Thursday, May 07, 2020

DC Still Holds Cards In State Budget Crisis, Permanent Fund Dance Between MLG And Smith, Plus: Food Tax Comeback? Latest Campaign Action And Thanks, JetBlue 

The Santa Fe bean counters didn't surprise anyone when they predicted this week that  the double whammy of the coronavirus shutdown and the collapse in oil prices will blow a hole in the New Mexico budget the size of the Grand Canyon. New Mexicans know that. What they want and need to know is how the state climbs out of that hole and who and what programs suffer to accomplish the goal.

If you've been there you know that climbing out of the Grand Canyon can be exhilarating, a bit harrowing and a test of your stamina. And there are a number of ways to the top. Same for this budget hole.

The least challenging way out is in DC where a $500 billion budget-plugging bill for the states remains stalled. Really, until this mammoth bailout plan is resolved New Mexico is stuck. Approval could mean something along the lines of $2 billion, an amount that when combined with state reserves could still mean budget cuts but much less painful.

The other trail out is for Congress to simply allow the money already sent to the states to deal with corona ($1.250 billion to NM and $150 million to ABQ) to be redirected for budget purposes. That money is currently restricted to coronavirus issues. Officials are lobbying furiously to have the change made.

If either of those lifelines fails to come then the state is going to have a serious debate about tapping the $18 billion Land Grant Permeant Fund, a debate which thanks to the Governor is already underway.

For now it appears there is no deal between MLG and Senator John Arthur Smith, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. He says:

“I still don’t think it’s responsible. I fully understand the desire to try and rob Peter to pay Paul, but I think there are other things that can be done between now and then." . . . His main concern was that dipping into the fund for one fiscal year could open the door to continuing to draw from it again and again. 

Okay, but remember Smith did vote in committee several years ago to tap the Permanent Fund. The money would have been devoted to K thru12 education. We don't think this tap dance between Smith and MLG is over, not if these immense shortfalls predicted (around $2 billion for the budget year that starts July 1) come to fruition.


One of the more dreaded taxes---the one on food--was long ago repealed but it may make a comeback during this emergency. There are rumblings of reinstating the tax which is a big revenue generator. But how do you do it when so many will be jobless or under employed?  Do you argue that most of them will get food stamps so the food tax will not impact them and give a tax deduction to low income families who do pay the tax?

How would New Mexico feel about that? There are booby traps being set all over the place for this Governor and her Democratic Party.


Chase and Herrell
Yvette Herrell and Claire Chase are fighting about Claire's personal life as the campaign for the southern GOP congressional nomination heads into the lowlands.

Did Yvette accuse Claire of cheating on her first husband? Did the twice-divorced Yvette help put out a piece about it? She denies it. Claire says she should get out of the race for her deed. Yvette says she won't. And so it goes. This when the state is mired in the worst emergency in memory? Sometimes modern politics is just disconnected.

GOP US Senate candidate Mark Ronchetti seems to be disconnecting from President Turmp a bit, even after he has defended himself against charges form his opponents that he is a Never Trumper.

In his first TV spot for the June 2 primary, Ronchetti says the Senate needs an outsider who "will stand with the president to strengthen and rebuild our economy."

That's not enough for the pro-Trumper. Ronchetti’s campaign says:

Mark has made it abundantly clear that he stands with President Trump and what he’s doing for New Mexico. In the ad, Mark states that he stands with the president and lays out his positive vision for helping small businesses, cracking down on China, and securing our borders.

Ronchetti's foes are under financed, Elisa Martinez woefully so. She doesn't have money for TV. Gavin Clarkson has enough for a small buy and is going up this week. Ronchetti had over $500,000 in cash on hand at the end of March.

The Dem nominee will be Rep. Ben Ray Lujan. The race is ranked "likely Democrat" by the Cook Poltical Report.

Reader and Dem activist Michael Folsom calls State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg "a backstabber" for endorsing Bernadette Sanchez over incumbent Dem BernCo Treasurer Nancy Bearce in the June primary. "This guy makes me sick. I've given him my last vote," declares Folsom.

Sanchez is a former ABQ westwside state senator. She is also endorsed by former NM first lady Clara Apodaca and former Ambassador to Spain and old line Democrat Ed Romero. Eichenberg says Sanchez is "honest and hardworking.”


From the WSJ:

JetBlue Flight 65 flew from New York to Albuquerque, N.M., with only seven passengers on board on April 21. There was no good reason to operate the nonstop flight—except for who was booked on the return trip.

Six passengers total. But all of them were medical professionals going from New Mexico to New York to help with coronavirus response. Once JetBlue’s operations team learned who the passengers were, the airline decided it shouldn’t cancel the 200-passenger Airbus A321. Flight 66, the return to New York’s Kennedy Airport, was flagged as a high priority/care flight to air-traffic controllers.

The airline has announced that it is giving away 100,000 pairs of round-trip flights to health care workers across the country when it is finally time for them to take a vacation.

You can call that rising (or flying) to the occasion.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2020

MLG Pops Possibility Of Permanent Fund Dollars For Budget Relief; Plus: MLG Looking Ahead? Senior Gator Analysis On What The Guv May Be Up To  

Sánchez Saturno/The New Mexican
What's she trying do? Send the hawks into cardiac arrest?

MLG stunned the crowd Tuesday as she opined that she is open to taking money from the state's $18 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund and using it to plug a budget hole that could be as much as $2 billion. As antithetical as that may sound to the fiscal right, there could be a deal brewing. But first. . .

The Fund, started at statehood, has been sacrosanct to conservatives who repeatedly say it is meant to ensure stability for future generations. They add that the state gets plenty from it right now (upwards of $800 million a year) from the interest it generates. But clearly, this generation is going to be severely hurt and destabilized in the post-pandemic era. And that had MLG making this news:

. . . .The state’s multibillion-dollar Land Grant Permanent Fund, which draws fees from oil, gas and mineral extraction on state trust lands. . . would not be exempt, she said. Money from that fund is used to support a number of state initiatives, including public education. Legislators from both. . .parties have been reluctant to pull more money from the endowment for fear it could negatively impact future spending, particularly for the public school system. “I am sure there is some trepidation about doing that, but if we are going to have economic recovery … I think we can make a legitimate case that that is an appropriate use in this extraordinary emergency,” the governor said.

But MLG can't just raid the fund. To take the cash out a constitutional amendment would have to be approved by voters. If at the mid-June special legislative session the amendment were approved it would be placed on the November ballot.

One idea apparently informing the Governor's thinking is to take one percent of the fund and devote it to public education--K thru 12. That would free up close to $200 million annually that could then be used to plug the budget gap.

For years advocates for early childhood education have proposed a constitutional amendment that would devote one percent of the fund to their cause. It has been passed by the House but rejected in the Senate. Now with the state perhaps facing its worst budget crisis since the Depression, budget hawks like Senator John Arthur Smith, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, might bite at the K-12 amendment but not the one for early childhood.

Insiders say  the American Federation of Teachers NM is pushing the K-12 plan, similar to one they backed a number of years ago and that won a sympathetic ear from Smith.

The chairman has a progressive challenger in the June primary but was recently endorsed by the AFT-NM, leaving progressives puzzled. Now the pieces are starting to fit.

Also, taking money from the fund could dampen calls for tax increases to resolve the deficit, another issue near and dear to the conservatives. And it would shut out early childhood advocates who Smith has come to resent and whose amendment he has opposed.

Smith backed away from the Permanent Fund plan when asked Wednesday:

“I still don’t think it’s responsible,” said Sen. John Arthur Smith, the Senate Finance Committee chairman who has long blocked efforts to access the fund. “I fully understand the desire to try and rob Peter to pay Paul, but I think there are other things that can be done between now and then.”

Smith, D-Deming, said his main concern was that dipping into the fund for one fiscal year could open the door to continuing to draw from it again and again. He added that’s likely since legislators expect the current economic downturn to last a considerable amount of time.

He also said the current shortfall is so large it requires a more complex response than just tapping permanent funds and reserves

We've blogged that some think constitutional amendments can only be considered during "regular" sessions of the Legislature, but that does not apparently cover the Governor placing such an amendment on her call for the special and having it considered by lawmakers.

In any event, there is still the idea that federal coronavirus money awarded to the state could be used to fill the budget hole, even though that money is earmarked for virus relief. And then there are the state's huge reserves of $1.9 billion that can be drawn down.

The problem for the budget year that starts July 1 is a biggie, but the mother of all gaps could be for the year that starts July 2021. It all depends on oil prices, what kind of economic recovery we get and whether DC approves a bill directly appropriating money to help out with state budget deficits.


Every New Mexico Governor since Gary Johnson in 1995 has set their sights on higher office. All have come up empty-handed. So what about Gov. Lujan Grisham? Well, according to this Senior Alligator she appears to have joined that list of governors. It's an interesting take:

It’s clear that she’s seeking to get her name mentioned for VP.  Recent articles on CNN and elsewhere by people with ties to New Mexico and former Gov. Bill Richardson point to that. There’s little chance she’ll get selected. Her attributes really don’t help Biden with any swing states,  The real catch for MLG would be Secretary of the Health and Human Services Department. The HHS position is a chance to hold the nation’s most important public health job. Public health is where she started and where she considers herself an expert.

There’s a reason that Neera Tanden, former Clinton advisor and head of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress came to New Mexico to visit MLG twice in 2019. It wasn’t to sample the chile.

Was she really enjoying being Governor before the pandemic? MLG’s 2019 was nothing to write home about. She looked frustrated and disappointed in staff/cabinet secretaries that never could move quickly enough. After basking in record oil and gas revenues, the next couple of years will undoubtedly be a slog through an economic nightmare. Similar to her approach to Congress, once MLG figured out she can’t bend the legislature to her will and it’s not that much fun, the fight gets less appealing and it’s on to the next fight.

But MLG shouldn't start calling her travel agent. First, Biden would have to beat Trump in November and then she would have to emerge as a leading HHS contender. No small chores.

As for Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, keep studying your briefing books, Howie--just in case.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2020

NM Warms To Mail Voting In Early Primary Going; Nearly 10 Percent Of Eligible Voters Request Absentee Applications, Plus: Big Spending To Stop Big Change; Chevron PAC Protecting Conservative Dem Senators. 

New Mexico appears to be warming to the idea of a mostly all mail primary election. The Secretary of State reports so far 91,298 voters have requested absentee ballots and they will be dropped in the mail starting today.

There are 985,000 major party voters eligible to vote in the June primary (Dems, R's and Libertarians) so those 91 thousand requests amount to nearly 10 percent of all eligible voters.

Statewide voter registration stats are here.

Voters who have not requested absentee applications won't have to do so on their own. Last week the SOS started mailing out applications to all eligible voters per the order of the NM Supreme Court. That's due to the coronavirus and the goal of having as many votes as possible cast by mail.

There will still be early-person voting at convenience centers starting in mid-May and Election day voting on June 2 but the number of polling places will be restricted and social distancing will be required. The first in-person BernCo absentee voting begins today at the Clerk’s Annex on 15th and Lomas NW from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m and continues through May 15.

As expected, those requesting absentees thus far lean Dem. In big BernCo County Clerk Linda Stover will today begin mailing 31,616 ballots to Dems and 8.935 to R's.

Turnout is somewhat unpredictable this year. The campaigns have been barely noticeable as the virus eats up the media time, plus there are only a handful of interesting races. R's can probably count on about 25 percent of their eligible voters to turn out or about 95,000. If the Dems get to 25 percent their turnout would be around 145,000.

The turnout drop will be significant for the Dems compared to 2016 when they had an exciting presidential primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Not so this year as Joe Biden is the last man standing for the D Prez nod. And the  R's will simply ratify Trump.

With every voting household getting an absentee application the number of those who will request a ballot is the great unknown. For sure, the campaigns that are set up to track and contact voters going the absentee route will be best prepared for this most unusual of elections.


It's a handful of contested Democratic state Senate races that are the highlight of this primary season. And big money is coming to play.

NM Strong PAC has been formed by oil giant Chevron and it's on a spending spree to boost conservative Dem senators facing progressive Democratic primary challengers. Chief among them is Deming Senator John Arthur Smith, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, who is getting a stiff challenge from educator and progressive Neomi Martinez Parra. If Smith were to be ousted from his seat the political ramifications for the state would be far-reaching.

Chevron has TV ads up that are being seen across the state, despite the fact that the senate primaries could be decided by as few as 6,000 votes. And the ads are emphasizing the votes of Smith that are more palatable to the left wing of the party, like teacher pay raises. They also prominently feature Smith pictured with Governor MLG as they work to cash in on her appeal with Dems. We have obtained a copy of that ad and it's  posted here

Basically the same ad is airing in support of Senator Clemente Sanchez of Grants who is also a part of what is known as the Senate Conservative Coalition. The use of MLG is notable because it is the conservative Dem senators who have joined with the R's to block the more liberal aspects of her agenda. Now they are embracing her to save their skins.

Eric Griego of the NM Working Families Party opposing the conservative senators says Chevron has so far put $350,000 into the PAC and is also putting out mailers that mimic the TV.

The ads are high quality and appear persuasive to the casual voter. Combined with the inability of the challengers to campaign in person or equal the Chevron spending, it puts them in a tough spot in the final weeks of Primary '16.


Now that Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth has announced the Senate, unlike the House, will not conduct a virtual session and will appear in person at the Roundhouse for a June special session, those concerned that the virus is not being taken seriously enough come forth. One of them is reader John Rey:

What part of Stay Home does Wirth not understand? Is he exercising his huevos as leader? Well, if he is we need another leader. Because of my compromised immune system i am forced to stay home and only go out at my peril, but when I do leave the house I’m amazed at the number of people out and about like corona is a myth. Maybe Wirth should have the legislature’s meeting in Gallup, so he can see the virus’s affect first hand.

The stay at home order could well be expired by June so Wirth and his colleagues probably have that in mind in rejecting a virtual session. But with the status of the virus unpredictable, how the Senate will meet might be a moving target.

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Monday, May 04, 2020

Virus Tests Talked Up For Senators For Special Session; A Coronavirus Misstep For MlG, BernCo DA Spokesman Fired Over Domestic Violence Case; Big Bill Steps Up During Corona Crisis 

Sen. Wirth
Majority Leader Peter Wirth says it is the state Senate's decision to convene in person and to reject a virtual special session. That raises questions about the health and well-being of the 42 member body and whether the senators should be tested for the coronavirus before rambling around the Roundhouse in mid-June to deal with the state budget crisis.

The issue is especially relevant because individuals in their 70's an 80's have shown the most vulnerability to the virus and the Senate has a fair share of members in that demographic.

They include Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith who turns 79 in July and Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, the chamber's oldest member, at 88. Senate Minority Leader Stu Ingle is 72. ABQ Senator Bill Tallman is 79. Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino is 77. Senator Pat Woods is 71 and Senator Bobby Gonzales is near 70.

The virus could abate more before the special, but health experts say the risk will benaround for months if not years. That’s all the more reason for the Senate to test its members before the session, isolate anyone stricken with the virus and keeping the session short and sweet.

Speaker Egolf tells us the House will convene at the start of the special to change the rules so it can meet in virtual session. He says plans call for having members enter the House one at a time to cast their votes after a meeting of the Rules Committee on the House floor. After the rules change members would then attend the session remotely from a location of their choosing.

The House is a much younger body than the Senate but in this case is exercising more caution. The Senate, traditionally more recalcitrant, is not bending on an in-person session.


MLG has earned high grades for her coronavirus performance but she’s taking hits for what critics call a significant misstep when she decided to have her newly formed Economic Recovery Council conduct meetings behind closed doors.

The Council is arguably one of the most important advisory panels in state history as it will advise the Governor on how and when to reopen the New Mexican economy shut down because of the virus. That is the ultimate in public business that merits full transparency. Otherwise, the state risks charges of favoritism, cronyism and corruption.

Critics dismissed the Council as a panel of mostly lightweights but looked the other way as they celebrated the administration's pivot to the economy which had been getting stepchild treatment. But the closure of the council meetings is seen as a step backwards. A panel headed by a well-known and seasoned public figure such as former Governor Garrey Carruthers and a policy of open meetings would seem to be in order.


First he was placed on administrative leave now Michael Patrick, the public information officer for Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez, has been fired. That's a result of his being charged in a high-profile domestic violence case involving his wife, KOAT-TV anchor Shelly Ribando, and 8 year old daughter. Torrez's office said:

The police report, and responding officer lapel videos, revealed that Mr. Patrick failed to meet this office’s high standards and engaged in conduct unacceptable for any employee of this office.

Patrick, 50, has been charged with one count of battery after allegedly shoving Ribando to the floor during an argument. A bond arraignment is slated for May 14. The incident occurred April 14 but the APD criminal summons was not filed until Friday.

After release of lapel camera video taken at the couple's NE Heights Tanoan home, APD has been getting flack for how it investigated the case. ABQ Report covered that angle.

Although Patrick's 8 year old daughter told police that during the incident "he kinda pushed me too," Patrick was not charged with committing battery on her.

Politically this is a hot button case for Democrat Torrez who is unopposed for re-election this year in both the June primary and the November general election. However, he is widely expected to seek the 2022 Dem nomination for attorney general. How the Patrick case settles out could play a role in that contest which is expected to draw a number of Dem contenders.

Torrez says any criminal prosecution of Patrick will be conducted by an independent special prosecutor. Any hints of favoritism in handling the case of a high ranking member of his office could provide fodder for his foes. The fact that Patrick is charged with abusing one of the best known women in the state ensures the case won't be forgotten.


Bill Richardson
We get this from former Gov. Bill Richardson's Center for Global Engagement office in Santa Fe:

. . . Richardson and Actors Edward James Olmos and Danny Trejo have joined forces to create a fund to assist families in the hard hit Colonias-area of Southern New Mexico. The Governor Richardson, Olmos, Trejo COVID-19 Emergency Fund for the Southern Colonias of Doña Ana County will offer cash assistance to individuals and families. Daily life in the Colonias was challenging even before COVID-19. Many communities lack infrastructure like paved roads and functioning sewer systems. The pandemic has only increased the economic strain. . .

“The Colonias have always had a special place in my heart. . .The impact of this pandemic on the Colonias. . . has been catastrophic. We wanted to do something that provided immediate assistance to families who have been impacted by this crisis which threatens the health and the economic well-being of so many families.” Richardson said.

Donation to the Colonias fund can be made here.

Last month Richardson started a similar relief fund to boost medical supplies to the Navajo Nation. Donations to that fund can be made here.

Richardson, 72, a former UN Ambassador, served two terms as NM Governor from 2003-2011.

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