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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Now They Tell Us: Susana Budget Boss Says Tax Cut Package Based On Bogus Numbers; An Apology, But What About A Do Over? Plus: Econ Wreckage Frustrates Santa Fe; A Way Forward, And: Pearce Warms To Federal Spending 

Clifford & Guv (Journal)
This isn't a case of egg on the face--it's an entire omelet. When it comes to the hyper-controversial tax cut package passed in the final frenetic seconds of the 2013 legislative session, the state's top budget official pulls an Emily Litella from Saturday Night Live and says "Never Mind!"

Well, the Alligators warned us that all sorts of creepy crawlers would be coming out into the light in the aftermath of the rushed passage of the corporate tax cut. But not many of them suspected that Tom Clifford, the head of the state Department of Finance and Administration and Governor Martinez chief budget guru would be the one revealing some of them.

Clifford told a stunned Legislative Finance Committee that the information he gave legislators on the big tax bill during their near-panic to get the deal done was based on--get this--another version of the bill. It turns out the tax cut package is going to cost the state a whole lot more than Mr, Clifford and the other fiscal hawks at the Capitol had earlier told us and lawmakers.

Tom says he "apologizes" for his mistake. And that always makes taxpayers feel better, doesn't it? Not.

This tax package--touted as a panacea for the state's ever deepening economic woes--is turning out to be a political tar baby. Dems who voted for it are accused of caving in to the Governor. Some of them could get primary challenges for it next year. Democratic House Speaker Kenny Martinez has had the first year of his  speakership marred by his over eagerness to ram the bill through and now faces trouble in his House Dem caucus. And now even the Republican administration is taking hits.

If passage of the bill was based on erroneous information, shouldn't Martinez and the Legislature redo the package? Well, that's how it works in the real world, but not Santa Fe. When they get egg on their suits up there, they just send the dry cleaning bill to Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico.

REALLY, TOM?

Clifford's notable faux pas strained credulity for a number of readers. Among them is ABQ attorney Jeff Baker who said Tom and his enablers in the press deserve all the brickbats thrown at them:

Why is the article in the ABQ Journal about DFA Secretary Clifford providing misleading information ($70 million worth of misleading information) to the Legislature about the fiscal impact of the Governor’s tax bill located below-the-fold on page C-1, instead of above-the-fold on the front page of the paper? Does anyone seriously believe Tom Clifford simply was confused about which version of the bill he was testifying about?

Come on, Jeff. everyone knows the front page is reserved until 2015 for Big Bill and his cronies. Susana and Clifford have to wait their turn--but not until after she's safely re-elected, of course.

THE WRECKAGE

Sen. Smith
The accumulating economic wreckage in our enchanted land continues to be accompanied by sophomoric ramblings from legislative leaders and the administration. Sometimes it seems downright mean. 

Look at this from Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith: 

Like...Republican Congressman Steve Pearce of Hobbs, Smith also questioned the work ethic of some residents in southern New Mexico. "Anybody who really wants to work can find a job," Smith said. He told the committee that New Mexico had a deficiency that hurts it nationally: "We're perceived as a welfare state and an entitlement state."

Okay, Dr. No. How about telling that to those attending the southern NM job fairs sponsored by Pearce? Or coming up here to ABQ and finding jobs for the 7,000 folks who in January sought them at the Uptown Target?  Or the 6,400 who applied this month for jobs at the Downs at ABQ? Or maybe you can interview some of the ex-New Mexicans who have fled the state (and your home county of Luna) seeking jobs elsewhere to find out why they are leaving.

Maybe anybody who wants to work can indeed find a job---just not necessarily here.

THE FLAWS OF SANTA FE

Senator Smith, Secretary Clifford and other charter members of the austerity club of Santa Fe are growing increasingly frustrated that the state remains mired in an economic dystopia as the rest of the region emerges from the recessionary cocoon. 

But our neighboring states do not have a social conditions crisis like we do. They have better educated work forces and less pathologies. We have high rates of poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, iliteracy, suicide, school drop-out rates, obesity, diabetes, teen pregnancy and more.

And the recession has steepened our descent. Record enrollment for food stamps and Medicaid are the hallmarks as is the population growth that has slowed to a trickle. Construction workers and professionals alike are fleeing for greener pastures.

HOW TO SOLVE IT?

It's not going to go away by passing a tax cut or stashing away hundreds of millions of dollars in surplus money. It's going to take a massive investment of resources to alter the culture that spawns these pathologies. Our failure to confront this is why we have the "welfare state" so lamented by Senator Smith and Secretary Clifford. 

What will? There's no sure thing. Just as there is no guarantees when Santa Fe gives millions in  tax breaks to private companies to try to attract jobs, But a good gamble would be bipartisan support of a constitutional amendment that would ask voters to allow us to use a portion of the state's multi-billion dollar Permanent Fund for very early childhood education and intervention. That's how you start to change the welfare state mentality that so troubles Senator Smith--you must spend money. Put in terms he might better understand--you must spend money to make money.

The First Born Program at the Gila Regional Medical Center is one example. But Smith opposes the constitutional amendment and will not even allow a hearing in his important committee. 

Secretary Clifford's "mistake" over the tax bill is a real boner, but in the big picture it is relatively meaningless. The tax package approved by the legislature will have little impact on the state. That's because Senator Smith is right--we are perceived as a place that is not a very nice place to live. That's what we have to change.

Santa Fe needs to halt its incessant and ineffective tax code tinkering as well as its money hoarding in the name of a discredited austerity. It's time for a new way forward. It's time for bold change.

PEARCE'S PUSH

GOP southern Congressman Steve Pearce, always a reliable voice for ever smaller government, seems to be changing his tune some as the state is slammed by federal cutbacks and the threat of cutbacks.

While Dem Senators Udall and Heinrich and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan out out a joint news release touting their success in having $19 million "reprogrammed" for environmental clean up at Los Alamos Labs, Pearce was putting out his own news release letting everyone know that he had done his part by writing a letter to the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee on behalf of the LANL funding.

The House is controlled by the GOP and the Senate by the Dems. Senator Udall is key since he gained a seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee (ABQ Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham was not included in the release because her district does not include Los Alamos).

Pearce's district, which contains White Sands Missile Range, Holloman AFB, the WIPP project and Fort Bliss, is increasingly threatened by federal budget cuts and furloughs and he has been more vocal in advocating for federal funding in recent weeks, a departure from his profile as a fighter of government waste.

Polarization remains in the state's Congressional delegation, though. In the old days we routinely saw news releases celebrating New Mexico funding successes with the names of all members attached--both Dems and R's.

Pearce is the lone R in the five member delegation. That's why the Dems give him the end run, but Pearce's feisty personality may also be a barricade to more unity.

NO FOOTBALL?

Reader Gerges Scott of the Agenda-Global PR firm in ABQ writes of the talk on the Tuesday blog of some day eliminating the UNM football program:

No Football!!! What are you thinking? You’re breaking my heart. Can I tailgate at your house in the future?

Okay, Gerges, you can do it here, but it's BYOB and you have to settle for Irish stew.

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