Monday, February 03, 2014

Back On The Econ Beat: The TImes Keep A Changin' And Not For The Better; Feds Hammer State; How Our Congressional Delegation Stands 

The national economy is starting to move, but New Mexico? Not:

Albuquerque and New Mexico can expect job growth of 1 percent over the next few years, according to Ted C. Jones, the chief economist of Stewart Title Guaranty Co.. . . .Jones said other cities are outpacing Albuquerque in the economic recovery and that most other states are outpacing New Mexico. The main reason? Reliance on government jobs. . . Jones said New Mexico has two times more government jobs than the average state and that Albuquerque has more than the average U.S. city. About one in four New Mexicans has a government-related job.

Let's put some  raw numbers to those "government jobs":

(Los Alamos Labs) has grappled with reduced revenues of $457 million in the last two years. Only the revenues for nuclear programs increased. To deal with the budget decrease, the lab has reduced staff by more than 1,300 employees through layoffs or attrition, including contractors and career staff. 

What's the multiplier effect of $457 million? Ask a small business owner in Espanola.

In the most recent federal budget Senator Udall says Federal funding for the national labs has stabilized, but it is stabilizing at much lower levels. And what happens in 2015 and beyond?

We asked Dr. Brent Eastwood of Santa Fe, a Republican expert in international affairs and national security, for his thoughts on the federal budget recently approved and the role of our state's congressional delegation. His insights:

Federal employees and active duty military get a small pay raise and anything helps these days. Sen. Udall did a good job on Dept. of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Agency, LANL clean-up, WIPP and the B61. That's excellent news for New Mexico. Not a great year for our Air Force bases. The base construction money is less than ideal. It’s over $100 million for all three but nothing to write home about. Udall is on the subcommittee for military construction appropriations so I expected more.

Senator Heinrich is not really a player in all this. Yes, he’s learning the ropes, but he is on the wrong committees. Energy & Natural Resources? Okay, but that’s an authorization committee not appropriations. The Committee on Intelligence and Joint Economic Committee are not assignments that will help the state directly. Criticizing the National Security Agency does not create jobs in New Mexico. The Joint Economic Committee is a sleepy debating society within a larger debating society. 

It really hurts the state not having anyone on the Senate or House Armed Services Committees. Maybe Rep. Pearce can move over since he is an Air Force veteran. I have not heard anything on whether a BRAC (base closings) round is coming up, but you never know. 

Rep. Michelle Lujan-Grisham is on the Budget Committee which is interesting but as a freshman in the minority it’s hard to do anything. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan is building up some seniority on House Energy and Commerce but it’s slow-going when you are in the minority party on that committee.

We all knew the hit the state was going to take when it lost the decades of seniority of Senators Domenici and Bingaman and now it's a reality. Udall did manage this year to hold down the fort from his new slot on appropriations. Eastwood roughed up Heinrich, but as a first year Senator, he can only position himself for the future by doing good work on the assignments that are handed him.

The economic downturn and the simultaneous loss of our DC seniority will be remembered by future generations as one of the biggest news stories in state history.


Driving through downtown ABQ the other day we saw where the iconic El Rey theatre was shuttered and listed for sale. That's been a fixture since WWII and reminded us yet again of the life-changing impact this economic downturn has had on our area.
Reader Jason Fejer sees it as well--in the once thriving far East Central Avenue around the Four Hills neighborhood:

Business is shutting down faster than it can be replaced. A once bustling area, with movie theaters, restaurants and shopping, has been replaced with boarded up windows, vacant buildings and dollar stores. Low rent apartments, homelessness, drug activity and public intoxication create a huge demand for public safety on the Central corridor. So the real question is, how do we fix it? Will more low income housing positively impact East Central? Will a fully staffed police department proactively policing the community help? Better access to treatment facilities for the mentally ill and public inebriates maybe? How do we recruit new business to the area? I think some of the above will have to occur first. I never expected the area to decline so rapidly but something has to change and I believe it has to start with proactive, community based policing. 

Good points, Jason. Our police department is short 200 officers and we haven;t heard about "community based policing" in years. But with the economy driving more neighborhoods into disrepair and disrepute, can't the mayor and city council take a look? Shouldn't they? The neighborhood Jason writes of is represented by GOP City Councilor Don Harris.


Louis Thorp of the Guidance Center of Lea County writes:

Joe, I wish to write concerning your comments on your recent blog regarding CYFD’s upper management and their inexperience. Having known the CYFD Secretary for nearly 40 years, I can assure you that inexperience is not the problem. She is a very competent administrator. I would direct your thoughts to a broken personnel system that does not allow staff to be fairly compensated for their years of service. Instead, you have a situation of CYFD training new social workers for other employers. There is no incentive for staff to remain long term in those positions, even though they might want to. Instead, they leave in order to make more money to take care of their own families. I venture that if there was a system that allowed them to be progressively reimbursed for their excellence in work, you would see a full staff with a low turnover rate.

Thanks, Louis.  We are all closely watching what the Legislature does about CYFD and our social worker problem that burst into the headlines in December with the abuse death of ABQ's 9 year old Omaree Varela, We will report on what measures, if any, are approved in Santa Fe.

Meanwhile, NM is not alone in dealing with widespread child abuse and neglect. What states can do to protect children--From Arizona:

Gov. Jan Brewer used her State of the State address  to announce that she had abolished Child Protective Services, which had been part of a much larger department, and reconstituted it as a stand-alone cabinet-level office reporting directly to her. The move came after the discovery that more than 6,500 abuse and neglect complaints had been shelved without any investigation.

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