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Friday, March 17, 2017

Avoiding A Train Wreck In Santa Fe And Facing A Big Boondoggle In ABQ: ART Money In Peril, Plus: Ethics Schmethics; Commission Plan Scorned By Watchdog Group, And: Martinez Explains Vetos; Why Now?  

Mayor Berry 
While they try to avoid a train wreck over the state budget at the Roundhouse, here in River City what was once just a boondoggle from the Mayor and City Council now threatens to become a colossal boondoggle. Get a a load of this, with miles of Central Avenue already torn up:

The budget released by President Trump wouldn’t fund the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project. (ART).  But Mayor Berry says Albuquerque shouldn’t worry because funding for the project is contained in President Obama’s fiscal 2017 budget proposal, which Congress will be taking up later this year. Trump proposes limiting funding for the. . . grant program that Albuquerque is banking on to provide $69 million for ART.

And here comes the Senior Alligator strike on this potentially monumental misstep:

ART is not in the President’s FY ’18 budget which should send chills through City Hall. It’s still in the last President’s budget, but given the climate in DC does anyone really think Obama’s budget will fly through?  The climate in DC is cut, cut, cut. Yet, here comes the Mayor, in constant denial, assuring us that he’s got the money. Berry seems to forget that, in committee, the House has already reduced funding for the program that funds ART. Meanwhile, ART is 22% complete and is running on whatever City funds (fumes) the Mayor can squeeze. Mayor Berry, it's time to fire your lobbyist and spend more time with your new best friend, Rep. Steve Pearce (who used to sit on the Transportation committee, btw). And if you are someone running for Mayor right now, you'll need to come up with $100 million to fix up the nightmare on Central Avenue.

Mayor Berry, for misleading the public on ART funding and authoring what could be one of the biggest public works disasters in city history, you have been administered an Alligator strike. Congrats, or something.

And just in case Berry is still fantasizing about running for Governor, reader George Richmond comes with the conspiracy theory:

Could it be that big time NM R's don't want a certain Mayor RJ to run for governor but to leave office with ART not funded and the city budget high and dry?

Never mind "big time NM R's." Remember how Republican Berry shunned Trump? Trump tends not to forget such slights.

And that most subdued of City Councils? They approved ART on a 7 to 2 vote. They might want to round up the same number of votes to stop ART and cut their losses. But they won't.

ETHICS SHMETHICS

The proposal to ask voters in '18 to establish an ethics commission in the state Constitution is going down to the wire on this last full day of the legislative session. But the bill approved so far is so bad that one of the top ethics watchdogs--NM Ethics Watch--says pull the plug unless you can put some teeth in this dog's gumless mouth:

NMEW has always maintained that simply having an institution called an “Ethics Commission” will not be enough – a toothless or shell commission would do more harm than having no commission at all. It is imperative that an Ethics Commission have the following core elements protected in the state Constitution:

• be independent of influence from any one branch of government;
• have enforcement power, including independent investigatory and subpoena powers, and the ability to initiate an investigation absent a complaint; and
• operate so that the commission is transparent in its operations, especially in the manner in which it handles complaints.

A House-Senate conference committee is meeting in a final effort to make some meaningful changes. If not, you could end up with a commission that is all hat and no cattle. If that's the case, NMEW says:

The Legislature should stop, take a breath, and return to the creation of an Ethics Commission in next year’s session. The amendment will not go to the people for approval until the 2018 general election.

SOME 'SPLAININ'

Gov. Martinez is now explaining her heretofore unexplained barrage of vetoes this week. Even though none of the bills had anything to do with balancing the state budget and confirmation of her UNM Regents picks, she says both are reasons she vetoed the Senate measures--to send a message to Senators that they aren't crafting a state budget to her liking and frittering their time away.

But why is she putting out this explanation long after the vetoes? Well, there was talk at the Roundhouse that the state Constitution requires a governor to provide an explanation for every veto they make--even a simple explanation or one not even directly related to the vetoed bills as Martinez has now done. If there's no explanation, there is no veto, went the argument that could very well have landed the Governor in court. Senators are also saying she may not have issued her vetoes within the required time period. Other reasons for her veto barrage were taken up on the Wednesday blog.

AUTOMATIC OR NOT?

Reader Paul Stokes writes of the automatic voter registration bill that we covered this week:

The Daily Kos article overstates their claim that the amended bill is “so watered-down.” The bill requires that persons doing business at the DMV are asked on the web-based form if they consent to be registered, and if they say yes, they will then be registered (assuming they are qualified to vote as determined by the county clerk’s office) with no further action needed by the applicant.

That fits my definition of being automatic, even though having to “consent to be registered to vote” is technically an opt-in provision rather than an opt-out provision as I would prefer.

Perhaps more to the point, the bill (HB 28) may not get through its last committee hearing before the end of the session, but even if it doesn’t, the current statute (1-4-47) was intended to provide for a process that is essentially the same as this new language, so Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver working with the DMV can make it so.

PAPEN AND SMITH

Sen. Papen
Reader Kenneth Tabish writes of the defeat of the proposed constitutional amendment that would ask voters to tap a portion of the $15 Land Grant Permanent School Fund for very early childhood education:

Joe, Yes once again the Constitutional Amendment for very early childhood education has fallen because of the no vote by Las Cruces Democrats Senator Mary Kay Papen, who is no friend of education (remember she voted for the confirmation of Hanna Skandera as public education secretary) She clearly doesn’t care about children and the poor families of this state. It is also clear to me that she is listening to Dr. No (Sen. John Arthur Smith) who is also against the amendment. Change will only come through investment in our children via education. Public Education is not failing. It is clearly underfunded. They both know this amendment will pass if it is placed in front of the voters. It is time for change and both of them must go. Their Democratic conservatism is hurting the state!

Papen was key in killing the amendment by agreeing to table it in Senate Rules. Smith is a longtime opponent. Archbishop Wester put out a plea for a last minute compromise.

Okay, let's get the popcorn out and watch the final hours of the legislative session that ends at noon Saturday. Meantime, thanks for stopping by this week.

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