Thursday, September 22, 2016

ABQ Taking Tax Hit Along With Small Town NM, Higher Ed ConsolidationGetting Serious Treatment, And: By Popular Demand; Another Edition Of Election Season Vox Populi 

Sec. Damron
Let's start out this Thursday on the econ beat. . .

The fiscal woes that have spread across the state and wreaked havoc with the budgets of small town New Mexico are now lapping up against the shores of the big city.

Officials report gross receipts tax collections in ABQ are down three percent for July and August compared to last year, and if it stays that way the city will come up $9 million short in its budget planning to the year. The slowdown is due, in part, to the crash in energy prices, but ABQ continues to add low-paying jobs in service industries that do not generate the spending that moves the gross receipts needle . . .

The stark reality facing the state's higher education system that we've been blogging about for a number of years is finally garnering the attention of policy makers in a serious way. State Higher Eduction Secretary Barbara Damron uttered the feared word "consolidation" in discussing the future of what she says is the most '"decentralized" higher education system in the nation.

There are nearly three dozen colleges and universities spread across the state, vigorously supported by hometown state legislators, but Damron points out that declining state revenues and falling enrollments mean the day of reckoning is fast approaching:

Damron did not lay out proposals for consolidating New Mexico’s independently governed colleges, universities and branch campuses. But she cited statistics showing that the number of campuses nationwide has grown 9 percent since 2007 even as enrollment has fallen from its peak in 2010 and said, “There is potential for consolidation.”

“The market for students can no longer support the number of institutions we have today,” she said, speaking in the context of national trends.

Consolidation of higher ed has had a day or two in the sun in past years, but soon retreated as state revenues blossomed. But with the state now clearly in a longterm (secular) economic stagnation the discussion and debate is here to stay.

Damron says her department will release a strategic plan for the future of higher ed a year from now so it's going to fall to the next governor since '17 is the last 60 day legislative session under Martinez. That gives the secretary an opportunity to confront the politics and recommend specific consolidation moves so the state can get on with the inevitable.


By popular demand, herewith is another edition of reader Vox Populi as the fast approaching election and its issues draw more attention.

Reader Michael Corwin writes:

Interim legislative committees can conduct hearings year round. Why not conduct hearings on CYFD and the NM Department of Corrections for their abject failure in protecting children> Why wait for the Attorney general to move on a request for an investigation by Senator Padilla when hearings can be held. Sure CYFD Secretary Monique Jacobson and Corrections Secretary Greg Marcantel will probably be no show for the hearings, but a hearing is a hearing. Time for the Democrats to take the bull by the horn.

Readers continue to come with ideas on how to resolve the state budget crisis. Most of them are bound to be controversial in some quarters. Here's one from reader Charles:

20 years ago NM passed a bill allowing Native American to sell tax free gasoline. Every gallon of gas has a road repair tax included in the sale of that gasoline. Gas sold by Native Americans does not pay this even though all cars buying their gas are driving on NM roads. It is estimated that this has cost the state road fund at least a billion dollars Lawmakers should tax all gas sold in the state. When cars fly we can revisit this tax free gas.

Reader Michael Casaus writes:

Joe,  I was surprised you didn't cover the damning 5,000 word investigative report the New Mexican published ("Under Martinez, a more favorable environment for Helena Chemical") where they exposed a pay-to-play scandal between the governor and Helena Chemical Company. What does $55,000 in campaign contributions to the governor get you under her administration? Helena Chemical got $1.6 million in additional state contracts and were no longer required to carry an air quality permit (despite a history of air quality violations and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines). Not a bad investment. Meanwhile, residents of Mesquite, including my family, still have to live next door to a chemical facility that is no longer subject to air monitoring or inspections.


Sec. Jacobson
Reader Steve Hemphill claims to have some insider info and writes in support of Children, Youth and Families Department Secretary Monique Jacobson:

. . . The productive ranks inside CYFD are incensed at Sen. Michael Padilla's efforts to oust Jacobson. She has shown them to be a responsible and capable leader, learning the ropes from the inside. She is in a tough situation right now, since the interviews with Victoria Martens are in fact confidential. .  One would expect heads to roll soon, and from descriptions of Jacobson she is firmly planted in the middle of it all and doesn't have time for political gamesmanship while being a professional right now. Padilla's call is typical of old time NM politics, but AG Balderas has integrity so one should not expect a knee jerk reaction from him.

Sen. Padilla has called for Jacobson to be suspended while an independent investigation of CYFD takes place regarding the murder of 10 year old Victoria Martens. Padilla has asked the AG to launch such an investigation.


There's much concern over Mayor Berry's ART project which will run rapid buses down a big stretch of Central Ave. After a court battle allowing the project, the construction is underway. Los Ranchos architect John Hooker writes:

Joe, How much does the mayor and the city council want to punish Nob Hill businesses with his ART project? To start, I can't imagine why his staff approved that monstrous "Bourbon Street" themed condo and parking building on the SE corner at Carlisle with its concrete wall along the existing, narrow sidewalk. That's pretty grim by itself. Now comes the chaos of construction and the loss of customers from then on.

Curb parking spaces can offer up to $200,000 in added retail sales each for local businesses. But the city will take out spaces through Nob Hill without improving the pedestrian/destination experience for bus riders. (They promise to replace 50 spaces throughout the ART corridor and add another 50 more by providing 99 new parking spaces at the fairgrounds - except during September when school starts . . . .) How much benefit can slightly "improved" bus service have for businesses in Nob Hill after they lose convenient short term parking? Do these public servants and contractors really want to destroy existing retail and restaurant businesses there in favor of whoever might move into the shuttered properties that remain when the "new service" starts?


We inadvertently gave former State House Majority Whip Antonio "Moe" Maestas a promotion Wednesday. We referenced him as the current whip, but when the R's took over the House in '14 he lost the title. The current Majority Whip is Republican Alonzo Baldonado. . .

And in a first draft we said we were told the special session of the legislature is now expected Friday the 28th but the 28th is a Wednesday. We apologize for not checking the calendar. We're taking ourselves out of the special session guessing game. We have plenty else to keep us occupied.

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