Tuesday, March 22, 2016

State Budget Squeeze Squeezes Contenders For High Court; PublicFinancing Cut, Plus: More On Epic Oil Crash And Tax Cutting, And: "KeepHer;" Don't Re-elect Her 

The state's budget squeeze is a real downer for many, including the statewide judicial candidates. Unless something changes fast, they will be getting a lot less cash to run their primary and general election campaigns. The reason? State budget slashing means there's not enough money in the pubic financing pot to give the contenders full funding. We get that word from veteran Democratic political consultant Brian Morris:

The Secretary of State has notified judicial candidates that because of the budget shortfall, we can expect only 68.5 percent of our expected funding for both the primary and general elections. That means the Democratic candidates for the Supreme Court seat and the Court of Appeals seat will receive only $28,770 for the primary instead of $42,000. For the November election the reduction means they will get only about $119,000 instead of $174,000.

The numbers for the Republican hopefuls are even lower because public financing is rewarded based on a Party's number of registered voters.

Candidates could opt to privately finance but Morris says that is not a realistic option, given the challenges of raising money.

In the state Supreme Court race, Michael Vigil, the current chief judge for the Court of Appeals, is unopposed in the Democratic primary. So is ABQ Republican Judy Nakamura, who Gov. Martinez recently appointed to the high court  to fill a vacancy. Vigil and Nakamura will face off in November. No Republican has been elected to the Supreme Court since the 1980's.

In the race for an open Court of Appeals seat, Gov. Martinez recently named GOP ABQ attorney Stephen French to fill the vacancy. He is opposed in the June primary by ABQ lawyer Ned Fuller. The winner of that contest will face  Dem ABQ attorney Julie Vargas who is running unopposed in the primary.

The shortage of public financing funds could be made up by an emergency appropriation from the Department of Finance Administration, but with money so short in Santa Fe Morris says the candidates are preparing to tighten their belts.

The cutback in public financing, says Morris, will also impact a pair of races for the Public Regulation Commission (PRC)  featuring incumbent Dem Karen Montoya, her challenger Cynthia Hall and incumbent Valerie Espinoza.


Much of the budget crunch, of course, has been caused by the crash in oil and natural gas prices. Energy taxes and royalties feed hundreds of millions into state coffers annually. So how bad has this crash been? It has been epic.

David Abbey, director of the Legislative Finance Committee, reported this week that New Mexico has seen the number of rigs drilling for energy plunging from 100 a year ago to a mere 13 today. For you math majors that's a stunning drop of 87 percent.

Improvement is not expected anytime soon. The money lines come from Four Corners GOP State Senator Stephen Neville:

Even if oil goes to $100 (a barrel) tomorrow, it’s going to take six to 12 months to increase production All of the people have left town or taken new jobs.

But don't worry about all that. The Governor and the Mayor are busy announcing how successful their campaign against road rage--"Operation Lilly"--has been, again trying to turn the conversation to "all crime all the time."  How about "Operation Jobs" Mayor and Governor?  Or did we just say a dirty word?


Reader John Ingram has some thoughts on the ongoing budget crisis, prompted by comments on the Monday blog from Dem State Sen. John Arthur Smith, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee:

Joe: So, there's panic in the Roundhouse over the lack of revenues. Ha! Conservative Dems and right wing Republicans tripped over themselves to cut NM personal income taxes in half for the "1 percent" during the 2003 Legislature and then  in 2013 stampeded to open state money coffers again with a big tax cut for corporations. And the Legislature also expanded gross receipts tax exemptions. Why? They promised New Mexico voters that such tax cuts would create jobs. Now, NM has the worst job creation programs in the nation. Sen. Smith ("Dr. No") a dove? Hardly. A wolf in sheep's clothing? Yes! Most of our state lawmakers are responsible and accountable for NM's economic disaster. Now, Sen. Smith and Lt. Gov. Sanchez are the first to bolt. Pretty soon, especially before the November General Election, there will be more of them running for cover. 


Newsman Milan Simonich took to task ABQ Dem SE Heights State Rep. Idalia Lechuga-Tena for sending out campaign literature that urged voters in the June primary to "re-elect" her. But Lechuga-Tena was appointed by the Bernalillo County Commission last year to fill a vacancy, so she is not seeking re-election, having never been elected in the first place. Following criticism from her two primary opponents, Amanda Kinkaid and Debbie Sariñana, the new lawmaker told us Monday that she "had no intent to deceive" anyone. "I have fought hard for public safety, education and to solve homelessness."

But she added that she understands she has her campaign lit wrong. "I am correcting it." she said. "We are changing it from re-elect to "Keep Idalia Lechuga-Tena."

Okay, Idalia, But make that a keeper.

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