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Monday, January 11, 2016

Feds License Relief Lessens Pressure For Legislative Deal, Worry Over How Long Oil Prices Plunge, Guv's Machine Swings At Reporter And Misses, Plus: APD Cover-Up Culture Draws Whistleblower Lawsuit 

The urgency that paved the way for a possible compromise over New Mexico's controversial driver's licenses evaporated when the Feds gave the state two more years to make the licenses compliant with federal law. That could mean more bitterness over issuing licenses to undocumented immigrants in the 30 day legislative session that kicks off next week and delay action to resolve the matter for the long-term. The public, panicked into getting passports for fear of not being allowed to board airplanes, will now breathe easier, lessening the pressure for a compromise deal.

If there is no deal it's certain that the Governor will again use it as a key campaign issue against Dem legislators this November. But what else is new? Martinez has never been serious about getting a deal. That's why the Smith-Ingle bill, which keeps a driver's license for the undocumented and had solid GOP support in the state Senate, fell by the wayside in the GOP controlled House.

It's odd to see some argue that the Smith-Ingle bill is not compliant with federal REAL ID requirements. How do they know? Here's how this could play out. The Legislature approves Smith-Ingle, the Guv signs it and sends it to the Feds and we await their determination. That would be real governing--not the grandstanding that is keeping a solid piece of legislation from seeing the light of day.

By the way, we erred when we said on social media Friday that the Feds extension for our licenses would last until Martinez is out of office. Not so. The extension is until January 22, 2018. Martinez leaves office January 1, 2019. You might call that misstep wishful thinking. . .

BUDGET TIME

The state budget crafted by the Legislative Finance Committee is more cautious than the election year budget Martinez sent to lawmakers. It calls for holding back some spending until the tax collection implications of the oil crash are clear.

LFC Director David Abbey says state budget reserves for the current fiscal year will come in at 8 percent--not 10 percent--which was discussed here Friday. And he says that the reserve is set at 8 percent for the budget year that begins July 1. The state may very well have to dip deeply into those reserves next year if oil remains below the $40 a barrel level where it is today.

THAT OIL BEAR

Abbey says a question hanging over the Roundhouse today is: "How Long?" How long will the bear market in oil last? The epic bear market in natural gas has been with us for more than a decade, hammering the Four Corners region. A multi-year decline in oil prices could present structural problems for the state which depends on energy taxes and royalties for over 30% of its $6.5 general fund budget.

Dare we say "revenue enhancement" may be necessary in the years ahead if the commodity crash continues?

HAWK WATCH

Why do the Santa Fe austerity hawks target state employee raises the second there is financial fear in the air? They are now saying even a meager 1 percent pay hike to offset increasing insurance premiums for state workers will be off the table if oil stays down. Why not cancel some of those hundreds of questionable state tax exemptions for a year or two to raise money, instead of putting the burden on a state workforce that has received hardly any pay hikes in recent years?

SWINGING AND MISSING

The Governor's political machine--looking unsteady as its leader Jay McCleskey faces possible indictment by a federal grand jury investigating his handling of Governor Martinez's campaign finances--continues its Nixonian ways.

The usual suspects--former Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White, McCleskey operative Adam Feldman etc. etc.--are now saying there is a cover-up when it comes to the recent  arrest of Santa Fe New Mexican reporter Justin Horwath. Tweets Feldman:

Given nature of the stories Horwath coves (sic) for the New Mexican, his paper should have disclosed his recent arrest.

Horwath and other New Mexican reporters have written a number of stories about the McCleskey grand jury investigation--as opposed to the rest of the state's media. Thus the Machine's animosity and effort to isolate the New Mexican, this blog and other critical media as outliers when it comes to the grand jury story. (Yes, that is ridiculous but born of an arrogance built on past successful intimidation efforts).

A reporter friend of Horwath says his arrest was for failing to appear in court for traffic tickets. That's a whole lot of nothing in the real world but fodder for the anti-free press Martinez crowd who want us to believe reporters are on par with elected officials.

The Governor's contempt for anyone who won't bend her way is clearly seen on the infamous Eldorado pizza party police tapes.  That she is still not reining in her would-be intimidators shows she's learned nothing from that event which turned her into a national joke. Meantime, her political machine is looking like an aged bully, wildly swinging and missing.

WHISTLE STOP

How bad is the cover-up culture at APD? Reading the allegations in a whistleblower lawsuit made against the troubled department by its former chief custodian of records is like watching a perverted game of hide and seek.

High ranking officers and the police chief scamper to avoid public scrutiny at all costs and in the process violate public records laws with impunity. This is the same culture that brought you dozens of fatal police shootings, tens of millions of dollars in lawsuit settlements and an intervention by the Department of Justice to oversee APD reforms.

Unfortunately, the corrupted culture endures with APD and the city administration presided over by Mayor Richard Berry continuing to thwart records request to this day. The most recent being those involving the Los Altos Skate Park shooting death of Jaquise Lewis.

THE BOTTOM LINES

In discussing the state budget we identified ABQ Dem State Senator Jerry Oritz y Pino as a member of the Senate Finance Committee. He is a former member of that committee.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2016
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