Friday, March 08, 2019

A Visit To The Media Beat: Calling All Tired Reporters; Guv Offers Hope, Plus: Popular TV News Anchor Marissa Maez Exits And Readers Have Questions  

Marisa Maez
Let's get over to the Media Beat this Friday and see what's brewing.

First off, reporters tired of the daily grind may have some hope for new careers now that there's a new Guv on the Fourth Floor who isn't shy about filling vacancies. Her communications director fired off a Tweet that no doubt garnered the attention of weary ink-stained wretches and tired TV types seeking a less stressful setting:

NM state government needs communications professionals! Still lots of departments! If you are interested or you know a talented writer/thinker who can work with the press and help facilitate transparent governance, DM (direct message) me!

When Big Bill took the helm in 2003 it seemed he took half the staff of the ABQ Journal with him into state PR jobs. For those who missed out then, it looks as though they have a second chance.


Fans of popular KOAT-TV morning anchorwoman Marisa Maez, who was also a presence on evening broadcasts, are asking us: "What happened?"

She abruptly announced her departure from the anchor chair Wednesday and will leave KOAT today after 16 years on the dawn patrol. She said in her statement that she wanted to spend more time with her family, but Paul Roybal asks:

Joe, it seems unusual that Marisa Maez announces her resignation to "spend more time with her family" on Wednesday with her final work day Friday without the usual fanfare given other anchors when they depart after long years of service. Inquiring minds want to know, suelta la sopa!

Good question, Paul. You said "suelta la sopa!" which translates to "tell me what you know." So:

Media observers can only speculate about what happened to Marissa, 43, a native New Mexican who has been with the station since 1999. Those observers point out that a new general manager took over KOAT in November, replacing Mary Lynn Roper who had advanced Marisa's career.

They think if there is more to the story you should "follow the money." Maez, an ABQ Manzano High School grad with a journalism degree from UNM, likely built up a big salary with her long tenure. TV stations continue to operate under pressure and with an ever present scalpel poised to cut costs. New managers bring a fresh look at budgets. They often do that by forcing the ouster of highly paid talent, replacing it with new lower paid talent. For now, it's adios Marisa. (P.S. Will Marisa end up working in one of those many open state government PR vacancies? Stay tuned.)


A couple of clarifications about the first draft of the Thursday blog.

First, the Energy Transition Act (ETA) passed by the Senate Wednesday night does not, as we said, now go the House "for concurrence." ABQ Dem Senator Mimi Stewart clarifies:

The Energy Transition Act has not yet passed the House, so instead of going to the House for concurrence, it’s now moving to the House for passage through committees and onto the House floor.

And in our report about UNM soccer we said the new UNM Regents conducted a meeting and that it appears reinstatement of the men's soccer program is not in the cards. We are now told that it was a meeting of a committee of Regents and that the next full UNM Regents meeting is scheduled for March 11th.

Keeping it on the men's soccer front, reader Gabe Gallegos offers this:

Joe, your piece about UNM soccer may not have all the context necessary. About a week ago, UNM went to the ABQ Journal with data that claims that UNM football actually turns a profit. This runs absolutely counter to UNM President Stokes' initial claims when she decided to cut soccer. A local attorney wrote a letter to the Regents imploring them to reinstate soccer while the actual data is calculated from UNM Athletics. It was in response to that letter that Regent Schwartz said that the decision to eliminate soccer should hold. But I don’t think we know if Rep. Lundstrom's measure to hold athletic funding up until UNM reinstates soccer will actually be killed. We will see.

Thanks, Gabe. Stokes and Rep. Lundstrom have been on a collision course all year. Did we count soccer out too early? The final act will soon tell the tale.


It is a great ski season in NM, not a common occurrence in recent years because of drought. Taos Ski Valley is one of the beneficiaries even as it struggles to overcome a tragic avalanche accident that killed two skiers. The NYT takes a look at the new and improved Taos.

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Thursday, March 07, 2019

Decision Days: Dr. No Suits Up As Senate Prepares Burial For Some Key House Bills, Plus: A Loud Battle For UNM Soccer Ends With A Whimper 

Sen. Smith 
It appears MLG and the House Democrats are going to have make lemonade out of a lot of lemons that are growing in the conservative state Senate in the final days of Session '19. Here are the takeaways:

--The $12 minimum wage appears dead there, but a statewide increase to at least $9.20 from $7.50 appears in store. Not bad, but far from what the Guv and the House Dems pushed for.

--Despite a late inning effort to revive the constitutional amendment to use a portion of the nearly $18 billion Land Grant Permanent School Fund for early childhood programs, Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith has not changed his mind and is determined to stop it from being resurrected.

--The most important feature of the House tax package--the provision to restore the progressive tax structure by increasing taxes on the highest earners--is also foundering under Smith's watch. The flat tax that has folks making $30,000 a year paying the same tax rate as those making $300,000 could be here to stay. It appears all sides in Santa Fe are afraid of being called tax and spenders.

While there are lemons for the House and MLG in the Senate there are also some cherries;

--The Energy Transition Act that would dramatically increase the amount of renewable energy the state's public utilities are required to use to generate electricity appears headed for her desk, despite being attacked as a bail out for PNM, the state’s largest electric utility. It passed the Senate 32 to 9 last night. However, if the measure is ultimately passed by both the House and Senate there could be legal challenges to the measure which was carried by ABQ Dem Sen. Jacob Candelaria.

--A hefty increase in the budget for the state's public schools--on the order of $400 million--has been a done deal for sometime and that will likely be the major legislative achievement of the '19 session. The House, Senate and MLG are in agreement.

There are hundreds of other bills on the line but those are the ones that would have the most lasting impact on the state.


After all the outcry did you see where the move to have UNM reinstate the men's soccer program died a quiet death at the recent UNM Regents committee meeting, and that it was one of MLG's  new regent appointments who did the deed?

Regent Rob Schwartz says the decision to kill soccer made by the UNM administration and prior Board of Regents should stand without interference from the current board.The decision is a setback for MLG and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Patty Lundstrom. Both had argued for reinstatement. Hard to believe this one went away with only a whimper after the banging of the drum over it so loudly and for so long. But no one is saying UNM President Stokes, who has been unyielding in doing away with soccer and several other sports, won't suffer some long-term consequences for the action.


That increase in the public schools budget will be the biggest in years, but NM Voices for Children says we have a lot of catching up to do:

New Mexico is one of several states that have failed to increase their total per-student funding compared to a decade ago, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). 

While 26 states have made larger investments in their K-12 students since 2008, per-student funding in New Mexico remained 9 percent less in 2016 than in 2008, after adjusting for inflation. The report found that New Mexico ranks 33rd in per-pupil funding, after adjusting for the cost of living, poverty, and other factors among the 50 states.


Voters were so upset with the ABQ Public Schools or so confused over the three questions on the ballot at last months election that they threw the baby out with the bath water. And it may be a while before the baby is back in the tub.

The chances of having a redo on the one ballot question that did not raise taxes, a mill levy that would have raised $190 million over six years for school maintenance, do not look good for the intermediate term. We thought APS might be able to put the levy before voters again at the upcoming November city election, but. . .

While the Board of Education hasn’t committed, the soonest APS can go back to voters is November. But the way election law is currently written makes it “technically impossible” because of the tight timeline to pass the mill levy and get it on the tax rolls by the end of the year, which the law requires, according to Capital Master Plan Executive Director Kizito Wijenje.

The maintenance levy was voted down by 64% of the voters but if it were presented again with a clear campaign that it is a continuation of a current tax--not an increase--its odds of passage would seem pretty fair. That was not at all clear in the February election. Meanwhile, APS is in for some belt tightening. Proceeds from the mill levy run out at the end of June.


Apologies to those who tuned in the radio program we promoted on the blog yesterday. There was a mistake in scheduling at the station so our gabfest with two leading conservatives was not to be. There was no conspiracy involved, at least we don’t think so.

Beth Waldrip of Roswell has today's final blog bottom lines:

Joe, I thought you might be interested in the passing of a notable New Mexican, Col. Morgan Nelson (D) who served 12 years in the NM Legislature, starting in 1949. Morgan was an engineer, landman and perhaps held the greatest authority of water use and rights in SE NM. He was a founding patron of the NM Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum. His obituary is here

Nelson served as chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee in 1957. He was 99.

Thanks for the news, Beth.

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Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Can A Political Newcomer Put A Crack In The Conservative Senate Coalition? He May Try, Plus: GOP Meltdown; Party Apologizes For Meme Calling Guv An "A Hole" But Problems Run Deeper 

Raymond Concho
Can a political newcomer put a crack in the powerful state Senate conservative coalition? We've learned that there could be an effort made in one key district.

Raymond Concho of Acoma Pueblo says he is frustrated with Senator Clemente Sanchez, one of a handful of Senate Dems who along with the 16 R's often band together to stop what they see as liberal legislation.
Concho, 59, is especially upset with Sanchez's vote in the Senate Rules Committee this week to table the proposed constitutional amendment to tap a portion of the state's nearly $18 billion Land Grant Permanent School Fund for early childhood programs. He told me from Acoma that the vote may push him to challenge Sanchez in the June 2020 primary:

Joe, it is frustrating that he does not support that amendment. We need to find a candidate that can support early childhood education that benefits the rural communities. If there are no candidates out there, I will be willing to step up to the plate.

Concho says he will make a decision on a primary challenge in April.

Concho's frustration is great because a district court ruling singled out Native American children as "at risk," finding the state in violation of its constitution for not providing adequate education funding for them and other children. But that did not move Sen. Sanchez to vote for the early childhood amendment, which he has opposed since his election to the Senate in 2012.

Sanchez, 60, works in the banking business and has an accounting background. That grounds him in fiscal conservatism.

Sen. Sanchez
Business interests have amply bankrolled Sanchez and last October he reported $103,000 in cash on hand, plenty to battle a primary opponent. But if Concho, a father of four and the director of planning for Acoma Pueblo, can draw in national liberal money--as the state House races in BernCo did last year-- he too might have a hefty campaign war chest. "If" being the key word.

The seat is safe Dem so the winner of the primary is the likely winner of the general election.

As the state's three large cities shift to the center/left the reality is that the mostly rural coalition in the Senate holds more power than the numbers it represents. That was driven home this week with the tabling of the early childhood measure. Now liberals fear the Senate coalition is about to shred a House bill that restores the state's progressive income tax structure and will also vote for a watered down minimum wage increase, not the one advocated for by MLG and approved by the House.

Concho's Native American background puts him in good position in the four county district which includes parts of McKinley and Cibola counties. If he does launch a bid and looks serious, would Sanchez try to split the vote by getting another Indian Country candidate in the primary? Well, the coalition doesn't stay in power by not tending to its backyard. Stay tuned.


The meltdown of the New Mexico Republican Party did not stop with the devastation it suffered on Election Night last November. The anger and frustration over their increasing irrelevancy seems to be pushing the party further over the edge. An example is this meme that was briefly posted to the GOP’s Facebook page Tuesday in which the question is posed as to whether Governor Lujan Grisham is an "asshole."

Shortly after, the GOP was forced to apologize:

. . . An inappropriate post was posted on our page. We had given temporary editing privileges to a volunteer for a specific event. Unfortunately, this person inadvertently posted something to RPNM’s page. Their privileges have been revoked permanently. In no way would RPNM post something so inappropriate. We want to apologize to the Governor and anyone else who is offended by this.

Dems were taken aback by the meme attack but were not shy about letting everyone know about it. 

Longtime Dem operative James Hallinan, now heading PR company Intersections Strategies, offered this Twitter advice to Steve Pearce, the former congressman who now chairs the state GOP:

If I was offering my strategic communications and crisis management advice to @Pearce4NM & @NewMexicoGOP, I’d tell them this is the absolute best way to get yourself a plethora of unwanted, unnecessary, and negative press.

Pearce has his hands full dealing with the dominant Trump wing of the party where emotions are easily triggered over issues like guns and abortion, issues that have made headlines this legislative session as the Dems move more left. But Pearce has also misfired. Instead of concentrating on bread and butter economic issues his recent newspaper op-ed was a food fight with three GOP state senators who now favor legalizing marijuana while he doesn't. Where did that come from, Steve?

House Republicans
The upside for Pearce and company is that the grassroots of the GOP is getting energized. The downside is that those grassroots, embracing a hard right message, now represent a measly part of the political pie. It may, as we have written, help them in the 2020 southern congressional race, but falls flat or worse elsewhere. 

The party is also foundering in Santa Fe where the state House R's have been pushed to the back benches by newly aggressive Dem House Speaker Brian Egolf. But they too seem to have succumbed to emotion, as seen in this photo where they hold up "No" signs to show their disagreement with the dominant Dem majority.

And to think only a couple of years ago the R's were actually in the House majority. Is that the GOP caucus with those signs or members of a college fraternity? In any event. . .

MLG gave the GOP a break when she recently came with an outspoken tweet, calling sheriffs who opposed her gun control bills "rogue." That gave the R's something to hang their holsters on and fill in the blanks on social media. But they can't count on her to rebuild a party that now engages only a sliver of the electorate.

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Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Session '19 Headlines: Free Itsaburgers, No Early Childhood Amendment, Gun Checks Get Go Ahead And Reader Vox Populi 

You gotta love Santa Fe. Only hours after the House Sunday unanimously approved a bill that would prohibit legislators from taking any free food or drinks from lobbyists during the session, there they were at their desks Monday munching away on itsaburgers from Blake's Lotaburger--courtesy of a lobbyist. Well, the itsaburger is that little burger at Blake's not the big double patty so at least they're trying. Right.

One of the biggest bills awaiting state Senate action--the constitutional amendment passed by the House that would ask for voter approval to tap the state's nearly $18 billion Land Grant Permanent School Fund for early childhood education--met its Waterloo yet gain Monday. Gov. Lujan Grisham had equated the battle over the amendment as the "fight of my life" but Roundhouse wall-leaners opined that she bit off more than she could chew and thus took a hit.

Instead of Senate Finance, where the amendment in the past has died at the hands of Chairman John Arthur Smith, this time it was conservative Dems on the Senate Rules Committee who took it down.

Clemente Sanchez of Grants, Mary Kay Papen of Las Cruces and Sen. Bill Tallman of ABQ--all voted to table the measure which passed 7-4. Tallman took out a Republican four years ago and appears to fear defeat in 2020, although it's a presidential election year and all but one of the BernCo House R's were wiped out in the recent election. A tea leaf reader he isn't.

Now the game is on to see if other legislation favored by the Governor will be ignored or killed in the Senate, which continues to be run by a coalition of R's and conservative D's. If they can buck her on early childhood, will it embolden them even more?

Sometimes Governors are glad to see the Senate become a graveyard for more liberal legislation but MLG put her fingerprints all over the early childhood amendment. If she had managed to twist some arms and get it through her power and prestige would have skyrocketed to the levels held by Dem Guv Bill Richardson in his first year. She is still on her way to having some solid success this session, but the honeymoon is now over and the administration takes on a more pedestrian aura. One of the Roundhouse Alligators took a bite:

The fight of her life it was not. Maybe the flight of her life.

Well, she did stand up and be counted. Whatever happened to Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth? When it comes to crossing the coalition Wirth is as scarce as a glass of milk at the Bull Ring.

The Governor came with a new proposal after Senate Rules knocked down the amendment, saying instead of one percent a year being taken from the Permanent Fund for early childhood she would now settle for one half percent. But this poker game is over. The Senate read the Governor's cards and decided they weren't strong enough to make them fold. She needs new players at the table and the only way she may be able to get them is to not discourage primary foes who may be preparing to take on some of the conservative Dems in the 2020 June primary.

While losing on the ECE amendment, MLG did score a win when that background check bill for gun sales made its way through the House and to her desk Monday night. The popular bill was stalled for eight years because Republican Governor Martinez was opposed.


Now on to Reader Vox Populi and Stephen Spitz who chimes in on that amendment with this:

What is the state actually spending on Early Childhood Education (ECE)? Unfortunately, legislators who oppose the Constitutional Amendment to fund ECE from the Permanent Fund have taken to fudging the numbers.

(1) Opponents include in the state's ECE funding numbers federal dollars not appropriated by the state, and (2) opponents also include as ECE funding about $160 million in K-5 funding for such things as a longer school year which, by definition, are not 0-5 pre-kindergarten programs. With these "fudges" excluded, proposed ECE spending on pre-natal to 5 programs this year is just over $130 million. And, while its true that the state's spending on ECE has grown over the last 8 years, that is in part because state funding was dramatically cut back in response to the Great Recession. 

NM's ECE programs remain minuscule. For example, the state's Home Visiting program, for children prenatal to 3, presently serves 3500 kids out of total client population of 70,000. Numerous studies have found that home visiting gets the biggest bang for the buck, particularly for "at risk" children, such as the 82% of NM births which are Medicaid qualified. In short, ECE needs to be dramatically expanded if we hope to address the state's economic, education, and social crises.


Reader Steve Snyder disagrees with our take that because of the big surpluses accumulating and that look likely to continue for several years, raising the tax on cigarettes and vaping, as proposed in the House tax bill, is not necessary.

If your goal is public health first, revenue second, I think such a tax increase is welcome, even necessary, especially with vaping and the fact that nationally, youth smoking is on the rise. Better yet? How about a mime age of 21 for vaping?


Reader Mitchell Freedman of Rio Rancho writes of the controversy over gun control laws that is turning up the heat on southern NM Dem Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small:

Does Congresswoman Torres Small really think she will get more Republican voters to vote for her by placating the gun lobby? She won the fall election by sounding like a liberal. Her strategy should not be backtracking but embracing the voters who voted for her, and move to expand the voting base of those who support her.

I don’t claim to know her district well but she won with a big turnout and there should be a bigger one in the presidential year of 2020, and one may find she will have more liberal voters. Why then placate “moderates” in the Republican Party who essentially no longer exist in any significant demographic, even in a closer election?

I make these points more as a question than a declarative statement. I just find the usual bromides from national strategists, which tend to make regular folks feel as if “Well, they are the experts,” is often wrong advice. And I fear for Torres she is making an error of judgment in political strategy here. Am I wrong?

Good points, Mitchell. You're right. In the end it's all about getting your vote out. The tough question you raise is whether Xochitl is aiming her turnout efforts at the right crowd. The southern CD is no longer the easy read it was just a few years ago, having gone from reliably conservative to more of a swing seat.

Michael Corwin writes:

Joe, Although the vehicle of this article is about Jewish food, it sums up why Denver is a destination place to live and why people are flocking there. One of the main reasons is optimism. Much of that comes from trying to make a better future instead of accepting a lesser one. Food for thought (ha!)

Reader Dago Martinez bats clean-up:

As a person in his late 20s, it is refreshing to read unbiased news/opinions regarding NM politics. Thank you for your work. I make it a point to read you daily to keep me in the know of what is going on locally.

Thanks for that, Dago, While we can be quite opinionated, we take your comment to mean we tell it like we see it regardless of what the politicians on either side are saying. And to all the twentysomethings tuning in we declare with sincerity: "Youth Must be Served!"

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Monday, March 04, 2019

Sweeping House Tax Bill Reverses 20 Years Of Tax Cutting; Will Hawks In Senate Buy In? Plus: Martinez Back In Bush's Arms And Plum Expo NM Job Draws Comments  

After two decades of mostly wrong-headed tax policy we did double-takes when poring over the details of this session's major tax package that passed Friday night on a 40-25 vote and is now headed to the Senate. How it will fare in that more conservative body is up in the air, but from where we sit this is quite a sensible piece of legislation that corrects errors of the past and ensures a more reliable revenue stream for state government.

Here are our takeaways on the measure which could be a career capper for 78 year old Santa Fe area State Rep. Jim Trujillo, chairman of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee, and ably ushered through the full House by Speaker Egolf.

--The essence of this legislation--which would be a major legislative achievement if it survives the Senate--is the restoration of the progressive tax system in the state, an American tradition lost in the frenzy to cut taxes the last 20 years, leaving us with essentially a flat tax of 4.9 percent.

--The highest rates on taxable income would start at $200,000 a year for a single household and $300,000 a year for a married couple. The tax rises to a still modest 6.5 percent. Rates below that are lower so it is truly progressive. That's a bite out of  income inequality. It's estimated the new rates will bring in $136 million a year.

--The bill would restore most of the cut in the capital gains tax that a previous Democratic legislature and Governor demolished in the name of attracting business. It never did but stock market gains since have cost the state millions in lost revenue. The reform is said to raise $62 million a year.

--This one is obscure but supported by the hospitals because the new taxes they would pay would end up going into the Medicaid program. The Feds give the state a three to one match for such spending and that will give the hospitals a revenue pop. The bill closes the gross receipts tax loophole for nonprofit hospitals. It's estimated to bring in about $100 million in the next budget year.

--Let's stop there for a minute because with only those three reforms the state generates nearly $300 million a year in recurring revenue. That's plenty for now when you realize we already have a budget reserve  of well over $1 billion set aside and a new "rainy day fund" that will have over $150 million when the new budget year starts July 1.

The proposed budget is $7 billion. Do we really need all those reserves plus a new revenue stream of $358 million to protect the budget against a massive downturn in oil prices? Probably not in the foreseeable future. Here's why, courtesy of the WSJ:

The Permian Basin (in NM and TX) produced an average of more than 3.9 million barrels per day as of January, according to the Energy Information Administration. Analytics firm IHS Markit estimates Permian production could top 5 million barrels a day in 2023, surpassing Iraq.

That's a lot of oil over the next five years and a whole lot of royalties--even if prices go low. Maybe we will need the $358 million in new revenue down the road, but Santa Fe could give New Mexicans a break by taking $300 million in new tax money and calling it a very good day.

For example, the proposed increase in the excise tax for buying a car goes from 3% to 4.2% and would generate $65 million a year. And an increase in car registration fees would raise another $37 million annually and go to the road fund. Those are unnecessary, given the state's financial condition and would hurt car-dependent New Mexicans.

The cigarette/vaping tax would go up and raise $23 million a year. That will garner public support but it is not necessary at this time.

--Amazon already charges NM gross receipts tax on its sales. The bill would impose them on all Internet sales, raising $24 million a year. That will level the playing field for local retailers and is overdue.

The House bill does not address the state's most critical tax challenge--somehow reducing the onerous and job-killing gross receipts tax rate that is now nearly 8 percent in the ABQ metro and even higher in other areas. It chases away working professionals like medical providers and attorneys. While this bill rightfully raises the personal income tax on the best paid professionals, the tax they and economic developers fret most about is the GRT.

But that large task will have to wait for another session, Meantime we can only urge the Senate austerity hawks to let their claws get a bit dull when this tax bill comes over. Most of it deserves a thumbs up (or claws down).


"This is a political career that looks as dead as disco," jabbed one of our readers in speaking of former Gov. Susana Martinez. After trying to romance the Trump team this year via Fox News, she had no takers so it was back in the arms of Jeb Bush who has named her to a board of directors slot on his education reform group. It's not a paid gig but probably goes with a stipend for meetings. The Bush education policies created havoc here during Martinez's tenure and with the Dems now in charge many are being swept away.


Readers of  the Dem variety also opined on a recent blog article in which we quoted Expo NM Manager Dan Mourning about a possible new arena at the State Fairgrounds. They wondered what Mourning--a member in good standing of the former political machine of Gov Martinez--is still doing in that plum position that Susana appointed him to in 2011 and that pays well over $106,000 a year. "There are a lot of hungry Democrats who need jobs," wrote one. "When will they get that one?"

Well, that's up to MLG. The Democratic Governor has the power of appointment over the job.

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