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Thursday, March 19, 2020

NM CONFRONTS CRISIS: FURTHER LOCKDOWN ORDER CRIPPLES ECONOMY AS GOVERNMENT WRESTLES WITH CORONAVIRUS AND OIL CRASH; STATE REVENUES TO CRUMBLE; SPECIAL LEGISLATIVE SESSION "INEVITABLE"; GOVERNOR IS STERN: "STAY HOME"; ABQ MAYOR DECLARES EMERGENCY 

Gov. MLG (Journal)
FRIDAY NIGHT UPDATE:

LATEST: Here's where we're at as of Friday night. According to the state, there are 43 confirmed cases of coronavirus and no deaths in NM. Also, only 3 of those stricken have needed hospitalization. The rest are self-isolating at home. That's from state Human Services spokeswoman Jodi McGinnis Porter. She also tells me that we still have only one case of "community spread." The other cases are related to travel.

Also, we get this from Socorro County Manager Michael Hawkes about the two cases of the virus reported recently in his county:

"The two cases in Socorro County have been released from quarantine and state they are feeling fine and their symptoms were very mild."

It is still early in this outbreak but the hospitalization rate is low. Zero deaths is especially good news. The feared community spread remains at that one case.

It is important to report that the state is urging everyone to continue to stay home and only venture out when necessary. That is the most effective way of stopping the spread and protecting you and your family.

The state of New Mexico plunged further into crisis Wednesday as more unprecedented actions were taken to halt the spread of the coronavirus, actions that will dramatically disrupt the daily lives of over 2 million people and that could inflict the most severe economic damage here since the Great Depression.

(MLG news conference here. AP coverage here. Journal coverage here. Sun-News coverage here. New Mexican coverage here.)

Tens of thousands of New Mexicans were immediately thrown out of work and the survival of an untold number of businesses placed in jeopardy as the state ordered the closure of all indoor shopping malls, restaurants, theaters, including movie theaters and bars and breweries. Also shuttered effective today are racetracks, gyms, spas and flea markets. Offices are ordered to have as many employees work from home as possible. Hotels and motels are ordered to operate at 50 percent of occupancy. Gatherings of more than 10 people are banned.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of other businesses have voluntarily shuttered as state residents hunker down in their homes, obeying the state's request that no one leave except for basic necessities.

In New York, the stock of PNM, the state’s largest electric utility and its only company listed on the NYSE, buckled. In another day of stunning and stomach-churning trading, PNM plummeted as low as $27 before finishing at $31 a share, down 15% in a single day and far below the yearly high of $56. The crash signaled the pain to come for the economy here. Adding insult to injury PNM announced one of its employees had contracted the coronavirus.

The sweeping, breathtaking state mandates, so foreign to a democratically ruled people, were announced by New Mexican Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham at a news conference at the state capital of Santa Fe where she repeatedly expressed chagrin over the economic calamity they would cause but sternly defended them as necessary to protect the public from the feared killer virus that has traveled rapidly across the globe.

She asserted, without offering examples, that "there are still far too many New Mexicans coming into contact with one another. We take that very seriously."

Panic has gripped much of the public. New Mexico, like other states, has been beset with the hoarding of groceries, a gun and ammunition buying spree and desperate motorists forming long lines outside of coronavirus test sites. 

As of today, 28 cases of the virus have been confirmed in NM but no deaths. However, one case is now thought to be unrelated to travel and the result of the feared "community spread" which could generate more cases.

The low mortality rate from the virus and the severe measures taken by the government to halt it has led some citizens on social media and talk radio to say it is an overreaction and unnecessarily panicking the public and wrecking the economy. 

"This is an overreaction. The mortality rate of this virus is one percent. We're jumping the shark," declared radio talker Eddy Aragon as he and his ABQ radio audience reacted to the announced restrictions.

Overall, criticism of the latest emergency order was muted. Carla Sonntag, head of the New Mexico Business Coalition, was restrained in assessing the events:

We don't need to live in fear. China hit its peak virus cases pretty quickly. The number of cases is not astronomical. I, like many others, question whether these restrictions are absolutely necessary, but we are not doctors or scientists. I will abide by the Governor's orders and urge others to do the same.

Sonntag predicted widespread business bankruptcies if the state restrictions are extended much beyond the initial end date of April 10 set by the state.

Previously the Governor ordered the closure of all public schools until April 6 but there is doubt surrounding their planned resumption this school year.

While the Governor and Dept. of Health have wielded unprecedented power in this crisis, it is so vast that the question arises of who would enforce violations. Also, punishing citizens could be seen as trying to enforce a form of martial law. Perilous territory. For now, most citizens appeared willing to follow this new world order, their concern over contracting the virus trumping any concerns over their government's powers.

DATELINE ALBUQUERQUE 

Mayor Keller wasted no time in exercising the freshly-minted emergency powers given to him this week by the ABQ city council. He quickly declared a "public health emergency." (video here)

In making the announcement he addressed fears that the new legislation would allow him to confiscate guns or halt alcohol sales. It does neither, he explained, saying the primary purpose for the declaration was to give him more flexibility in freeing up financial resources to address the coronavirus threat.

The mayor made the announcement via a video from city hall. That drew fire from journalists who felt Keller should have stood for questions over his unusual action. And the ACLU said the mayor and council misfired in adopting the legislation, saying it looked like an "overreach."

GETTING SPECIAL

Top finance officials in the New Mexico government are saying a special session of the Legislature this year appears "inevitable." State revenues are set to dramatically crumble because of the crash in oil prices and the coronavirus threat that is wreaking economic chaos. In a somber discussion conducted on background we were told:

--The state budget reserve is a robust $1.9 billon but only about $300 million of that can be tapped without legislative approval. The state expects to burn through that $300 million in short order.

--Only a very quick rebound in the price of oil will avert a special session. The state is counting on an oil price of $51 a barrel for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The current price is in the low 20's. Each dollar drop represents a loss of about $22 million to the $7.6 billion general fund budget.

--There is no timetable for the special session. Sometime in late summer or early fall is possible. The Governor will make the call on the timing.

--Any special session can also be expected to include discussion of possible tax relief, economic stimulus and possible budget cuts as New Mexico wrestles with yet another energy bust. Much would depend on the state of the economy when the session convenes.

Santa Fe has essentially given up on a "V"shaped recovery in the oil price, where it rebounds to previous high levels in a matter of weeks. They are expecting a classic bear market in which prices stay down for many months. That is the scenario threatening the budget.

In the last two years the state budget has gone from
$6 billion to $7.6 billion, riding on the back of the oil boom. That increase came after 10 years of austerity brought about by the 2008 Great Recession. Now we are headed back down--unless the dynamic starts to turn. For example, Saudi Arabia and Russia could reach a deal to halt their oil price war, letting prices recover.

But even if the price increases the volume of production that has skyrocketed to make NM the third largest oil producing state in America is going to be cut. Low price and low volumes--another double whammy.

The oil boom is centered in the SE NM Permian Basin where drilling is already slowing as a result of the world economic calamity. Thousands are employed there. The job losses could be staggering.

MLG and the Legislature have been happily surfing the wave for two years. Now they are going to crash. The swim to shore will be long and hard.


NO BS

Erickson
When the times get tough, we get going--to our posse of "No Bull Shit Economists." Chris Erickson of NMSU is a charter member (what an honor!) and he comes with the no BS take:

With oil at $20 a barrel, the NM Fracking Boom is over. Fracking has resulted in a revolution in the oil patch. Frack wells both produce more oil and over a longer period of time. And the productivity of individual frack wells drilled in New Mexico has increased every year from 2005 to 2017. Geological factors significantly affect cost, but for new wells, $40 a barrel is a commonly cited rule-of-thumb for profitability. With oil in the 20's, we will see a dramatic drop in drilling, meaning rapid decline in oil patch employment. Of course, existing wells will continue to produce and will generate revenue for the state, probably at levels above the pre-fracking average, but well below the current record revenue generated during the last few years.

We'll play it by ear to see whether the news dictates we come out of our isolation bunker for a Friday blog. Meanwhile, REM takes us out of here because, at least for now, it really is "the end of the world as you know it."

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (newsguy@yahoo.com)

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here. 

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2020

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

NM Schools: Done For The Year? Plus: Economic Pain Already Here; Service Sector Slammed, And: Keller With New Staff Chief 

New Mexico schools were ordered shut down for three weeks because of the coronavirus threat but a veteran state educator tells us that the state Public Education Department is preparing for the possibility that the kids will not come back at all this school year which runs through the end of May.

The predictions are that the coronavirus will peak in about three weeks, around April 6, when classes are supposed to resume. But the virus case count could be much higher then and there could be more hospitalizations. In that event parents are not going to want to send their children back to school and that would necessitate closing them for the year. Of course, if the virus has diminished classes could start back up.

Our educator adds that the PED is looking at a contingency that centers on making up the lost class time over the summer. The state mandates a certain amount of credits for students to advance and lost credits will have to be made up. He says an accelerated summer schedule is one plan to achieve that.

Meantime, an ABQ Public Schools official tells us the schools are being deep-cleaned while closed. A combination of bleach and water is being used on surfaces and rooms are also being fumigated to get at what germs remain.

THE ECONOMIC PAIN

Before all is said and done the economic pain caused by the pandemic may be greater than the suffering inflicted by the disease. Already NM restaurants are trimming hours or closing, forcing layoffs and throwing people onto the unemployment and Medicaid rolls. And that's just after only a week of stress.

The fallout from a multi-month lockdown could send the state sinking into a deep recession something only comparable to the 1930's Great Depression. And don't forget the collapsing oil prices. Those alone could push us towards a significant slowdown, if they persist for months.

Restaurant experts say permanent closures/bankruptcies could accelerate after as little as one month of lockdown since many of them operate on very thin margins. The mom and pop retail shops are also in the firing line as well as an assortment of other service sector businesses that have been emptied of customers who are hunkering down in their homes.

The President is proposing a massive $1 trillion relief package. The Governor's office says some aid has already arrived:

The state has qualified for the Small Business Administration (SBA) Disaster Loan Assistance program to assist businesses negatively impacted by the COVID-19 public health emergency. . .The SBA is offering low-interest federal disaster loans up to $2M for working capital to small businesses and non-profit organizations suffering substantial economic injury. . .The interest rate is 3.75% for small businesses without credit available elsewhere; businesses with credit available elsewhere are not eligible. The interest rate for non-profits is 2.75%.

If the lockdown persists, businesses here will suck up every penny of loan money available to stay afloat. The Federal Reserve has lowered its key interest rate to zero, how about zero percent SBA loans?

American policy makers have made a tremendous gamble, predicting that the virus would result in a massive number of deaths if the lockdown was not enacted. The verdict on that is not yet in, but the economic recession that is poised to engulf the state and nation is right in front of us--at the restaurants, dry cleaners and hotels.

STATE BRIEFING

MLG and other officials will provide an update today on state government activity regarding the coronavirus. It is scheduled for noon and will be live streamed here. Dept. of Health coronavirus information is here.
.
TRY. TRY AGAIN

Puelle
ABQ Mayor Keller has a new addition on the 11th Floor. He has hired as Chief of Staff 53 year old Michael Puelle, formerly CEO and lobbyist for Associated General Contractors (AGC) New Mexico.

Among other things, Puelle will "manage and direct the day-to-day operations of the Office of Mayor, supervising a number of areas including public affairs, constituent services, communication, intergovernmental relations. . .

Before AGC Puelle worked with the Setter Group, known for its lobbying on behalf of Native American pueblos.

Puelle replaces government affairs veteran Santiago Chavez as Chief of Staff, making him the third one to hold the post. Maybe the third time is the charm. As for his salary. the Mayor's office did not respond to a request for that info.

Sarita Nair remains Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) for the city, the position mandated by the City Charter to supervise the overall daily affairs of government, including APD.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (newsguy@yahoo.com)

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here. 

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2019

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Looking For A Silver Lining In The Latest NM Coronavirus Count, Plus: Health Dept. Confirms All Cases So Far Rooted In Out-Of-State Travel, And: MLG'Gets Feisty With Prez And Ben Ray's Quarantine 

Amid the avalanche of bad news that belligerently inserts itself into your every waking moment, it's time to look for at least one silver lining. And here it is. . .

The number of NM coronavirus cases is now 21. The silver lining? There have been no reported deaths from the virus. Also, we've confirmed with the state that all the cases thus far are rooted in out of state travel and not the feared community spread. Jodi McGinnis Porter is the public information officer with the Department of Health:

We’re working around the clock to be accurate, consistent and expeditious in the information we are reporting. Thus far all of our positive COVID-19 cases are travel related and we have not reached community spread. We’re all in this together and New Mexicans need to stay home, don’t leave unless its absolutely necessary and purchase only what the need at the grocery store. We have a few patients that are hospitalized and the rest are self-isolated at home.

(The number of cases went to 23 Tuesday. A Taos County man in his 50's and a Santa Fe County man in his 40's both tested positive for the virus.)

There are several patients in their 20's and 30s and those, say health experts, are the least susceptible to becoming seriously ill from the virus.

The virus is planted most firmly in Bernalillo County, the state's most populous, with 14 cases or 67 percent of the total. Sandoval, Santa Fe and Socorro counties also have confirmed cases COVID-19

1,270 New Mexicans have been tested for the virus resulting in the aforementioned 21 cases. That's an infection rate of 1.65 percent of those tested. The DOH posts coronavirus updates here.

GETTING FEISTY

President Trump seems to have a hard time getting along with New Mexico's Governors. He never did take to fellow Republican Susna Martinez who held back her affections. Now he's getting a sample of the feistiness of Gov. MLG:

MLG bluntly urged President Trump during a conference call Monday to provide more help for states struggling to expand their testing capacity as the coronavirus sweeps the globe, according to summaries released by her staff and national media reports. The New York Times, which obtained a recording of the call, reported that Lujan Grisham and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee reacted angrily after Trump told a group of governors to try getting respirators and other equipment on their own, rather than waiting for the federal government to fill the growing demand. “If one state doesn’t get the resources and materials they need, the entire nation continues to be at risk,” Lujan Grisham said. 

The Prez got off easy. She could have gone to DC and crashed through his door. Now send those respirators over to the Sunport.

VP Biden says he is going to name a woman as his running mate so predictably MLG is getting some pundit mention, albeit a little far down the list.

BEN RAY QUARANTINE

The US Senate campaign went dark in New Mexico Monday, at least on the Democratic side. US Rep. Ben Ray Lujan came with this bit of an eyebrow raiser:

 Luján. . .announced plans to self-quarantine after a brief interaction with an individual who was at the time asymptomatic but later tested positive for COVID-19. Congressman Luján is exhibiting no symptoms, and health professionals have advised that the congressman is at a low probability for infection. He first learned of the individual's diagnosis Sunday afternoon. Still, out of an abundance of caution for the health and safety of the public, the congressman has chosen to self-quarantine.

In his latest fund-raising letter Lujan is asking for green chile and homemade enchiladas for his long quarantine.

GOP ROSTER

GOP Chair Pearce
The state GOP did a pretty good job of fielding candidates for the 2020 legislative races, reporting:

The Party will have legislative candidates in a record 101 races. The slate includes 47 candidates in 41 Senate races, and 66 candidates in 60 House races; the slate has the most legislative candidates RPNM has had in decades. It includes 46 women, African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics and foster parents.

Depending on the environment in November the R's just might take back a couple of the many House seats they lost in the 2018 landslide they suffered at the hands of the Dems.

MOODY'S MOOD

The goal of SB72, approved by the Legislature and signed by the Governor, is to put the PERA fund for government employees on the path to covering 100 percent of the fund's future pension liabilities. But that path will be walked for a long, long time.

Even after the reforms, credit rating company Moody's says 100 percent funding is not in the cards for "the foreseeable future." That could mean state employees and the state will continue to be asked to increase contributions to the fund and that some benefits could be trimmed as the cost of living adjustments were this year--if the 100 percent goal is maintained. Moody's, which has been pushing 100 percent funding, rates SB72 a  "credit positive event." Their full take is on page 34 of their report.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (newsguy@yahoo.com)

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here. 

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2020

Monday, March 16, 2020

NM Primary Heads To The Mailboxes; State Will Push Heavy Early Voting Amid Coronavirus, Plus: No Rural NM Cases—Yet And Virus Is An Economic Back Breaker  

SOS MTO
Initial indications are there will be no major disruption of New Mexico's June 2 primary election--virus or no virus---but the state will push hard to dramatically increase mail-in ballots in response to the virus threat.

Health experts are uncertain how long the coronavirus pandemic will last. Most put it in a range of "several weeks to several months." If correct, that gives New Mexico some breathing room.

We asked Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver where things stand today:

For now we are focused on a heavy push toward absentee balloting. We will be opening up the online portal to accept applications starting next week. As for what we will do with in-person polling locations, that’s still under consideration. But we are working with the Governor’s office and county clerks to figure out the best and safest path forward.

Absentee ballots are not unpopular but have been overshadowed by the advent of early in-person voting where voters have several weeks to cast ballots at numerous voting locations before the official Election Day.

Usually about at least half of an election's total vote and sometimes much more is cast before the actual election day. The challenge for the SOS, Bernalillo County Clerk Linda Stover and other clerks across the state is to begin educating voters to adopt absentee voting and reduce in-person voting as much as possible in case the coronavirus lingers into mid-May when early voting begins.

Political consultants are getting ready to join the early push to get voters to cast mail-in ballots. Several  expect to see some of the big name races begin paid media earlier than usual and urge an early mail vote.

There's also the issue of campaign rallies and other voter contact. It will be curtailed until there is more clarity over the virus. The consultants look for social media to pick up some of the slack. This will be a big change to New Mexican politics where personal contact has been a cornerstone of election campaigns.

The most impoprtant job for the SOS and county clerks is to preserve the integrity of the election. This year that means acting early so there is no election postponement or adoption of any measures that cast suspicion on the results. In other words, giving us an election as close to normal as possible in these abnormal times.

THE COUNT

As of Sunday night the coronavirus count in the state was 17 with rural New Mexico still dodging the bullet. Two of the cases have been reported in Socorro County, but one of our Senior Alligators reports the cases are in Veguita near Belen which can be considered a part of the ABQ Metro. Our source also reports that another two cases in Bernalillo County are related to the Socorro County cases. All four victims are from the same family that recently traveled to Egypt and returned with the virus. Two of those stricken live in BernCo.

The other counties showing cases are Santa Fe and Sandoval.

Are all 17 cases reported the result of travel out of the state? Apparently. The state has not said in recent updates the origins of the latest cases as they did in initial updates. If they are all due to travel, the dreaded “community spread” of the disease has not yet taken hold here. We are awaiting definitive word on this from state officials.

The absence of cases in rural New Mexico could end at anytime but the absence is a relief to those living in the hundreds of small towns and villages where low population density and less frequent out of state travel may be aiding in preventing spread of the virus.

A BACK BREAKER

Coronavirus is a back breaker for the state economy. We may already be in a recession. MLG is trying to reach a balance in keeping New Mexicans safe but not adding more than necessary to the economic misery. So instead of a complete closure of the thousands of restaurants and bars in New Mexico her administration has opted for this:

Restaurants and bars are being ordered to operate at no greater than 50% occupancy — and no more than 50% of seating capacity — beginning at 9 a.m. Monday as state officials try to stem the spread of COVID-19. (The order) also prohibits the establishments from seating more than six people at tables and booths, and it mandates that all occupied tables and booths be separated by at least 6 feet. Also, patrons will no longer be allowed to be seated at bars, and they can’t be served if they’re standing.

Some readers disagreed with us when we urged younger New Mexicans to continue to patronize the bars and restaurants in part to keep the economy at least on life support. Medical experts say the young are much less susceptible to falling seriously ill from the virus. Reader Richard came with this:

Physicians and epidemiologists, i.e. the people with expertise in this area, are begging people to practice social distancing. We are running about ten days behind Italy so we are about to run out of time to slow transmission of this virus down (flatten the curve) before it swamps our health care system. Encouraging young people to behave in a way so as to spread this disease around more and faster in order to keep the economy going is very short sighted and will result in a much higher death toll. 

With the new distancing rule for bars and restaurants taking effect today and so many citizens deciding on their own not to go out, the right balance appears to be struck with the state decision. And we hope that the young and healthy continue to enjoy their lives by enjoying their favorite places.

A complete shutdown would demolish the tourist industry and cost tens of thousands of New Mexicans their jobs. Prudent measures, not panic, can prevent an immense amount of economic pain as well as save lives.

SCHOOL IS OUT

The shuttering of all public schools beginning today and lasting at least three weeks has been the most painful and potentially politically explosive decision MLG had made during the virus crisis. Providing enough child care for those with working parents will be nearly impossible. The state has come with a wide variety of assistance to alleviate what is sure to be difficult times for many families. You can view that here.

MEDIA BEAT

The AP is putting this or a version of it in every story it puts out about the coronavirus. It's worth remembering as we consume the daily news during this time:

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority of people recover.

THE BOTTOM LINES


Martha Burk, long active in NM and national politics, is out with a new book for the election season. Here’s some info from Amazon on "Your Voice Your Vote"

In a presidential election year. . . it is more important than ever for women voters to be educated and informed about issues that affect them deeply. Your Voice, Your Vote 2020–21 Edition is a manifesto for every woman voter and for male voters who care about the women in their lives. Martha Burk empowers the reader to cut through the double talk, irrelevancies, and false promises, and focuses directly on what's at stake for women. . .Written from a nonpartisan viewpoint, Dr. Burk lays out the records of both the Democratic and Republican parties as well as their platforms. .

Topics include health care, pay equity, reproductive rights and violence against women.

There will be a book signing for Burk at the Stetson Law Offices 1305 Rio Grande Blvd. NW at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 29.

Burk and her husband live near Santa Fe.

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

E-mail your news and comments. (newsguy@yahoo.com)

Interested in reaching New Mexico's most informed audience? Advertise here. 

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2019

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