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Friday, May 10, 2013

The Econ Beat: Jobs Crisis Continues; 6,400 Apply For 400 Casino Jobs, Plus: The Myth Of Diversification; The Feds Are Us And Why Our Politicians Need To Fight, Not Surrender 

The ABQ jobs crisis is far from over. That was made abundantly clear this week when 6,400 job seekers sought 400 jobs at the ABQ Downs Racetrack and Casino which will open a new facility this summer.

These are mainly low-skill jobs--slot operators, valets and the like. It is another example of how those without college degrees are having the most difficult time landing employment in the city's stagnant economy.

Earlier this year Target opened a new store in ABQ's uptown and over 7,000 applied for a couple of hundred jobs, most of which paid in the $9 an hour range.

If there's any topic that deserves intense and passionate debate in the upcoming mayoral campaign it's what we are going to do with the thousands of semi-skilled workers who need jobs but can't find any.

COOL THE HAPPY TALK

Happy talk and wishful thinking aren't going to get us out of our plight, but we are getting plenty of that. The latest comes from a state-funded outfit called the NM Partnership whose president and CEO is Steve Vierck and ABQ economic development director John Garcia.

Perhaps out of a sense of desperation over the never-ending economic blues being sung here, they seem to be saying that because more companies have recently expressed an interest in possibly relocating here, the economy is picking up and our jobs depression is about to end.

The partnership has seen its average number of prospects increase from a low of just two in March of 2012 to eight for the month of April. About 10 percent of those companies, said, on average, will move to or expand in New Mexico. “They’re all a work in progress, but it continues to be a pressing need to accelerate the state’s diversification from federal government jobs,” Vierck said. “Our fist push is jobs and investment. It’s been flat.”

Let's state the obvious: The economy will pick up here when companies actually move here not because they are "considering" it. All kinds of companies that are doing well outside of New Mexico are planning expansions and moves. That's because the economy elsewhere is picking up.

The extra spin Vierck and Garcia put on this is that the controversial tax cut package passed in the final, frantic moments of  the '13 legislative session is responsible for this increased curiosity about New Mexico. Again, all we can say is show us the money--and more specifically the signed deals where companies are going to move here because of that tax package. We're not holding our breath. And we advise Messrs. Vierck and Garcia to do the same or else risk turning blue.

DIVERSIFY TO WHAT?

One other note. Why is the NM Partnership insistent on saying we need to "diversify" away from federal government jobs? Why are they and their far-right media allies so cavalier in throwing in the towel on the fundamental economic building block of this state for over 60 years? And that still is.

Again, we ask, where is the fight, the determination to protect what we have and also expand our private sector? Why are these goals seen as mutually exclusive in certain quarters? Is it based on an emotional resentment of government of any kind and not on what is best for our state's future?

Is the plan to replace federal government jobs that pay $80,000 a year with slot machine operators at the ABQ racetrack that pull down $9 an hour? Or are we going to bring in more $10 an hour call center jobs to replace those federal jobs that are viewed with such disdain by extreme elements in the state economic development community?

Let's put it this way: What is the percentage of private sector businesses in this state that receive zero contracts from the Federal, state or local governments? How many of them would be put out of business if they did not have those contracts? We'll wait for the NM Partnership to get back to us on that, but, again, we won't hold our breath.

FIGHT OR PERISH

Here's what we're talking about. At the risk of engaging in our own version of wishful thinking, we see Governor Martinez, seeking re-election next year, as perhaps beginning to see the light on the importance of this state's federal funding and expending some political capital to protect it:

...Martinez is putting pressure on the feds now that a radioactive waste cleanup is in trouble at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The U.S. Department of Energy promised the project would be complete by June of next year...But now it appears the deadline will not be met unless the lab gets tens of millions of dollars in additional funding...More than 100 jobs at LANL are on the line...the Department of Energy requested an additional $40 million to help complete the LANL cleanup....The governor is backing that request and sent out a letter to US lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, urging them to approve the funding...The governor says she has personally called the Department of Energy and also spoke with Vice President Joe Biden about securing additional funds for the cleanup.

Martinez actually showed up at Los Alamos to talk about the risk to the federal funding and allowed her face to be associated with the story.

Welcome aboard, Governor, we've been waiting for you.

And from Senator Udall who is also seeking re-election next year:

U.S. senators from Wyoming and New Mexico (Enzi and UDall) said they plan to roll out legislation this week to restore about $110 million in cuts to a federal minerals payment program that hit their states the hardest...New Mexico faces a loss of about $25 million....

The ABQ Journal's DC reporter added:

The normally mild-mannered senator seemed to get a bit hot under the collar as he maintained that the federal government has no right to the money.

Exactly. That is, unless you believe the diversification Utopians have a plan to replace that $25 million with private sector development.

THE BOTTOM LINES

In these uncertain times there is indeed the possibility that New Mexico will face continued erosion of its federal funding, but the politicians of this state owe their people a fight--not a white flag of surrender labeled "diversification" that lets them avoid responsibility and  blame "Washington" for everything gone wrong.

The message for this Governor and our congressional delegation in these most perilous times is simple:

Look in the mirror, put on your game face on and come out swinging.

Thanks for stopping by this week. Reporting from Albuquerque, I'm Joe Monahan.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (jmonahan@ix.netcom.com)

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2013 
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