Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Time For An Ethics Reboot? Ethics Commission Crashes Again, Plus: Talking Up A Gas Tax, Rio Rancho Roads, Supporting Pinto And An Old School Santa Fe Lunch 

Is it time for the ethics lobby to do some navel gazing? Sure seems so. This week--for the tenth year running--the bill to establish an independent ethics commission went down with a whimper. The House passed it but it died in the Senate.

Ethics reform is a cottage industry with groups like Common Cause on the full-time ethics watch.  But after a decade of high-profile political scandals, the frustration over the rejection of the commission is worse than ever. Adding insult to injury this year, even a bill to strip elected officials of their pensions if they are convicted on corruption charges (think Dianna Duran)--is dying a slow death.

You can have 90 percent of the public with you (as a Common Cause poll showed) but if you can't get the legislative leadership on board, you're going nowhere. Obsessing each year over an ethics commission that has no chance of passing may be at the expense of ignoring other ways to get reform. Our Alligators had the commission at the top of their list this year for legislation that was DOA.

Is it time for an ethics reboot, time for another big idea that is not so shopworn and keeps ending up in the legislative graveyard? That's where that navel gazing comes in.


We saw at ABQ's Costco this week that gas prices there have plunged to $1.27 a gallon. Against that backdrop, increasing the state's gas tax to bail out the state budget may be the most acceptable revenue enhancer. Reader Mark Saavedra (not to be confused with lobbyist Marc) has this take:

Joe –Unless there is a provision made in any proposed gas tax hike that allows for the tax to be rescinded should the cost per gallon of gas rise above $2.50, as an example, then any gas tax hike would become a permanent addition to an already fiscally overburdened consumer. Do your readers actually believe the cost per gallon of gas will remain as low as it is currently? Already, OPEC nations have been discussing ways to reduce the glut of oil in the market by cutting back production to shore up oil prices worldwide. Any action by OPEC and other oil producing nations would surely cause an immediate spike in gas prices here in New Mexico and for the rest of the nation.

If lawmakers are forced into a special session later this year to deal with the state's feeble financial outlook--as a number of insiders suspect they will be--the gas tax could get a serious look. It is one of several measures that the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee has floated.

On the other hand, if the legislature moves to reimpose the tax on food, there will be an intense battle. That tax has the most impact on the lower income brackets who spend a larger percentage of their income on groceries than the higher brackets.

The oil bear market that has been causing so many budget problems in Santa Fe is a mere cub compared to the giant natural gas bear that has been mauling Farmington and the Four Corners:

The Farmington area, which is suffering “extreme economic duress,” had the largest increase in its unemployment rate among 387 metropolitan areas nationwide in 2015. The northwestern New Mexico city saw its unemployment rate rise 2.1 percentage points last year, to 7.3 percent, according to a U.S. Department of Labor report.

San Juan County has been losing population and remains in a world of hurt.


Sens. Pinto & Campos
We said this week that it was time for 91 year old State Senator John Pinto to retire his famous potato song and not seek re-election. But fellow Dem Senator Pete Campos says not so fast:

Senator Pinto endorsed me Monday for re-election to the Senate. He has been a mentor, confidant and wise leader. He is a father figure, staunch supporter and bursting at the seams with legislative institutional knowledge. He has the boundless energy, Roundhouse experience and natural prowess of a well-seasoned legislator whom we can all admire. These are not just words but facts! I’ve served with Senator Pinto for 26 years and share his deep passion and optimism to make New Mexico great again. He serves Northwest New Mexico and I serve Northeastern New Mexico, both areas with high Native American and Hispanic populations respectively. As the number one State Senator in Seniority, Senator Pinto’s senate district and the state of New Mexico are well served by his leadership.

Thanks, Pete. We assume that means Pinto will seek another four year term this year. We'll know for sure March 8 when all legislative candidates file for the election.


A reader writes of our coverage of the March 1 Rio Rancho election where voters are being asked to approve a $9 million bond issue to improve roads:

Joe, thanks for calling out (Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg) Hull on the road bond question. It is highly ironic that the tea party types that defeated the last road bond --which would not have required a tax increase--now are required to propose a tax increase. If they had not defeated the last bond question, RR would have had a bond cycle in which bonds rolled over indefinitely to pay for critical infrastructure. Good work, Joe!

Mayor Hull says he personally supports the tax increase but is not taking that stand officially as mayor.


Speaker Sanchez
We got a call from former House Speaker turned lobbyist Raymond Sanchez Tuesday. He asked what we meant when we wrote that Raymond, brother of Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, should "step aside for a moment" so Leader Sanchez could pass a freeze of the latest corporate income tax cut so money could be raised for the cash-strapped state treasury. Raymond said he has no clients regarding that issue. We didn't think he did and our effort at humor may have come up a bit short on that one. . .

When Raymond called he was having lunch with two of the staunchest politicos of La Politica and fellow lobbyists--Steve Anaya and former House Majority Leader Michael Olguin. Those fellas also have famous relatives. In the case of Steve, he's the nephew of former Dem Governor Toney Anaya and in Michael's case it's Buckhorn Tavern owner and brother Bobby Olguin. We're sure the flies on the wall were listening intently to the conversation during that old school lunch. (Olguin picked up the tab but the ex-Speaker let him off light. He ordered soup).

We made a mistake in the first draft of the Tuesday blog when we said the constitutional amendment on bail reform had been approved by both houses and was headed to the voters. It has one more Senate vote to go and then it will be ready for the November ballot.

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