Monday, March 16, 2009

The Economy, The Last Legislative Days, The Shrinking Mayor's Race, The UNM Mess And Our Bottom Lines; It's All Here On A March Monday Blog 

If you are already using doctor prescribed antidepressants, you may want to forgo the following. It's the economic update--the story with more political impact than all others combined and we are on it like green on an enchilada. (Okay, red, if you prefer) Now, to the videotape:

ABQ housing prices are back to 2006 levels, with the median price at $185,000 and you know we have more downside to go.

It appears we won't own any of First State New Mexico Bank (FSNM) after all, at least not right away. The bank is not going to accept federal taxpayer bailout money as it downsizes in an effort to stay afloat.

Layoffs are starting to pop up more frequently in rural NM. In Farmington, 22 lose their jobs because of low natural gas prices. In Clovis, 16 workers get axed by Cummins Natural Gas Engines.

In ABQ, we calculate that the 365 layoffs Presbyterian Healthcare Services disclosed have taken place in the last five months amount to four percent of the health giant's 9,000 member work force.

The state's jobless rate is put at 5.1% for January, but that doesn't include these most recent layoffs or those who have given up on finding a job. We are going higher--considerably higher.

And you already know about the big loss of jobs at Intel and Eclipse Aviation. Truly, the breadth and diversity of this economic recession is the deepest we have seen in the state's modern era. The saving grace thus far has been the safety of the thousands of well-paying government jobs

New Mexico's economic landscape has become more diversified in the last two decades, but it increasingly appears we are returning to a pre-1990's model where our dependence on government largesse--for better or worse--is an even more defining characteristic.


There may be something more fundamental changing in the USA. Peggy Noonan's take makes sense to us.

Want some good economic news? Well, condom sales are not suffering during this economic downturn, a development we offer without comment.


Now to the Legislature where the final days are ticking off the clock and where money and the economy are the big story, but for the moment, take a back seat to a couple of others. First, the death penalty. Advocates of repealing the penalty are booking the mariachis for a celebration; they say Big Bill will sign the repeal passed handily by the state Senate. Bill is demurring, asking for public input.

Remember, the repeal had momentum in the Legislature in recent years, but insiders attribute Bill's presidential campaign as reason it did not reach his desk. Signing it now would not have as much political consequence--Bill is unlikely to ever face the voters again--but it is a tough decision for the chief executive. He is expected to announce his decision Wednesday.

We wonder about restraining future governors by depriving them of the death penalty, about some of the more heinous crimes crimes committed--like the apparent serial killing of 13 young women on ABQ's Westside--and future acts of terrorism that could require death to send a message. The arguments against the penalty are equally compelling. Richardson has a strong human rights record. Whichever way he decides will have credibility, but there is no splitting the difference. It's life or death.


We wonder if Bill will have a signing ceremony if he signs the repeal. If he does, will former Governor Toney Anaya be on hand? It was Toney who, in 1986, began the modern NM death penalty repeal movement by commuting the death sentences of five men on death row. We were at that Capitol news conference covering it for CBS Radio News in New York and remember it like it was yesterday...

"NM Governor Toney Anaya set off a political firestorm today, commuting the sentences of all of the state's death row inmates...

That was our lead back then. Bill's action will get some national coverage, but not nearly as much as Toney did in '86 because today many states have already repealed the penalty.


Rep. Chasey
State. Rep. Gail Chasey gets a hat tip for those in favor of doing away with the death sentence. The 12 year legislator has introduced it repeatedly for years. When Chasey of the ABQ SE Heights and UNM area first started doing it her name was Gail Beam. Through rain and shine, personal health challenges, law school and election campaigns, she has been a consistent and persistent foe of the penalty. She will be next to the Guv if he holds a public ceremony.


Another lawmaker gets a hat tip and a pat on the back for hanging tough in the face of concerted opposition. That would be ABQ GOP State Senator Mark Boitano who has finally won the support of enough of his 41 colleagues so that sessions of the state Senate will now be webcast.

Not that webcasts are going to change much. Like the repeal of the death penalty, it is largely symbolic. Look at the Congress. We started broadcasting the House sessions on C-SPAN in 1979. Did we get cleaner or better government? Most would answer no. But webcasting goes to the public's right to know. Not every action taken to meet that important criteria has a potent impact. However, taken together, open government measures put the government more on the side of those who vote the rascals in, rather than the rascals themselves.


Back to the big story--the money or lack thereof. ABQ Dem State Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino, a new member of the Senate Finance Committee, points out that the $5.5 billion budget passed by the House and being acted on in the Senate has a cash reserve of over 13 percent. He thinks that is way too large. We didn't notice that when we gave the House budget an approving blog. Not that Jerry has changed our minds.

He fears that we are holding too much money back and that we should spend the reserve down to about 5 percent of the total budget to help stimulate the economy. We would agree with the Senator if the proposed 2010 budget called for layoffs or other Draconian measures and lawmakers still insisted on this ample reserve. But the budget starting for the year July 1 does not do that, thanks in large part to an influx of federal stimulus money. Still, Pino's point is well-taken. Thirteen percent seems steep, even if you worry about further revenue shortfalls. We could hear about it this final legislative week from advocates of programs who are suffering budget cuts, if not personnel layoffs.


Can we avoid a costly special session between now and next January? We will if the economy doesn't decline further and tax revenue with it. The budget experts tell us that we will be able to fill any developing gaps and spend part of that reserve without calling everyone back to Santa Fe. However, if we develop a shortfall that takes more than couple of percentage points of that 13 percent reserve, we will find ourselves in a special session in the fall.


Our city political analysts were not surprised by the weekend withdrawals of City Councilors Debbie O'Malley and Michael Cadigan from the ABQ 2009 mayoral derby. They predicted some big name drop outs and there could be another. To qualify for public financing a candidate has to get about 3,300 five dollar contributions and O'Malley, a Dem representing the North Valley, and Cadigan, representing the Westside for two terms, both said they found that hill way too steep to climb. Also, why Cadigan, an obvious left of center councilor to seasoned city observers--would try to morph into a last-minute conservative--was a question that shadowed his inchoate campaign. The issue was raised again even as Cadigan was folding his tent. On his way out the door, Cadigan endorsed for mayor former Dem State Senator and favorite liberal candidate Richard Romero.

While his campaign failed to catch fire, Cadigan, an attorney and ex-Marine, will be remembered for the intellectual muscle he brought to the nine member council. O'Malley will keep her seat on the council where her colleagues say she has been an effective voice for her district, but Cadigan announced he will not run for re-election to his council seat which is on the ballot this October. That ends speculation that the Democrat would try to keep his seat if his mayoral bid failed. There are already two announced candidates for the Cadigan seat--Republican Dan Lewis and Democrat Jeremy Toulouse.

The council drop-outs keep alive one city tradition--rejecting city councilors who want to be mayor. Since the modern form of government, only one councilor has advanced to the mayor's job. That was Ken Schultz in 1985.

Insiders report ABQ GOP State Rep. Richard Berry has so far collected somewhere near 1,000 of the five dollar contributions and his supporters are tense. The deadline is March 28th. As of Friday, Romero had collected about 1,800. And don't forget. A person who gives the five bucks has to be a registered city voter. If they are not, the donation is disqualified. Mayor Chavez collected over 5,000 contributions. That's 50 percent more than required, but he wanted to make sure he qualified to receive the $328,000 each qualified candidate will collect. Other candidates also must go significantly above--about 20 percent above--to insure they submit enough valid donations. Never mind the actual race for mayor, the money collecting is turning into a horse race to watch.


As for O'Malley's withdrawal, the immediate beneficiary is Romero who can expect to pick up O'Malley's liberal support and maybe some help gathering those five dollar donations. Even though Cadigan endorsed Romero, his withdrawal could be seen aiding Chavez on the Westside where Marty has always performed well.

If the late starting Berry fails to qualify for public financing and opts out of the race, that could leave us with a Chavez-Romero match-up. Would a one-on-one match give the anti-Chavez forces a better chance at ousting the longtime mayor? Perhaps, but they will need a big push. The failure of the candidates other than Chavez to quickly collect the qualifying donations shows no one has an organization equal to his. Also, is Romero too liberal for a centrist city like ours? More important, these mayoral drop-outs reveals a public not yet consumed with desire to change the city's leadership and perhaps a public financing system that is too rigorous. Stay tuned.


Republicans pushing new NM GOP Chair Harvey Yates to make some changes are digesting the news from party insiders that longtime consultant and current GOP communications director Whitney Cheshire is headed for the exits. Cheshire has been a lightning rod for R's who opposed the policies and practices of former Chairman Allen Weh who named Cheshire executive director when he was headed out the door. She was made communications director under Yates. The party is now looking for a new ED.

Yates has to raise money and also show he is turning over a new leaf after the 2008 GOP election disaster. If Cheshire, a longtime ally of former ABQ Congresswoman Heather Wilson who, like Weh has toyed with the idea of a 2010 Guv run, is indeed gone--not consulting or otherwise making or executing party policy---and Yates makes additional changes---the Artesia oilman could improve his chances of rebuilding the party and raising funds among the considerable number of R's who have given up on any hope for change.


We'll begin our University of New Mexico coverage with this insider take on the news that Big Bill has asked former House Speaker Raymond Sanchez to take over as president of the UNM Regents, replacing Jamie Koch, the recipient of a no-confidence resolution by UNM Faculty:

I spoke with Ray Sanchez at the Roundhouse. After congratulations for his new job, I mentioned, while exempting a response, that Koch would have to leave the board and (UNM VP David) Harris would have to go to quiet the turmoil at UNM. Ray loves UNM. He replied that perception is 90.0% of reality.

After the explosion of politics on the Regents, reader Jacob Candelaria says it''s time to reform the way we pick them

...The system by which the Regents (and by extension, the President of the University) are appointed is too easily politicized...These positions are seen as 'rents' rather than unique opportunities to serve...There should be some faculty and alumni consultation..Some sort of nominating commission (akin to the judicial nominating commission) should be put in place by the Legislature. If we recognize that the appointment of judges should be done with an eye towards quality and fair-mindedness, why not apply the same logic to the appointment of University regents?

You may be on to something, Jacob.


And it just keeps getting worse at the Harvard on the Rio Grande. The school's athletics director gets a huge pay raise--over $90,000 a year--only shortly before the UNM president slaps on a salary freeze. Is it time for the whole athletic department to undergo a restructuring? Should we even be trying to compete financially with much richer and more populated states when it comes to these salaries?

The UNM athletic director is now making well over $400,000 a year and with possible bonuses perhaps headed toward half a million! The UNM Lobos basketball coach is a fine fellow by all accounts, but he makes $1 million a year. Will this financial pyramid be retained in a new and more restrictive financial era? Can UNM President Schmidly bring forth the innovation and imagination needed to chart a new course, or is it all about care taking and then retiring?


There are seven members of the UNM Board of Regents. In an initial draft, we said there were five members. It used to be five, but that was a lot of years ago...Phill Casaus, the former ABQ Trib editor and now head of the APS Educational Foundation, uses the letter "L" twice to spell his first name. We missed that one. He can get together with Guv spokesman Pahl Shipley--that's right--Pahl---and exchange notes on how their names are frequently misspelled.

E-mail your news and comments.

Not for reproduction without permission of the author
website design by limwebdesign