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Monday, March 13, 2017

Final Week Of Legislative Session Delivers Stark Reminders On State's Economic Standing, Plus: Some Early (Very Early) Gator Gaming Of The '18 Dem Guv Race  

First we reported that the state's Medicaid rolls were "over 900,000." Then we quoted the AP as saying there were "nearly 900,000." Well, we should have stuck with the first estimate. The ABQ Free Press reports on the February Medicaid stats:

For the first time the number of Medicaid recipients topped 900,000. The actual number was 904,258 or 43.4 percent of the state's population.

To qualify for the Medicaid health insurance program a single adult can't make more than $16,404 a year; for a family of four it's $33,540 a year. Of the 904,000 on the Medicaid rolls about 350,000 are children.

That's a state chock full of low income families and singles and if you think they're living the life of Riley on their free Medicaid, check out the rates at the local payday loan store where many of them go to make ends meet paycheck to paycheck. The state House has passed legislation that is almost too embarrassing to mention. It takes the top rate on payday loans from 375 percent to 175 percent. Meanwhile the well-heeled continue to borrow at bargain basement rates of 3 percent.

Then there's the state income tax rate which has more or less become a flat tax with everyone--the rich and the not so rich--all paying the same amount, a point made by Dem Rep. Daymon Ely when he called for an income tax increase--from 4.9 to 6 percent--on the state's one percenters (not that there are many of them left these days).

Ely also voted against that bizarre payday loan legislation, reminding the state that the rate for such loans elsewhere is capped at 35 percent. But only in the self-contained Roundhouse bubble would an interest rate cap of 175 percent be greeted with back slapping and celebratory shots of Johnny Walker Blue at the Bull Ring. God bless em'.

All this is to say that New Mexico has built being poor into its economic model. It receives about four dollars for every dollar it puts into the federal-state Medicaid program, a program that now totals $6 billion and has become a major economic driver; it has a thriving payday loan industry that exploits the masses of low income citizens and it taxes those low income citizens at the same rate as the wealthy. In addition, the gross receipts tax, which impacts the lowest income brackets most negatively, is now soaring past 8 percent in many sections of the state furthering the income equality gap already at historic highs. Yep. We're poor and by many measures getting poorer.

In these waning days of Session '17 there are a couple of housekeeping chores that could especially help hard hit areas of the state. That capital outlay reform proposal from Dem Sen. Cervantes and GOP Rep. Fajardo is long overdue. We still have hundreds of millions of public works projects approved but the money going unspent. And then we have the projects that need to be killed.

Then there is the frenzy over the many exemptions to the state's gross receipts tax that are estimated to cost $1 billion a year. That's a subject ripe for a commission of lawmakers. You're not going to resolve that tax puzzle--as has been proposed--by attempting to eliminate every exemption all at once. But you just might get rid of a good number of them and raise needed revenue for the state if you come with a comprehensive study showing which work and which don't.

Finally from the Roundhouse, a $6.1 billion budget for the year that starts July 1 is getting closer to approval and being put on the Governor's desk.

Some on the right of the political spectrum have become so radicalized that they dismiss the point that the proposed budget is the same amount as it was in fiscal year 2007--ten years ago. In other words, the Tea Party and their affiliated fiscal austerity hawks have won. The smaller government that they claimed would stimulate the economy and bring jobs is here. Never mind that they were wrong--again.

Rather than declare victory and fight to keep their gains, the hawks are going for more cuts, arguing that the budget is still bloated, But the end of their run is in sight. The new budget--backed by Republican Senate Leader Ingle--finally ends the blood letting at our public schools and is supported by both sides of the aisle. But it's not something to make merry over. It's more like survivors climbing out of a bunker after the bombing and surveying the damage that was wrought.

EARLY GUV GATOR ANALYSIS

How about some early Alligator analysis of the early jockeying for the 2018 Dem Guv nomination? Why not? It's never too early around here. To the Alligator pond and one of the creatures with particularly sharp teeth:

(Santa Fe Mayor) Javier Gonzales is a good guy, but he’d be dead in the water at the 2018 nominating convention. As most veteran state central committee members will attest, his tenure as Chairman of the state party was mediocre, at best. He was an able place holder after Brian Colón left the chairmanship to run for Lt. Governor, but that’s about all that can be said for him in that position. He’s not a particularly powerful speaker. In a venue shared with (ABQ Congresswoman) Michelle Lujan Grisham it would be like comparing day-old oatmeal with a superb chile relleno.

Alan Webber could be a viable alternative to Michelle if the ultra-progressives are able to succeed in their bid to “reform” the Democratic Party with a huge grassroots turnout for this year’s ward and precinct meetings, but quite a few of them have already left the party, vowing to go Green or start a new “Progressive Party.” And Alan’s forte is economic development, and so would be a better pick for appointment as Secretary of Economic Development in a Lujan Grisham administration than as Governor.

(Attorney General) Hector Balderas would be formidable if he runs, but staying in the AG position for another couple of years makes better political sense for him. He’s young, with lots of time left to build his reputation in 2019 and 2020 and then run to replace Senator Tom Udall when Tom retires at the end of his current term (no, I don’t know that he’ll surely retire, but it’s a pretty good bet since he’ll be 72).

As for Jeff Apodaca, the son of former Governor Jerry Apodaca, he was a notable UNM Lobo football player, is a cancer survivor and had a career in Spanish language media, but he’s unknown in the party except as “Jerry’s kid.” In my opinion, the nomination is Michelle’s to lose.

That's some acerbic analysis that is sure to please Grisham, but it is still early and we still don't know the full field. We notice that our Gator did not mention state Sen. Joe Cervantes as a possible contender. And while Mayor Gonzales might not be popular at the party's nominating convention, he could still get on the June primary ballot without their support.

As for Sen. Udall retiring in 2020 and Hector taking his place, it's true that Udall will be 72 that year, but there's a catch--his father, the famous Interior Sectary Stewart Udall, lived to the ripe old age of 90. That would seem to leave plenty of elbow room for another Udall run in '20.

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