Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Special Session For What? State Surplus Crashes, Plus: Tom Answers Steve's Negative, And: AG Meeting Set On Nonprofit Disclosure 

The Guv
New Mexico's political elite was backed into the proverbial corner Tuesday. New revenue estimates trimmed a stunning $175 million from the state surplus--or nearly 50% from earlier projections--jeopardizing those promised feel-good tax rebate checks and raising questions about the political judgment of Big Bill as he heads deeper into his lame-duck term as Governor.

Despite a new forecast that says the state will have $225 million--not a $392 million windfall because of high oil and natural gas prices--Bill and his sometimes arch-foe, Legislative Finance Committee Chair and Deming State Senator John Arthur Smith, insisted they could save the rebates when the Legislature is gaveled into a questionable special session this Friday. Said Smith to the AP:
"Rebate is about the only kite that will fly right now." (Some estimates have the surplus even lower--down to the $100 million level.)

Those rebates are now not going to be anywhere near the average $200 that each taxpayer was originally promised by Bill. Cutting the cash giveaway is not going to do much to improve his sagging approval ratings and certainly is not going to impress the powers-that-be in the Obama camp who are assessing the Guv's abilities for a big job if Obama moves to Pennsylvania Avenue.

There's some other stuff on the special agenda--health care measures and road repair money--stuff that could easily wait for the regular session, but with the Guv locked into the special, no one wants to say the emperor has no clothes. For damn sure, he doesn't have very much money.

Even though Smith has no re-election opposition, many of his colleagues do. Asking them to come to their senses and cancel the special and the rebates is like asking an Aggie to love a Lobo. It ain't gonna happen. So they will gather Friday to disperse what is rapidly becoming a paltry surplus that they hope isn't eroded even further by declining energy prices. When you do get your 50 bucks in the mail, or whatever it comes to, you are advised to run, not walk, to the bank. The New Mexico cash cow is starting to run dry.


After hearing an anti-Pearce radio ad from Udall Tuesday, we wondered aloud here if Udall would hit back at Pearce on TV. The answer is yes. Udall has put up this ad tying Pearce to unpopular President George Bush. It's called the "Middle Class Squeeze." It doesn't directly address Pearce's TV criticism of Udall's energy positions, but broadens the attack against the southern NM congressman on the key economic issue. It is Tom's first negative TV against Steve.

Udall went dark on TV for a week or so, but even then a third party attack on Pearce was and is in heavy rotation, making sure that Udall was not defenseless. What is showing now is the financial imbalance in these campaigns. Pearce's TV is much more scattered than Udall's. Does Pearce have enough points up on the air to move the numbers and attract campaign money? Will his "radical environmentalist" message about Udall resonate? Will the conservative Club for Growth come with big third party TV money for Pearce as they did in his primary and as they are now doing against Tom's cousin, Mark Udall, in his Colorado Senate race? As usual, we have more questions than answers.

Maybe it's in in the eye of the beholder. We see Senator Domenici's endorsement this week of Pearce as coming soon enough for Pearce to raise decent money from it and to help him unify a GOP that was divided when Pearce faced-off with Heather Wilson in the June primary. Some e-mailers pointed out that Pete's nod will come over two months after the primary and claimed it shows he remains unexcited by the Pearce candidacy. But Domenici was in no position to endorse Pearce in June. Was he going to turn around just days after endorsing Heather and rub nerves raw by coming for Pearce? Also, coming so soon would have made Domenici look like the opportunist of the year.

On this one we see the glass as half-full, remembering how Pete came for Heather with only days to go in the June primary. If Domenici did the same for the general, that would mean Pearce would be getting a late October endorsement. From that perspective, Domenici's mid-August nod to Pearce looks pretty good. But it's not just Pearce that Pete has on his mind. If Pearce fails to put up a good fight, Obama will have a much easier time with McCain. A strong Pearce benefits McCain and the state's other R congressional candidates. Domenici does not want to leave the stage to catcalls that he did not do enough to help Republicans stave off disaster. In the end, it is as much about Pete's legacy as it is about supporting Pearce.

One of the biggest challenges for Udall is to keep his supporters--especially those on the far left--from their "this race is over" mentality. There is no question that Udall is far and away the likely winner, but campaigns can change on a dime. We sense the Udall's camp is well aware of that dynamic, but the message hasn't trickled all the way down.


How about that $42 million plan by Bernalillo County to buy a big downtown building for office space? They had barely announced it when they were meeting last night to vote on it. Slow down, said the lawyer for some of the commercial tenants in the landmark 500 Marquette building, not the least of which is whether taxpayers are getting a good deal. In a letter to the commission (click to enlarge) he asked on behalf of his clients that the commission take one month to study the issue before committing taxpayers. But no luck. The commission voted 4 to 1 to float revenue bonds and get on with it. How about that? Six days to put together a $42 million deal. Isn't that special? Some supporters of Public Regulation Commissioner Jason Marks are already wondering. He is being challenged by Republican Tim Cummins who sits on the county commission. Could the hasty and expensive building purchase become a campaign issue? We'll see.


Attorney General Gary King has written a second letter to the secretary of state regarding those controversial political nonprofits and whether they should be required to be registered as political action committees and report all their donors and expenditures. King's office is set to meet with the secretary's staff Friday. Text of the new letter containing King's legal advice to Secretary Herrera has not been released, but insiders told us last week King would "come out swinging" on the issue. The Center for Civic Policy, run by political operative Eli Lee, told the ABQ Journal his group will have raised a stunning $1.645 million in two years. An affiliated group, NM Youth Organized, has been mailing hit pieces out on NM legislators, but claiming nonprofit status. King says the lit is clearly campaign lit, not lobbying or educational material as is required of nonprofits. Will the secretary demand that the nonprofits in question re-register as PAC's and require them to fully disclose their funding sources? If not, are we headed to the courts? Stay tuned.


The national Dems are not letting a third party radio attack on Dem Heinrich's energy stance go unanswered. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has bought radio time to defend Heinrich and hit White.

Meanwhile, the R's opened a new line of attack on the Dem US House hopeful. They put out a flyer saying Heinrich "fought against Westside roads and bridges." They cited his opposition as a city councilor to extending Paseo del Norte and the four-laning of the Montano bridge. Heinrich is going to have to come with a strong defense. The Westside is loaded with middle of the road Democrats, many of whom have in the past voted for Republican Sheriff Darren White.


Senator Domenici won't be on a diet this week. We told you about the Thursday Tanoan Country Club lunch he is having for Steve Pearce, and today he dines with ABQ GOP congressional hopeful Darren White. The ABQ Marriott lunch with Pete is going for $150 a pop, considerably more than those $25 a pop coffee klatches the sheriff has been having.


We are well into covering our second generation of New Mexican politicos, and sometimes it shows. We referred to state Senate candidate George Munoz Tuesday as the former mayor of Gallup. He gently reminds us that it was his dad, Edward Munoz, who was mayor there for 16 years and who passed away in 2006.

I don't recall who the mayor was in 1971 when I first encountered Gallup on my 125 cc Kawasaki motorcycle, but I vividly recall attending the annual Inter-tribal Indian Ceremonial which had its start in 1922. Quite the sight for someone fresh from the Pennsylvania coal mines.

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