Thursday, April 16, 2009

From Santa Fe: Latest On Special Session Plus: Ben Ray's Tax Day Woes, And: Gary King's 'Sudden Impact' 

Let's start it off with the latest buzz from Santa Fe. Natural gas prices plunged this week to a six and a half year low, promoting renewed talk of a special session of the Legislature. Top lawmakers and lobbyists are pegging mid-September to mid-October as the window when a session might be expected to be called by Big Bill. The gas price crash is more important than the price of oil because the state gets more from royalties and taxes from natural gas production. The new budget year begins July 1st. The reasoning is we will look at the shortfalls for July and August and then have the session to start plugging the hole. There's a $700 million cash reserve that lawmakers will look at tapping in order to avoid a tax increase. Expect red-hot debate on how much to take that reserve down, where to cut state expenses and that ticklish issue of whether to go for a tax hike. Also from Santa Fe...

Our Senior Alligators broke the news here that Judy Espinosa was headed out as Expo chief--news now officially confirmed--and now Big Bill has named Craig Swagerty, a $92,000 a year deputy chief at the state Tourism Department, to replace Judy who was there for 15 months. Swagerty is a former mayor of Red River.

Espinosa is openly lobbying the governor to appoint her to the Bernalillo County Commission to replace Deanna Archuleta who is taking a job with the Obama administration. Couldn't Judy cut that deal before announcing her departure? Seems that appointment is still in play.


With the Congress throwing more cash around than at any time in its history, the news that northern Dem Congressman Ben Ray Lujan failed to have payroll taxes withheld for his 2008 campaign staff could not have come at a worse time--and on Tax Day to boot while Tea Parties were in progress. The back taxes and associated penalties came to over $54,000, according to figures we added up from his FEC report. As Lujan tells it:

A...review...showed underpayments to the Internal Revenue Service and errors in past documents. Upon discovery of these errors, the campaign paid all amounts due and corrected all reports. It was very disappointing that these errors occurred. Carlos Trujillo, Lujan's former campaign manager, takes responsibility for the errors and underpayments.

"As campaign manager it was my responsibility to ensure that all financial payments were made in a timely manner," said Trujillo. "Unfortunately, these payments were not paid on time. The nonpayment of payroll taxes was my responsibility, and I regret putting the Congressman in this situation. It was my responsibility."

Well, Lujan's foes will argue over who ultimately bears responsibility--the candidate or the campaign manager--but the embarrassment is all on the new congressman.

In the FEC report Lujan filed for the first three months of the year, he reports raising $139,000 and cash on hand of $60,000. He has a campaign debt, however, of $158,000.

One of Lujan's largest contributors for the period was from the Poarch Creek Indians of Atmore Alabama--a tribe with gambling-- who gave the campaign $2,000. Well-known Santa Fe lobbyists Dan Najar and Bud Mulcock each kicked in $1,000. Among the big union PAC's, IBEW came with $10,000--$5,000 each for the 2010 primary and general elections.

Republican Dan East of Rio Rancho has announced he will challenge Lujan in 2010, but any real threat to the congressman in the heavily Dem district would have to come in the primary. No Dems have signaled they will oppose the new lawmaker.

Rep. Teague
Once you discount the money he owes himself, southern Dem Congressman Harry Teague has the strongest financial balance sheet of NM's three congressmen as we begin the long march to 2010. His FEC report for the first quarter of this year shows he raised $281,000 and had cash of $279,000. About $10,000 appeared to be refunds from his campaign management company. Harry also has a huge debt of $450,000, but that is the money the Hobbs oilman loaned himself and he doesn't have to worry about paying back.

Hobbs politico Johnny Cope and his wife each came with $2,400 for Teague and he took in $5,000 from the national carpenters union.

Speaking of Cope, he is a member of the state transportation commission and Santa Fe insiders were talking late Wednesday of a freeze of all federal highway funds for New Mexico because of long-standing problems with its computer system known as SHARE. There is big money involved here.


Light Guv Denish is back on the fund-raising circuit after taking a break for the legislative session. Tuesday she will be feted at a matanza at the ABQ Fourth Street home of lobbyists Dan Weaks and Marla Shoats. Tickets are going for $250 a pop. Denish last reported cash reserves of $1.7 million.

And Dem Secretary of State Mary Herrera isn't wasting any time shaking the money tree, probably not a bad idea with Santa Fe County Clerk Valerie Espinoza making noise about challenging Mary in next year's Dem primary. Victor Raigoza, who sought a Corrales area state senate seat last year, will host Herrera at a $50 a person party tonight. Among those co-sponsoring the event are former NM Attorney General Patricia Madrid, outgoing Bernalillo County Commissioner Deanna Archuleta and State Senator Bernadette Sanchez.


No sooner do we blog this week that the state's call center sector seems to be withstanding the recession, we get word that a Las Vegas center is shutting down at the end of the month, putting 47 on the jobless lines.

ABQ City Council
Three of the nine members of the ABQ City Council--Winter, Cadigan and O'Malley--have tried to become mayor and they've gotten nowhere. Combine that with Mayor Chavez's propensity to stick his thumb in their eye when the occasion suits him and you have a recipe for council rage. This being an election year the blood pressure goes up even more, as the council liberals express outrage over King Marty's errant ways and try to create momentum for liberal backed mayoral hopeful Richard Romero.

Their chosen weapon is whether to build a lagoon at Tingley Beach and a West side soccer field. Chavez wants the projects placed in the bond package that voters will decide at the October election. The council does not, but got caught sleeping and did not strike down the projects in time, although the council argues otherwise. Now Chavez, trying to have it both ways, says he and the council should cut a compromise and decide what to put on the ballot.

It was enough for Romero to surface and come with a statement all his own:

"At a time when the stress on family budgets is so enormous, we have to get our priorities in order. We simply can't afford to spend our resources on these mini Taj Mahals -- personal monuments to incumbent politicians. Those days are over.

Mini Taj Mahals? That may be a bit of a stretch. Voters would probably not mind a new lagoon and soccer field and they probably wouldn't mind if the mayor and council could get along better. But when all is said and done the last thing that is going to move the numbers in this election is a drama over process.


Is Attorney General Gary King going to toughen up his image to scare away the lawbreakers. Here he is showing off the door prize he won at a recent public relations event--a DVD of the movie "Sudden Impact." Heck, the size of that gun might even scare Smiley Gallegos.

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