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Monday, March 05, 2012

Bear Is Still Out Of His Lair Here; He Dines On The Stale Economy, Plus: The To And Fro In ABQ Congress Race, Also: Sizing Up State Senate Action 

The bear is back. We thought we had finally chased him away after more than three years of dining on the economy, but this guy is stubborn and has an extra large appetite. Just look at him, pleased as punch with himself and poised for yet another meal.

And what's he dining on these days? How about for an appetizer the loss of 20 jobs at high-end Christie's real estate in Santa Fe as the housing market there continues to darken?

Second course dining could feature the downturn in the Rio Rancho area housing market--an always delectable delight for our hungry bear. The menu reads as follows:

Home construction in Rio Rancho has declined steadily since a mid-decade high. Builders broke ground on 264 new single-family homes between January and the end of November, according to the city website. That’s a 39 percent drop compared with the January through November period in 2010, when housing starts were at 436.

But this isn't a baby bear. For the main course, he will go all out. Up to 800 jobs at Los Alamos National Labs:

The National Nuclear Security Administration has approved a plan to cut staff at Los Alamos National Laboratory through voluntary buyouts. Lab officials last week announced plans to reduce their permanent full-time workforce by between 400 and 800 employees this spring, or as much as 11 percent.

We missed this part of the Los Alamos story. From the NYT:

In 2008, amid similar budget constraints, 431 workers were let go with buyouts. But this year’s cuts will probably run deeper, and Mr. McMillan acknowledged that they would be difficult.

No great meal concludes without dessert and our bear will not go wanting. For his, the Bear will savor the loss of 60 jobs from the ABQ Sony studios:

Sony Pictures Imageworks is closing its downtown Albuquerque studio this July when the company's lease expires...The nearly 60 workers at the studio in Albuquerque will be offered jobs at other Sony facilities in Canada and Los Angeles.

That's a fine meal indeed. But this Bear is cosmopolitan. He wants a cappuccino and an after dinner drink to complete his repast. And he finds it in Las Cruces and the tax collection crash:

The Gross Receipts Tax remittance from the state for the month of February 2012 totaled $6,832,214 a 3.9% decrease from the GRT remittance of February 2011. February receipts represent December economic activity. The year to date growth rate now stands at a negative 0.3% for the first eight months of fiscal year 2012. February figures, representing the Christmas shopping season, are a reversal of the slow improvement seen since September.

Yes, New Mexico is a fine dining spot for the Great Bear. He apparently has been spotted fleeing other states as a stronger economic recovery takes hold, but as you can see from the picture of him posted today the Bear is out of his lair here and ready to be served again--al fresco style.

What will it take to chase this fella away?

RESHAPING A STATE

There is a sense of helplessness among government policy makers in Santa Fe, business intellectuals in ABQ and aspiring politicians everywhere about where we go next economically. Worldwide forces are reshaping the very fabric of the New Mexico they knew.

A new school of thinking, apparently unfamiliar with New Mexico's history, has emerged in the catacombs of the Tea Party and segments of the GOP that says we should just fall down and absorb all the federal budget cuts and work to replace the billions of dollars lost with private sector development. What? Let the state wither with more shrinking real estate values, less money for the "private" contractors, fewer employment opportunities and a general decline in our already low standard of living? Just when is this billions of private development supposed to come on line and save us from these "dreaded" dollars from Uncle Sam? When we're all dead?

Well, thankfully, the far right fringe has not taken over mainstream GOP thinking as represented by GOP Senate candidate Heather Wilson, but we're watching closely.

If you like kicking this kind of thing around, on March 22 the think tank New Mexico First looks at the state's first 100 years and seeks ideas for the next 100.

SANTA FE HOPES

Despite the dismal economic backdrop the Guv insists that the over $200 million in new money she and the Legislature expects to come in and is factored into the $5.6 billion state budget she signed Friday will show up. With $100 a barrel a oil and selected economic sectors performing well, they may be right. But we aren't going to be surprised if the state is again sent scurrying for revenue as these jobs go drip, dripping away--especially all those well paying government positions.

Susana has a $137 million capital outlay bill on her desk that she is expected to sign this week--after vetoing out some glaring examples of pork barrel spending. She and every governor before her laments--with good reason--the scattershot capital outlay process. We get projects that don't really add much value or boost economic activity much but satisfy the narrow interest of particular legislators. But the state is still flat on its back and the Guv, it is assumed, knows it and will sign off on the measure and get the money flowing which in turn should create some sorely needed construction and other job

GETTING UGLY?

A reader writes of the three way battle for the Dem nomination for the ABQ congressional seat:

I received a call from a pollster asking questions about the candidates. They wondered if my vote could be impacted by such things as Marty Chavez’ girlfriend who was indicted on embezzlement charges who they said was involved in some wheeling & dealing while he was ABQ mayor.They also asked about Eric Griegos's payout from his job as executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children and his support for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrant. They also said talked about neglect cases when Michelle Lujan Grisham was state health secretary and that she had worked for Republicans. Someone’s fixin’ to play really ugly.

Yep. First it's the polling and then those familiar mail and TV attack ads.

Meanwhile, Griego supporters are pushing back against questions raised in the press and picked up here about his $24,000 severance payment when he left his post at NM Voices to run for the US House. Lora Lucero writes:

If the ABQ Journal wants to be fair, they should have looked into every candidate --Republican and Democrat--and how much money they made in their former jobs, etc. Two examples -- Marty Chavez's severance package from ICLEI. He reports making $120,000 in six months of work. His annual salary is $175,000. Where did that bump come from? Also, did the other candidates seek out an FEC decision in the name of transparency as Eric did when he accepted his severance?

Why not discuss Michelle Lujan Grisham's current status? Aren't there any concerns about whether serving as a Bernalillo County Commissioner while campaigning and working for Delta Consulting Group --a firm that has state and county contracts pose any ethical conflicts?

Another reader writes:

Joe, On Tuesday you wrote that Michelle has “out raised her two rivals in the early going, but--and a big but--she hasn't spent much. Griego and Chavez have been padding the political payrolls for months . . .”

Since when does high overhead and padded payrolls win elections? Keeping the expenditures down now, in the (very) early stages of the campaign, while continuing to fund raise at a feverish pace, should put Michelle in a position to outspend her opponents when it really counts, on things (like TV ads) that can swing voters.

It's still winter, but the heat is rising.

FISCH OUT OF WATER

The speculation is over about the future of Dona Ana Dem State Senator Steve Fischmann. Add his name to the retirement list, bringing the number of Senate retirements to seven in the 42 member body, including Eric Griego who is running for the ABQ congressional seat. The new slogan for Santa Fe is, "It's just not fun anymore."

THE PAIN OF PAYNE

He possesses one of the best minds in state politics, but the personal demons of Greg Payne continue to haunt him. Over the weekend the colorful and practiced politico was picked up and charged with aggravated DWI. Sadly, he was also charged with cruelty towards his children, aged 7 and 9, because he left them alone at his house.

Payne publicly fought alcoholism some 10 years ago when he was an GOP ABQ City Councilor. He went on to get elected to the state House and had a good run as director of the ABQ transit department under Dem Mayor Marty Chavez. He made a political comeback attempt last year, challenging fellow Republican Trudy Jones for her city council seat, but lost.

Payne, 44, has consulted state politicos at the highest levels and with much success (he attended a political party on the day of his arrest).

"I love my kids and hope this is not the defining moment on how I am viewed as a father," Payne told me Sunday night.

Dealing with personal demons on the very public stage is all part of the rough and tumble world of La Politica. The pathos of Payne is the latest example but far from the last in this....the life they have chosen.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2012
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