the hits will come and the tale will be told.

By the way, is that 5% for Sowards a long-term problem for Sanchez? We're watching.

On the Dem side in the very early Senate going, the polling firm reports:

The ballot test shows Congressman Martin Heinrich with 52% support, State Auditor Hector Balderas with 19%, Andres Valdez with 4% and 25% of voters are undecided.

Valdez is unlikely to be on the ballot next June


You'll never see any of the NM GOP candidates talk about raising taxes on the wealthy to help solve the deficit, but do they know how out of step they are with the public?

More than seven in 10 respondents in the Washington Post/ABC poll--72 percent--said they favored the idea of raising taxes on those making $250,000 or more to help shrink the debt. While, not surprisingly, 87 percent of Democrats supported such a move, so did 54 percent of self-identified Republicans. And, nearly six in 10 people said they would support raising taxes on oil and gas companies, including 55 percent of Republicans who agreed with the idea.

What do you say, Heather, John, and Craig? Hmm....can't hear you.


One of our self-assigned beats is Spaceport America and we are back on the beat today. First the news, then Alligator analysis:

Spaceport America’s new director promised lawmakers that the state shouldn’t have to support operation costs within a couple of years.

Through customers using the $209 million spaceport and partnerships with private industry, New Mexico Spaceport Authority Executive Director Christine Anderson told Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) members in Elephant Butte that she plans to ask for only one more year of state support to operate her office.

... Anderson said there’s still much work to be done to get everything operational. That’s why funding for her office this year was challenging. The year before, the spaceport authority office had a budget of little more than $1.1 million. Anderson said she was surprised to learn the office only had a budget of $500,000 because lawmakers assumed Virgin Galactic – Spaceport America’s primary tenant – would already be making lease payments.

The problem is there remains work to done to complete the Terminal Hangar Facility construction and several licensing steps necessary before Virgin Galactic can occupy it, she said. By making use of unspent funds from the previous fiscal year and getting access to some other funding, the office now has a budget of $922,000 to get through this fiscal year, Anderson said.

And the Alligator analysis:

This year sounds like its worked out. But zeroing out the state support by 2013 means the operational funding gap will be that much bigger. There's no way the Spaceport will be 100 percent self-sustaining by 2013. This was not a smart commitment to make, with so much uncertainty ahead.

Our take: Director Anderson may be feeling the pressure from the administration to wean itself away from any state support from the general fund, but lawmakers and the Governor need to know they may still have to dip into it to get this project off the ground.


Can UNM get in on the Spaceport action? So wonders Katie Richardson, the new graduate student association president. She emails:

Joe, you recently mentioned that "New Mexico State University was selected to lead the [Air Transportation Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation in 2010 partnership]." This will only cement NMSU's place in the industry of the new century if the NMSU regents focus on supporting academics at the university. The regents must commit the resources to hire the faculty necessary to make this a world-class academic-industry partnership. NMSU must also invest in providing a quality undergraduate education. Otherwise, students will find themselves locked out of the future in their own backyard.

Meanwhile, northern New Mexico is uniquely positioned to invest in partnerships with the national laboratories. But the UNM regents have failed to realize this opportunity because they are catering to the non-academic missions of the institution instead. A Nobel Laureate professor in physics can be supported for a mere $200,000. A new physics building to attract laureates to UNM will cost much less than the PIT's $60 million renovation price tag. UNM deserves a piece of the new century's industry, too, and we need the regents to lead us there.

Thanks, Katie. Let those Lobos and Aggies compete over this deal as fervently as they do their football games.

And for you media types looking for a gig, the Spaceport is looking for someone to do their media relations.

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