Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Los Alamos & Sandia Hit In Prez's Budget, But Do We Care As Much? Let's Take A Look, Plus: School Board Winners, And: My Bottom Lines 

"Save Los Alamos" just isn't the political rallying cry it used to be. Years of stories over security problems combined with an aloof culture that critics, including the current energy secretary, label "arrogant" has taken its toll on the storied nuclear weapons facility located "on the Hill." Sure, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) raised the flag when the President proposed a slight cut in the labs '08 budget, but with several congressmen actually calling for Los Alamos to be shut down, Energy Committee Chairman Jeff and the rest of our congressional delegation will likely be forced to swallow hard and accept at least some cuts.

The past savior of the labs, GOP Senator Pete Domenici, is now in the minority and under fire by colleagues for being too soft on Los Alamos and its sundry problems. The aforementioned culture of the labs is also not drumming up any sympathy. Public support for the facility could also be waning in light of the news that Los Alamos county has the highest concentration of millionaires in the nation. Folks have other things to worry about than a few scientists having to relocate to Harvard Yard.

Governor Richardson, a former Energy Secretary, didn't even bother to mention the proposed lab cuts in his initial analysis of the Bush budget, choosing to focus instead on a proposed four percent cut to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Granted, it's an issue that will play well for Bill on the Dem Prez trail, but it also, albeit unintentionally, seemed to capture a paradigm shift in which the axiom "what Los Alamos wants, Los Alamos gets" is being slowly but surely retired. Northern NM U.S. Rep Tom Udall dubbed the proposed cuts "unfortunate," signaling dismay, but short of the outrage that would be needed to fully reverse the cuts.


The other half of the New Mexico defense establishment, Sandia Labs in ABQ, would take a hit of $120 million to its $1.4 billion budget. Still, the energy department proposes to spend over $4 billion here in fiscal '08. That, along with other federal largesse, keeps us at the top of the list of states receiving the most federal funding per resident.

There's no denying that the feds are the key to the economy here, but the private economy has become much larger than 20 years ago, distancing a larger percentage of the population from the impact of the labs. (It was noticeable during the congressional campaign when Dem Patricia Madrid failed to work up a lather over Sandia and Kirtland Air Force Base in responding to a query by GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson and did not appear to pay any price for it.)

Sandia, with a long record of community involvement and no recent major scandals in its management, has a stronger standing with the public than Los Alamos, but it too can no longer expect to automatically escape the budget axe.

Our congressional delegation will still be expected to do heavy lifting for the labs, but the first signs of the post-Domenici, post-Bingaman era may be surfacing. New generations could start looking beyond the care taking of the feds to provide them with economic security, especially as the lab budgets come up against the strain of ever-increasing Social Security and Medicare spending. The labs won't be the only programs feeling the knife.

Ironically, right now it is war--the founding idea of the giant labs--that is hurting them. The uncertain future mission of the facilities in the new century and the immense expense of the Iraq folly is coming home to roost, not only in the immeasurable cost of human life, but in the very measurable bottom lines of Los Alamos and Sandia Labs.


The last time a major NM federal installation was seriously threatened was last year when Clovis's Cannon Air Force Base was proposed for closure. The Guv and the congressional delegation did a good job keeping Cannon alive, although with a different mission. Now comes word that the '08 federal budget is good for Cannon as it provides plenty of construction money to get the eastern NM base ready for its new mission.


In the sprawling ABQ school district Tuesday it was attorney Marty Esquivel taking an open seat on the board, securing the win with nearly 39% of the vote in a five way race. Incumbent Robert Lucero, often a lightning rod on the board, was re-elected. Dolores Griego prevailed over former State Rep. Richard Ray Sanchez to take an open seat. A proposed mill levy also passed, but fell short of 60% approval. Message to APS? Complete election results here.


From the ABQ Journal letters to the editor section comes this rib-tickler from ABQ's Jose Montoya. Commenting on John Dendahl's announcement that he would be leaving the state for Colorado, Montoya penned: "By chance does he have room for Coach Ritchie McKay in his moving fan?" And if you don't get that, read this...And it's $60,000 not $600,000 in the campaign kitty of ABQ GOP U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson. We left out one of the zeroes when blogging about the campaign yesterday...

Also, ABQ Dem State Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino is no longer on the Senate Rules Committee as we blogged Tuesday. Committee assignments underwent changes when Senator Tsosie recently resigned. Meanwhile, the Alligators are saying Ortiz y Pino may have lost his nerve when it comes to introducing that redistricting bill that could make it harder for Heather to get re-elected. They say the lawmaker stood tall when he introduced a resolution asking that President Bush be impeached, but there was no local heat on that one. Hitting Heather, on the other hand, takes some moxy, especially since the redistricting bill has little chance of passing. We'll keep you posted. As for Wilson, she is doing what she needs to--softening up on Iraq and currying favor anew with West Side voters and Hispanics. We often ask: "Who wants it most?" When it comes to the ABQ congressional seat, it's Heather and the R's.

Your news, comments and corrections are always welcome. Send them via the email link at the top of the page and help us keep the politics coming. I'm Joe Monahan, reporting and blogging to you from Albuquerque. Stop by again soon.

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