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Monday, January 28, 2013

Shifting Sands: Nonstop Drumbeat of Gloomy Economy News May Change Political Conversation; Some Dems Start To Find Their Voice, Plus: Driver's License Circus Gets Ready To Leave Town 

One of our readers writes in with a line of thinking we are hearing  more and more:

Given the state of the NM economy, any Representative not 100% focused on economic development should be immediately fired.

Well, we can't fire them, but if what some are calling the state's economic "death spiral" continues, you are going to see the politicians running for cover, instead of doing their whistling past the graveyard act.

The most damaging headline of the year for Governor Martinez and ABQ Mayor Berry is the one that told of how we have become a state people are moving away from. They can bury that in the "C section," but they can't hide it. People feel it. They are talking about it.

We've written of the polling popularity of Martinez and Berry, but we are starting to sense cracks. No administration--no matter how much they put a smile on things--can escape shouldering responsibility for what is happening here. Some Democrats are starting to find their lost voices. Expect more vigorous push back.

Yes, it has been a very long honeymoon. But it is over. The state's precarious and frightening economic future demands a real debate--and it will get one.

THE CIRCUS

But before we get that debate, we're getting another circus act. That would be the blow-up over that abortion bill of Carlsbad GOP State Rep. Cathrynn Brown. She now says the bill would not prevent a woman who was raped from getting an abortion. Brown has done enough backtracking to wear out a new pair of Nike's. She says the bill was drafted incorrectly and that raises this question:

Why didn't new House Minority Leader Don Bratton have controls in place that would have stopped Brown's mishap--and that of 9 cosponsors of the bizarre legislation? Maybe he will now.

And with new House Minority Whip Nate Gentry apparently putting the kabosh on his embryonic plans to seek the ABQ congressional seat in 2014, Bratton might have a second pair of eyes focused on the action at hand.

And what about that Democratic response machine? They were on this one like a wet blanket--as they should. That's the machinery of new Speaker Ken Martinez at work and--as we mentioned--a signal that some Dems are starting to wake up after a two year nap.

(Didn't we say Speaker Martinez would find himself more in the spotlight when Senate Dems failed to shed the chains of their conservative coalition with the R's? We did.)

A funny aside: One of the Roundhouse Alligators says Rep. Brown introduces herself as an attorney and an "editor." Well, Brown found out that editing can be just as slippery as being your own lawyer.

THAT OTHER CIRCUS

You've already heard about that other circus--the one featuring driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants and which is about to end its two year run. The Guv is throwing in the towel. And here's another reason why:

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill into law that grants hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants the right to drive. The new law makes Illinois the fourth state to allow driver’s licenses or permits for undocumented immigrants and comes ahead of President Obama’s  expected announcement on a plan for comprehensive immigration reform expected on Tuesday.

Quinn and the bipartisan supporters of the legislation say the measure will improve traffic safety in the state. “This new law will ensure every motorist is properly licensed to drive. It’s the right thing to do,” a spokesperson for the Governor said in a statement.

Susana senses she needs a new act. How about "The Great Compromiser?" That might please the crowds. But she can't do it with a sour look on her face. She has to enjoy it, embrace it and mean it. And that's a challenge for our heels-in-cement prosecutor Governor.

FALLING IN LINE

And we can't let this one get away. We've been among those arguing for over two years for a compromise on the driver's license issue, but each time the ABQ Journal stiff-armed the idea, calling compromise no solution and warning of dire public safety consequences. Of course, it was mostly balderdash. But guess what? Now that Susana has uttered the dreaded "C" word, the Journal has fallen in line and is aping her new outlook. Their Sunday editorial:

"A straight repeal would be cleaner...but...providing illegal immigrants with a separate mechanism to drive legally may be the best option the Legislature can deliver...

Well, welcome to our world, ink-stained ones. We've been waiting for you. And it didn't hurt too much, did it?

The editorial writers should keep the book on compromise on the desktop. If they're determined to stay on the same page as Susana, they're going to need it.

FORGOTTEN MEMO?

We guess freshman ABQ GOP State Rep. Paul Pacheco didn't get the memo on the driver's license repeal. In that same edition of the Journal he is still arguing for his bill that would repeal the licenses, not reform them. Hey, Susana and Jay. Give Paul a call and tell him about the new world order.

THE TRAIN WRECK

Now on to the econ beat and the drumbeat of news that's like watching a slow motion train wreck:

The median asking price for a business in the Duke City area is $237,00. One year ago, at the end of Q4 2011, the median asking price was $293,000. In Q4 2012, listed businesses in the Albuquerque area had median revenue of $407,630, down $23,329 from a year ago.

And the last we say the median price for a home in ABQ was around $166,000, In May of 2008, it was $205,000. That.s a 20 percent haircut. Any bets on when it goes back to $205K? Maybe when they get around 20,500 new jobs in here.

A MESA WITHOUT SOULS

Those jobs are not likely to come from the construction industry--at least not any time soon. The collapse of the mega-development Mesa del Sol guarantees that. The so-called "Crown Jewel" of home development here has collapsed. Owners Forest City are looking to bail out but no one is interested in buying. The project was a fave of former Governor Big Bill and the biz community. Its momentum was preserved with plenty of campaign contributions.

They were saying that 50,000 would someday live there. But Mesa del Sol remains a comfortable stomping ground for jack rabbits and road runners.

One of our critters--a Senior Alligator with insider info--says not all politicos supported the project. He says that and the real estate crash were behind the collapse:

Mesa del Sol's comment that the project has other partners is disingenuous at best. The other partners are the City of Albuquerque, the State of New Mexico, the State Land Office and the University of New Mexico. None of these entities are going to pick up and develop the property. They all had a stake in the successful build-out of the property and Governor Martinez let them dangle in the wind because of her personal enmity for Gov. Richardson. 

The signs of the wheels coming off this project were there in 2008-09  when top flight support staff and contractors were let go. Al Ratner, the owner of Forest City had a passion for Albuquerque and Mesa del Sol but once he stepped aside the company's commitment withered.  Mesa del Sol executive Mike Daly was pretty much an absentee landlord as more and more the project was managed out of Denver.

WHAT? US WORRY?

Meanwhile at sleepy ABQ City Hall, the Rip Van Winkle act goes on, even as the Mesa del Sol collapse reveals the extent of the ravaging recession here:

City of Albuquerque Economic Development Director John Garcia says the sale of the land will not compromise the development."The development stays intact, the project stays intact," he said.  "The agreements are in place, and if they chose to sell their assets, then they sell them with the contracts in place," says Garcia The city says it's not worried about the development saying Forest City has been a good partner to this point, and they don't see that changing now.

"Not worried?" Well, one supposes it's difficult to worry about something that isn't going to exist. Just like so many other businesses and jobs around here.

OUTTA HERE

We blogged last week of layoffs at the defense company SAIC We didn't have the numbers at the time. Now we are told by a source:

Over 200 people over the last year have been laid off, most of them in the last month

Defense and energy make up of many of the high-paying jobs in this town. But you already knew that.

(We're still working this. SAIC is saying only 11 people in ABQ lost their jobs since they announced 700 national layoffs in December. We've asked them what the work force total here is now compared to a year ago and await an answer. They also say 350 people still work for SAIC in New Mexico).

THAT'S NOT LUCKY

Amidst all of this, state House Dems say they will unveil a jobs program today. But they might want to give powerful State Rep. Lucky Varela a call before they do it.

Lucky says he wants to cut a deal by having the dreaded state gross receipts tax cover more transactions in exchange for giving the Guv her corporate income tax cut. Come on Santa Fe. One's a job killer--the gross receipts tax. And one's a job pretender--the corporate income tax cut.

THE BOTTOM LINES

Reader and retired newsman and politico Rodger Beimer has the closer today. He says of the proposal to have a statewide referendum on legalizing small amounts of marijuana:

The Legislature should meet in "joint session" to discuss the "reeferendum!"

Yeah, now we're blogging...

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