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Monday, February 15, 2016

A Band-Aid Gets Slapped On The Budget Cancer, Two Lawmakers Who Should Retire And Santa Fe's Expensive Smile  

They put a Band-Aid on the budget cancer in Santa Fe over the weekend and will now scurry home Thursday and await word on whether they'll have to return to the Roundhouse and perform serious surgery.

We're now officially pedaling backwards. The Senate Finance Committee amended the budget for the current year by cutting one half percent from most departments and slashing two to four percent for the budget year that begins July 1.

This is rare, unfortunate and depressing for New Mexico which needs all the budget it can get with its highest-in-the-nation jobless and child poverty rates. State Auditor Keller has identified possible surplus funds in various state accounts that could be useful in keeping the wolf from the door but the Martinez administration heckles him and the legislature ignores the findings, claiming most of the money is already dedicated. But why aren't lawmakers (and the LFC) digging deeper into this and giving us a comprehensive report?

If the budget bleeding caused by crashing oil prices and over exuberant tax cutting doesn't slow in the next couple of months, there will be a bloodletting over the budget. A fight over a big pie can be messy but soft. Fighting for survival is another story. And with the specter of government layoffs looming that's what we could have.

While Governor Martinez has ignored the economic decline for a long five years, the end of her battle this weekend over her favorite political wedge issue--driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants--could actually push the economic narrative more to the fore. At least that's what the Dems are hoping for as they try to end Republican control of the state House this November.

THANKS, BUT. . .

Dem State Rep. Nick Salazar will be 87 soon but says he will seek re-election this year to his northern seat. Dem Sen. John Pinto is 91 and has not announced retirement plans. The legislature is getting too old. Both men should bow out gracefully and give a new generation its turn. God knows, we need new ideas and fresh energy.

The highly respected Dem State Rep. Lucky Varela of Santa Fe is leaving this year. He's 80 and been there nearly 30 years. Recently he urged that a list of 43 tax credits that he says are not delivering results be repealed so government could be properly funded. That was rejected by a House committee. But in the years ahead, as New Mexico continues to struggle, there seems a strong chance Varela will be vindicated.

Speaking of tax credts, the solar industry wants theirs extended this session and they have a strong argument.

As bills to extend New Mexico’s tax credit for the installation of solar systems in homes and businesses moves steadily through the Legislature with bipartisan support, the state of solar industry jobs in the region appears to be brightening, too. The Solar Foundation's new report shows New Mexico has about 1,900 solar industry jobs, up from about 1,600 compared to the same time a year ago. The majority of those — about 922 — are in Bernalillo County. Santa Fe County follows with about 160 jobs, and San Juan County comes in third at 148.

That's some uncommon and sunny news about jobs, but solar advocates fear their tax credits may get stalled in committee in the legislature's final hours.

BERNCO AND ABQ

That Bernalillo County Treasurer scandal set the county back, but it has some good news:

Bernalillo County has again kept its AAA bond ratings, which are the highest ratings possible. Moody’s, Fitch and Standard and Poor’s  gave the county AAA ratings. Bond ratings are critical to government agencies because the higher the bond rating the lower the interest rates the county receives when selling bonds to finance voter-approved projects.

Over on the city side worry is building over Mayor Berry's rapid transit plan for a stretch of Central Avenue as the price tag soars to nearly $119 million from the initial $100 million. Reader Jim McClure comes with the critique:

Joe, What surprises me is the absence of investigative reporting. The ART project is being railroaded through with unprecedented speed. Virtually all the business owners oppose it. Nearly all the positive comments come from government officials, developers who stand to profit from city subsidies and professional urban planners who are theologically opposed to motor vehicles, Has anyone looked into ridership on the current bus system? (Most of the buses I see are empty.)  Has anyone checked out the claims of transit-oriented development in other cities with a few phone calls to places like Cleveland? How about tracking down some actual millennials to interview? This issue is ripe for some solid reporting but none of our local journalists has taken the bait. 

AN EXPENSIVE SMILE

(Eddie Moore; ABQ Journal)
Here's a great pic that we couldn't pass up. Look at this delighted bail bondsman. He's at a news conference with state reps announcing a compromise on a constitutional amendment that would allow judges to deny bail to dangerous defendants. But it's the second part of the amendment that the bondsman is gleeful over. It  contains a watered down provision that would allow judges to release non dangerous criminal defendants being held because they could not afford to post bail. Santa Fe lobbyists played a key role in bailing out the bondsmen who say they were endangered by the first version of the amendment.

The measure was championed by Senator Wirth and NM Supreme Court Justice Charles Daniels. Once passed by the full House and Senate, as expected, it will go to voters this November and should win by a wide margin.

The moral of the story is that the lobbyists know how to put a smile on your face, albeit quite an expensive smile.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2016
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