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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Susana's Regents: She Names Two Prominent Politicos To Panel, And:Cracks In The Dam: GOP Establishment Starts Talking Tax Hikes ToResolve Budget Crisis, Plus: Calling Peter; New Senate Leader ReluctantOn Early Childhood Amendment As Smith Asserts Power 

If you thought the University of New Mexico Board of Regents could not get more political or more directly answerable to the Governor's office, think again. The Governor has named former GOP House Speaker Don Tripp and former ABQ GOP state Senator John Ryan to the seven member board. They will replace two retiring members and they will join UNM Regents president Rob Doughty, a solider of the Governor, as well as Marron Lee, another acolyte of the Martinez Machine.

Tripp and Ryan, who can expect to be easily confirmed by the state Senate, were attentive and diligent lawmakers and would make fine appointees to any number of boards or commissions. However, close observation reveals that neither has the independence to stand up to the Governor. They are her tools unless they prove otherwise and not an Alligator in sight is holding his breath waiting for that to happen.

GOP CRACKS

The enormity of the state's budget crisis is creating some cracks in the dam of the GOP establishment when it comes to raising taxes. The ABQ Chamber of Commerce and the ABQ Journal have both now retreated from their "never raise taxes" ideology that has been their mantra since Gov. Martinez took over in 2011. Now both are bending, with the newspaper even listing a lengthy mix of revenue raisers that it deems acceptable.

How could they not? The budget deficit for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is now pegged at $300 million. Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith warns it could climb to an astounding $500 million. And that's after all the budget cutting of recent sessions.

State government has been shredded and the state's bond rating has been lowered. The question is whether this bleak picture and the cracks in the GOP base now help pave the way for Martinez to work around her no new taxes pledge and select from a panoply of relatively painless revenue enhancements to right the state's fiscal ship.

At moments like these you look to the ABQ GOP House delegation and representatives like Jim Dines and Jimmy Hall who have ties to the business establishment and pass for "moderate Republicans" in an era when many of their brethren have become radicalized against flexible budget planning that might include the tax question. However, no House or Senate R's have yet said a tax hike may be acceptable. They are probably waiting for a signal from the Fourth Floor. Perhaps they should start signaling her?

There could be more cracks in the GOP dam but what the state is really waiting for is reasoned leadership from its Governor. Is extending the gross receipts tax to all Internet sales really a tax increase? Is chopping the high wage tax exemption--so easily abused---really a tax hike? Those are just two examples that Martinez could reasonably argue do not violate her pledge. (Reinstating the food tax--as the ABQ Chamber wants--would violate her pledge and would have the poor shoulder the budget burden). The question we await answered from Gov. Martinez is whether reasonableness or vindictiveness will carry the day.

GETTING AGGRESSIVE

What do we mean when we talk about the Dems being more aggressive in Santa Fe? Well, if they soon don't start getting the signal that Martinez is ready to deal, they need to pass and put on her desk that ten cent a gallon gas tax that Chairman Smith and Senator Clemente Sanchez are proposing. Ditto for the other revenue enhancements we noted above. Force the issue and let the chief executive deal with the consequences of shortening the school year and laying off hundreds of state government workers. If that doesn't bring her to the bargaining table, nothing will. Do we really need unnecessary cuts to our public schools--whether they be from cash reserves or other funding? Well, yes, if the Democrats continue to kowtow to a governor with a 36 percent approval rating and who walks like a lame duck.

CALLING PETER

Sen. Wirth
Are we back to square one with a Senate Majority Leader publicly in favor of the constitutional amendment to fund very early childhood programs from a portion of the state's $15 billion Land Grant Permanent School Fund, but actually leaving the dirty work of killing it to conservative Senator Smith? New Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth has been a longtime advocate of the amendment, as was former Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, but for half a dozen years the amendment has been left to languish in Smith's finance committee. And it's happening yet again.

Polling shows the amendment, which would be presented to voters for their approval, is backed by an overwhelming majority of the public and in the past been passed by the Democratic state House. Now it's Wirth's turn, but like Sanchez before him he is showing great reluctance to cross the powerful Smith and the amendment is not advancing. As a result of the November election Wirth has two more Dem Senate votes to get the measure approved, but if he can't stand up to the 74 year old Smith on the amendment as well as on other financial policy, he's not going to be able to stand up for the future of New Mexico. It's that simple.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2017
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