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Monday, December 29, 2014

The Balderas Bloodbath: He Wields The Axe At AG's Office; Bitterness And Recrimination As He Waits For Storm To Pass, Plus: Plan To Reinstate Food Tax Seen As DOA  

Balderas (Journal)
Attorney General-elect Hector Balderas chose the sharp axe instead of the slow bleed as he dispatched some 40 staffers from the AG's office effective Dec. 31. Not surprisingly, he is paying a price for firing so many people in a state where the recession lingers and finding a job with good benefits can mean having to leave New Mexico.

Although all those employees who toiled with Attorney General Gary King knew they served at the pleasure of the AG--meaning they could be fired without cause--the Balderas bloodbath hit hard. The human toll is seen in this news report and in our email where Balderas is getting blasted:

Balderas hasn't even taken office as AG, but he's already fired 40 people in a 180-person agency. Speaking as someone who survived the cuts, I am shocked. The agency's best lawyers were let go. Its most intelligent and experienced investigators were fired. 

Balderas did that without interviewing anyone below division director level. Nor did he observe them first-hand, since his people haven't taken office yet. . . First lesson of the Balderas administration: he doesn't care about the AG Office's functioning, because he's cutting its functioning in proportion to its personnel, on the eve of a 60-day legislative session. Second lesson: He obviously intends to rule by fear. 

What qualities are valued? My guess: personal loyalty to Hector Balderas and commitment to his political ambition. Believe me, everyone in the office understands: the attorney general's office is now Balderas for Governor Headquarters..

Balderas and company are hunkered down and waiting for the storm to pass:

The transition team began conducting a deliberative, ongoing assessment of all at-will employees and a thorough review of operational issues in order to ensure the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office serves the best interests of all New Mexicans. We understand that transitions can be very difficult and we thank all employees for their service. . .

But Balderas may have the blinders on. This is not a Republican staff he is ridding himself of--it is fellow Democrats. That makes the sting worse. Why not give the King staffers a couple of months--ease them out slowly but give them a chance to steady themselves?

The other aspect here is the toxic relationship between Balderas and outgoing Dem Attorney General Gary King. Even though they are both Democrats, they battled incessantly when Balderas was state auditor with the battles sometimes getting personal.

Perhaps Balderas saw King loyalists as a threat and decided the axe had to come out sooner rather than later. Any such threat is now diminished and Balderas will now hire his own loyalists. It could come with a price. With a fresh list of insider foes any dirty laundry in the new attorney general's office could be quickly hung from the Paul Bardacke building where Balderas will soon set up shop.

FOOD TAX MALNOURISHED

Veteran state legislative reporter Stuart Dyson says foes of the food tax needn't worry about the move to revive the dreaded levy in the '15 session:

Republicans now control the state House of Representatives for the first time in 60 years, and like Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, they don’t raise taxes – they typically cut ‘em. So the idea of a reborn food tax seems dead on arrival at the legislature, which is preparing for a 60-day session that starts in January.

The state budget is getting hammered by the decline in oil and natural gas prices but as we've pointed out years of cutting taxes for high income earners as well as shaving the capital gains tax and the corporate income tax are other chief reasons for Santa Fe's coffers feeling the pinch. Also, unlike Colorado, where lawmakers keep a budget reserve of 6.5 percent, New Mexico is running a reserve of at or over 10 percent of its $6.2 billion budget. That's over $600 million.

If, like Colorado, New Mexico held a 6.5 percent reserve--instead of 10 percent--it would provide an additional $200 million in general fund spending for the budget year that begins July 1, 2015. That's one way to help stimulate a state economy that is still one of the most stagnant in the USA.

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