Monday, September 14, 2015

Courage On The Council; Lewis And Gibson Go Where Others Fear, And On The Econ Beat: Oil Crash Predictions Jangle Santa Fe Nerves, College Enrollment Crash Debated 

The Rip Van Winkle ABQ city council was jolted awake at its last meeting when what appeared to be an effort to intimidate the councilors backfired. It was a rare bipartisan backlash with Dem Councilor Gibson and Republican Councilor Lewis fighting the possible illegal awarding of retention bonuses for the upper command of the troubled ABQ police department.

When they started the discussion the command staff entered the council chambers and stood and glared at the panel in what was perceived by many observers as threatening behavior.  Councilor Lewis called them out with Gibson offering support.

Such a raw display of police power in dealing with the civilian leadership of our city--the leadership that appropriates the money for the APD--sets off alarm bells. Former City Councilor Pete Dinelli comes down hard:

The bullying and intimidation tactics of ABQ Chief Administrative Officer Rob Perry and the APD command staff entering the city council chambers while the council debated the retention bonuses for APD's top brass was an all time ethical low--even for a police department that is still hitting rock bottom and under the cloud of a federal consent decree 

This action shows they have no respect for the council and are more interested in their own pocketbooks and not the good of the rank and file. Intimidation of elected officials by police should never be tolerated in any form, even under the guise of free speech. It was obvious this was an orchestrated event by CAO Perry in that he was seen giving a signal for the command staff to enter the council chambers when Councilor Gibson started to talk. 

What I find even more disturbing is the total lack of unity by the council to address and criticize the tactic. Each and every councilor should have strenuously objected to the tactic or at the very least turned the tables on Perry and confronted and questioned each command staff member present to justify the bonuses. The city attorney, who also represents city council, should have also taken issue with the tactic and should have immediately denounced it.

That we are this long into the APD crisis and still seeing this type of police behavior speaks to the cultural corruption the department faces. The forces that must push reform are failing. That includes, among others, the mayor, the city council, the Department of Justice, the newspaper and the NM Civil Liberties Union. The community needs backbone in this fight, not a wishbone.

The intelligence gathering arm of a police agency is powerful and citizens--including elected officials and critics--can rightfully fear its reach. We don't doubt that concern may, in part, be responsible for the flaccid efforts thus far to clean up this mess. In showing uncommon courage Councilors Lewis and Gibson had APD commanders reveal even further the depth of their resistance to needed reform. This is a time for the community to have the backs of these two councilors--and not to back down.


No news is good news for Gov. Susana. Asked to comment on the recent NYT piece dealing with the outbreak of scandals in the state, her office, as usual, refused comment. The good news is that someone in the local media actually asked her about the piece (and many others) spotlighting our black eyes and what the Governor thinks the impact might be.


The scandals nipping at the heels of the administration will soon be joined by somber economic news, if the oil experts have it right. Goldman Sachs stunned the Santa Fe bean counters when the investment house predicted oil could crash to $20 a barrel in the coming year. The state is counting on an oil price of $56 a barrel for the current budget year. Now the bean counters are saying for each dollar drop, the state suffers a loss of royalties and taxes of about $10 million. That's up from previous estimates of a loss of about $6 million.

For the first two months of the budget year, the oil price has averaged well below $56 so Santa Fe is already in the hole. Suppose we manage to average about $45 a barrel for the full year. That's a $110 million hit to the state budget. Will other tax collections pick up the slack? Well, not the corporate income tax. As we blogged recently, the cost of that tax cut is tens of millions of dollars more than the Legislature and Governor predicted.

The long way out of the economic dilemma here--and which is counter intuitive to the austerity hawks in Santa Fe--is to invest our way out through investments in public works, education and more. We have hundreds of millions in unspent capital outlay funds that could get us started but the political will--the passion--is simply not there. The downtrodden Democrats have a case of low self-esteem and the Republicans cling tightly to fiscal austerity with the exception, of course,  of tax cuts.

What it all adds up is that the now secular (long-term) decline in the New Mexican economy is here to stay--perhaps for decades. With neither political party willing to step up and acknowledge the deep changes we have undergone and the need for a sweeping attitudinal adjustment we will face continued stagnation with an older population and fewer job opportunities. But you already knew that. . .


Dr. Chris Erickson of NMSU is a charter member of our "No BS Economists" and he comes with this about the news of how college enrollment in the state has been plunging:

I suspect the main reason for the sharp decline of enrollment in New Mexico universities was the uncertainty arising for deficits in the “lottery scholarship,” not the lack of potential jobs four years from now. When students don’t know whether they can attend tuition free or not, it makes it hard to commit to a university education.

That's a point we did not make Friday but would enrollment really plunge this much based on an uncertainty and not a reality? Maybe some. But there's no denying that there are booming economies in our neighboring states that attract our young people. And then there is the growing population here that does not want to go to college or is simply not qualified to go. And that's a whole other story.

Reader Bill Diven picks up on this thread:

With the New Mexico economy still on life support, it seems curious to find Gov. Martinez headlining the Regional Economic Development panel at the Domenici Public Policy Conference in Las Cruces this week. Shouldn't she be in the audience taking notes?

And then there's this. Never mind trying to attract federal jobs to replace some of those being lost, we're now just working to hold our own:

Sens. Udall and Heinrich announced that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has heeded their call to reconsider a proposal to merge the New Mexico and Arizona state offices and will allow the offices to remain separate. 

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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