Thursday, February 06, 2020

Impeachment Drama Gets Just A Glance, Budget And Red Flags At Roundhouse, Santa Fe's Plaza Problem And Some Caucus Clean Up 

Senator Tom Udall called it a "solemn"moment but from afar it hardly seemed so. The Senate's vote to acquit President Trump of two impeachment charges received only a glance over the shoulder. The Iowa caucus debacle, the State of the Union featuring a handshake refusal and a ripped speech and the third impeachment of a US President all blurred together like a blender mixing varied colored fruit.

The fruit is decidedly bitter in DC while in the smallish burg of Santa Fe peace and goodwill, generally reign during the short thirty day legislative session, The main order of business, a $7.61 billion state budget for the year beginning July 1, has passed out of the House with a 7.5 increase over the current budget, thanks to the oil boom.

The terror in Santa Fe is that the boom will bust and a general disdain for spending in any climate by many lawmakers is especially pronounced in the lairs of the Legislative Finance and Senate Finance Committees. Thus the budget sets aside a record setting reserve fund of 26 percent or $2 billion. That should be enough when the sky falls.

The Governor did not argue. She will again get state employee and teacher raises and continue to back fill the deep hole of vacancies left in state government by her predecessor.

The budget bill also puts up $300 million for an early childhood trust fund that will generate a modest amount of annual dollars compared to the need.

It didn't make your phone ding much with "breaking news" but the lack of rancor over the budget was a relief of sorts when compared to the unrelenting acrimony on Capitol Hill. Of course, give it time and that could change at the fabled Roundhouse, but for now an Election Year peace prevails.

Speaking of interrupting the peace. . .

Our head count shows that red hot Red Flag bill going down narrowly in the state Senate, but then it was amended in Senate Judiciary perhaps giving it just enough life to squeak through. It now states that only a member of law enforcement, not household or family members, could ask the courts to take a gun away from someone thought to be a danger to themselves or society. For sure, the full NM Senate vote on that promises to be more suspenseful than the dyed-in-the-wool impeachment vote was in the US Senate.


Please Mayor Webber, don't let Santa Fe turn into San Francisco:

About 50 merchants gathered. . . .to share concerns with Mayor Alan Webber and Santa Fe police in light of robberies and other low-level crimes, , , in the downtown area. Some complained of verbal harassment from panhandlers, burglaries and break-ins, having to clean up vomit and feces and finding drug paraphernalia. . . Police initiated an operation it calls “Downtown Focus.”. . .  A police bicycle team will also patrol the area. . . Earl Potter, owner of Five and Dime General Store said he did not think any of the measures . . will go anywhere unless police develop a personal relationship with merchants.

Mayor Webber also said there is a need for more behavioral health services and that the businesses "are asking police to put a Band-Aid on a serious issue." He added "that homelessness is not a crime but the city does need people to call police" when someone misbehaves.

All of that is true but it does not negate the need for better law enforcement to keep the historic Plaza area free from behavior that ruins the area for tourists and locals alike. "Vomit and feces?" If that isn't a call for tougher (and unapologetic) city action, what is? 


A couple of notes about the 2008 NM Prez caucus we blogged of this week. Former Santa Fe New Mexican political report Steve Terrell writes:

Hey Joe, greetings from the Old Reporters Retirement Home. I enjoyed reading your memories of that disastrous 2008 NM caucus. What a time. One little correction: You said Bill Richardson was practically living in Iowa, which is true. But his campaign didn’t end there. It lasted one more week, when he came in a distant 4th in the New Hampshire primary. I was there, covering what would turn out to be the final days of his campaign. I was in Iowa too that year. And that time their caucuses went quite smoothly.

Richardson did indeed go on to New Hampshire after his Iowa caucus loss in 2008 but the campaign was a dead man walking. Big Bill came in fourth in Iowa, garnering just 2.1 percent of the delegates. Obama won the most delegates with Hillary Clinton coming in second.

We also blogged it "took years" for then NM Dem Party Chairman Brian Colón to recover from the disaster that befell the NM caucus when it took nine days to get a final count and with the national media breathing down his neck. A Colón watcher says not really. "Brian went on to win the 2010 Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor so the recovery period was not that long."

Today Colón is the State Auditor with a vibrant social media presence. That has earned him the blog title of "Most Photographed Man In New Mexico." With that, he has fully "recovered."

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Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Could Biden's Problems Become Xochitl's? Plus: Candidates Get Their Signatures, And Grumbling Over Santa Fe Spending  

Centrist Dem Prez hopeful Joe Biden failed to break through in Iowa and raising questions about his viability going forward. If he is knocked out it could have an impact on the race for the southern congressional seat held by first term Dem US Rep. Xochitl Torres Small.

So say political observers who believe a more liberal nominee than Biden, such as Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, could pump up President Trump's numbers in the conservative leaning district. That in turn could cause problems for Torres Small who won the district in '18 by less than 3,000 votes over Republican Yvette Herrell.

It isn't only the prospect of a liberal nominee that has Dems fingering their worry beads. They point out out that billionaire Dem Michael Bloomberg has carved out a position as an outspoken advocate for gun control, an unpopular position in the 2nd CD. If he's the nominee Torres Small might have to run and hide on that issue. She made a point of showing herself hunting with her gun in one of her widely viewed TV campaign ads.

Republicans are desperate to take back the seat as they have no leader of statewide or congressional standing. They have been wiped off the map by the state's Blue Wave. Currently, NM Supreme Court Justice Judith Nakamura is the ranking Republican in the state and that is not a position from which you dabble in politics.

Federal candidates filed their petition signatures with the secretary of state Tuesday in preparation for the March 7 major party pre-primary conventions where delegates will vote on placing the contenders on the June 2 primary ballot. They will need to get 20 percent support there. If not, they would have to gather more signatures to make the ballot.

There were no major surprises but Andrew Perkins who was offering token primary opposition to Dem US Rep and US Senate candidate Ben Ray Lujan, failed to file signatures. As a result he will apparently not be on the June ballot. That leaves Lujan unopposed for the nomination. He and six Republicans running for the GOP nomination all filed signatures.


Also filing petition signatures Tuesday were the statewide judge candidates:

Republican Ned Fuller is running against Bacon and Republican Kerry Morris is running against Thomson. Thomson and Bacon were appointed to the court last year. By law, appointed justices must run in the next statewide general election in order to keep their seats. Running against Court of Appeals judge Zach Ives is Republican Barbara Johnson, and Democrats Shammara Henderson, Kerry Kiernan and Jane Yohalem along with Republican Gertrude Lee are competing for a second Appeals Court judgeship.


It began legislative life as a $320 million "trust fund" for early childhood but it's shrunk to $300 million and could shrink more when the Senate gets to the plan.

The $7.61 billion state budget approved by the House Appropriations Committee Monday did the trimming. That had advocates for the long-proposed constitutional amendment to fund early childhood saying their plan is more solid because it would be funded annually by a small percentage of the nearly $20 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund and not dependent on oil revenue as the trust found would.

Some lawmakers are jittery over putting so much of the oil surplus into the trust fund. They worry that oil boom revenues will not keep pace with spending. However, the Senate Finance Committee, which has been unfriendly to the early childhood amendment in the past is still unfriendly.

The House is again expected to pass the constitutional amendment. A possible compromise floating is to have the Land Grant Fund used for a dozen years as a source for early childhood and then let the trust fund from oil revenues take over. By then, the reasoning goes, the fund would be large enough to generate annual interest that would be more consequential.

If the early childhood trust fund is reduced more (there's talk of going to $290 million or less), the interest the fund generates each year would be reduced accordingly.


The Dems argue that when  accounting for inflation the state's General Fund budget has barely budged the past decade. That's why they say the jump in spending from around $6 billion to $7.6 billion in two years isn't that big of a deal. Bu that isn't stopping conservatives from grumbling and loudly, Here's some equal time with reader Dave:

New Mexico's state budget plan: There is a budget surplus. Bad mouth and demonize the oil industry who contribute nearly 40 percent of the state's income. Give all your pals in NM govt big raises. Hire more govt employees. Spend like there is no tomorrow. Then raise taxes on the citizens because you are afraid you spent too much and won't know what to do when the next economic downturn comes. When it all backfires, blame someone else. Stay in power long enough to max out your govt pension. Laugh the whole way to the bank. Tell the people all the good you are doing. They aren't paying attention. Move to a more prosperous state when you retire and vote for people just like yourself. 

Hear that all you Roundhouse big spenders? Okay, now back to your punch bowls. There's a party going on.

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Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Better Them Than Us: The Year Was 2008; Iowa Caucus Chaos Recalls NM Fiasco, Plus: Latest On Six Seekers Of GOP Senate Nod And: Same Top Three In Northern Congress Clash 

Monahan 2008
Better them than us. The Iowa caucus vote-counting disaster last night immediately brought to mind New Mexico's own struggles with caucus voting.

It was 2008 when the system here broke down and later was permanently discarded. The Democratic presidential caucus resulted in heavy turnout and some 17,000 provisional ballots that could not be counted on caucus night. The race between Obama and Clinton was as tight as a drum, but it took nine days to manually count the provisional ballots and finally declare that Clinton had overcome Obama by just one percent.

Before it was over CNN and other national media blackened New Mexico's eyes over the long vote count and for the long lines that had developed at the sole voting location on caucus day in Rio Rancho. It took years for then Democratic Party Chairman Brian Colòn to recover his reputation from the rout.

New Mexico, which adopted the caucus in 2004 to decide its delegates to the national Dem convention, did so at the urging of then Governor Bill Richardson who had national ambitions and wanted the spotlight to shine on New Mexico and his own future presidential plans. His team put tougher a first-rate plan and executed. The party was celebrated for the error free performance. But in 2008 Big Bill was running for president himself and practically living in Iowa where his campaign abruptly ended when he showed poorly in that year's caucus. The money and professionalism of '04 was not present in the NM Democratic Party caucus of '08. The result was the aforementioned caucus chaos and national black eye.

New Mexico in 2012 returned to the presidential primary system where to this day it is safely conducted in June. We say safely because by then the Dem Prez race is decided and our primary has minimal impact.

While some bemoan that New Mexico no longer strives to be a major player in picking the White House occupant, the fiasco that befell us when we played that game still smarts. A June primary seems just right today as we still await complete results from the pained Democratic Party of Iowa.
As we said, better them than us.

Here is the link to our in-depth reporting of that chaotic caucus week in New Mexico.

The year was 2008. I was there and that's how I remember it.


Montoya, Ronchetti, Martinez, Rich, Sanchez, Clarkson 
Here they are, all six of the GOP candidates seeking what could be the thankless job of taking on Dem Rep. Ben Ray Lujan for the open US Senate seat.

The group has been busy attending county preprimary conventions in preparation for the statewide pre-primary March 7 convention at which half of the candidates could be effectively pushed out of the race. That often occurs when a candidate fails to win at least 20 percent of delegate support necessary to get an official spot on the June primary ballot.

Warriors in the two major opposing factions of the GOP have lined up behind weatherman Mark Ronchetti and shooting range part owner Louie Sanchez. Because of that they can fairly be called the very early front-runners. But as we appraise the action the campaign has more of a wide open feel to it.

Mick Rich was the '18 GOP Senate nominee and lost the race to Dem Sen. Heinrich, but contractor Rich has name ID and personal wealth. Elisa Martinez, a well-known anti-abortion activist, started the campaign that way but has been working to broaden her message. Gavin Clarkson served in the Interior Department in the Trump administration and was the GOP secretary of state nominee in '18. Rick Montoya is trying to carve out a message as the strongest Trump backer. We wouldn't rule anyone out yet and will wait for that March preprimary to do some sorting out.

However, Dem Lujan has $2 million in the bank, the race is not being targeted by the national R's and no R has won a NM Senate race since 2002. Whatever R emerges victorious is going to need some mistakes by Lujan who so far hasn't been very cooperative.


Nothing in the latest money reports covering the final quarter of 2019 changes our view that the race for the Dem nomination for the northern congressional seat is a three way battle featuring Valerie Plame, Teresa Leger Fernandez and Marco Serna.

Plame has broken through the symbolic $1 million mark in total fundraising due to her national fame. But Leger Fernandez has held her her own with Plame in cash on hand. Serna lags but holds third place in cash in the seven way contest.

All three have a good shot at getting at least 20 percent delegate support at the important March 7 Dem preprimary convention. A candidate who fails to jump that hurdle almost always sees the money dry up.

Five Republicans are vying for the GOP nomination to face off with the Dem winner in the November election to determine who will replace Rep. Ben Ray Lujan. But in this all Dem all the time district no R's really need apply. The race will essentially be settled on primary night, June 2, when the Dem winner is crowned.

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Monday, February 03, 2020

Tax Relief Proposals Pop Up Amid Towering State Surpluses, Also: ETA Redux; Reader Reaction To Our "Minority Opinion" 

Now that legalizing recreational pot and the Red Flag law appear dead this legislative session, the public's attention may turn to items that directly impact their pocketbooks. Like these. . .

Modest tax relief ideas have popped up in light of the massive state surpluses from the SE oil boom. Bills getting bipartisan attention include one that would "propose a limited exemption from Personal Income Tax for income from Social Security that is taxable for federal purposes. Each individual may claim an exemption up to $24,000."

ABQ metro area State Rep. Daymon Ely has signed on to HB77:

This is intended to give a break to people on fixed incomes. There are other ways to generate income than double-taxing New Mexico seniors.

Ely says 1 in 5 New Mexicans, more than 382,000, receive Social Security. That's a lot of eyeballs watching, but Speaker Egolf says this may be the year to lay the groundwork and then pass the cut at the 2021 session.

Then there's the predictable call from Republicans that some of the surplus be rebated to taxpayers. ABQ GOP State Senator Sander Rue is backing SB82 which proposes a one time $60 million rebate:

I believe a rebate check would have an immediate, positive effect on our economy as taxpayers spend rebate checks on what they believe is best for their families and themselves. $60 million flowing into our economy would also have a multiplier effect. . . ” 

Rue, who is expected to face a tough re-election battle for his Westside seat, says a family of four earning up to $50,000 and filing jointly could receive a check for $200. A family of four earning up to $100,000 could receive a check for $125.

The often arcane debate over the state budget will keep legislators busy for the remainder of the session but items like Social Security taxes and rebates in their pockets should keep Mr. and Mrs. New Mexico at least casually interested in the Roundhouse happenings.


Our "minority opinion" on the NM Supreme Court ruling and the Energy Transition Act (ETA) drew reader response.

We questioned whether applying the ETA to the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) case shuttering PNM's coal-fired San Juan Generating Station--as the Supremes ordered--was in the interest of ratepayers. Mona Blaber of the Rio Grande Chapter of the Sierra Club argues it is:

What ETA opponents won't tell you is that their alternative — to try to disallow some of PNM’s investments in San Juan that the PRC already approved — would not save customers any more than the ETA.

Yes, rates might go up — but those rate increases would happen whether the ETA were implemented or not. Rates might also remain lower, but things like building replacement power will add to them. However, that would happen regardless of whether the stranded costs were financed by the ETA or any other scenario.

. . .The ETA ensures that instead of customers paying PNM a 10% profit on its investments in San Juan, customers pay off that stranded debt at 3%. That represents a significant savings, even with $40 million in recovery funds for workers. . .The ETA financing allows PNM to recover its principal, but PNM shareholders lose that 10% rate of return.

. . .The Sierra Club opposed PNM's version of the ETA in 2018 because it didn't do enough for ratepayers, workers or the climate. They negotiated the 2019 legislation so ratepayers would see about the same savings as in the likely best-case PRC outcome--a 50% split between ratepayers and shareholders. . .

. . . .Your diatribe about environmentalists caring only about “saving the world”. . . at the cost of consumers is misguided, given the current market for electricity sources.

Reader Jim McClure argues that PNM customers will see rising bills to pay for the renewable energy mandated by ETA:

Joe, it’s worth noting that part of the PRC’s charter is to protect consumers. Legislators and the governor--who crafted the ETA--are under no such obligation. That’s going to be a challenge because the PRC also is obligated to keep utilities solvent. When PNM invests billions in renewable energy required by the ETA, it will recover those costs through higher rates. If anyone believes utility rates will go down, I have some land in Rio Communities I’d like to sell.


Reader Andrew Knight defends ABQ Dem State Senator Jacob Candelaria whose attacks on the PRC and his role in passing the ETA we questioned:

The sad fact is that Senator Candelaria’s description of those particular PRC commissioners is accurate, and anyone who has worked closely with the PRC over the past few years knows that. 

While I am no fan of PNM, their decision to shut down one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases in North America involved significant risk to their bottom line, and needs to be supported and applauded, not punished. As someone who has been intimately involved in analyzing and approving the costs for the decommissioning of San Juan, I can assure you the ETA does not "give away the store" to PNM, not by a long shot. 

The ratepayers will be fine. It is the workers and miners in Farmington that we should be most concerned about and the ETA provides a lot of real help for them.

One does wonder about those coal miners, many of them Navajo. While the ETA provides $40 million for retraining and other assistance it seems unlikely that they will find comparable jobs.

A local government study says closing San Juan and the San Juan Mine will mean $105 million in lost wages and about 1,500 lost jobs. The average salary is $86,000 a year and the average worker is 47 years old.

Energy production is the raison d'etre for San Juan County's economy. Its population loss in the last decade is due almost entirely to the crash in natural gas prices. There were no replacement jobs, and that will probably be the case when San Juan is shuttered in 2022.

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