Monday, August 10, 2009

Ouch! NM Budget Shortfall Estimates May Skyrocket Again, Plus: PRC Circus Continues, And: Remembering Former ABQ Mayor Louis Saavedra 

The already enormous budget shortfall facing the state could be even more humongous when official revenue projections are released by the state Friday, making an October special legislative session a necessity--not an option--even if state agencies, fearful of deep budget cuts, don't want a special. Lawmakers earlier were told to expect a shortfall of somewhere between $300 and $400 million for the budget year that started July 1. Now my insiders are saying the estimate Friday from the Legislative Finance Committee could hit $500 million or more. The state's reserves hold about $600 million, much of which can be used to cover the shortfall. But not all of it. And then you have the budget year that starts July 1, 2010. And there won't be any federal stimulus money to help then as there was this year.

If the huge shortfall is not addressed in an October special, the job of reining in spending would have to be done at the regular January 2010 session. But if the fire is burning in the basement, you don't wait until it reaches the attic before you bring out the hoses. A special may be hard to control for Big Bill and initial statements from his people show reluctance to hold one. But with revenue estimates like the ones we are hearing, how could the state and its Governor ignore the crisis?

Over the next two fiscal years--July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2011--our state could face a shortfall of well over $1 billion caused by the bear market in energy prices and plummeting tax collections brought on by the Great Recession.

The nearly $6 billion state budget has grown some 40 percent since Big Bill took office in 2003. There is a lot of fat to cut, but with projections like this the knife may go into the bone.


Sandy Jones
Democrat Sandy Jones is the latest Public Regulation Commissioner to end up in the barrel. His hiring of Elizabeth Martin, who has felony convictions from two embezzlement cases, as his $72,000 a year assistant has placed the chairman of the PRC in political peril. Former GOP PRC Commissioner Tony Schaefer filed a complaint with the PRC and attorney general over the hiring, saying it violates state law. Schaefer is also making noise again about seeking the Southern PRC seat. Jones is up for re-election next year.

The attormney general could have a completely separate division just to handle the craziness at the PRC. One of the commissioners is under indictment; one was recently arrested for beating up a woman who she apparently believes was having an affair with her husband and another commissioner on the five member panel was involved in a sex harassment case at the PRC that cost the state huge bucks.

Big Bill Chief of Staff Brian Condit was president of the NM Building Trades Council during the time that Martin was found to have been embezzling money from the union.

Only one PRC commissioner, Democrat Jason Marks, remains unstained. If he starts going down, we'll start believing someone has placed a curse on the place. Meanwhile, Mr. & Mrs. New Mexico are cursing under their breath over the sorry performance of this panel which regulates, among other things, electric and gas utilities and is one of the most powerful in the state. Of course, the special interests love the disarray.

Is it time to eliminate the elected $90,000 a year commissioners and make this an appointed panel? Probably. Will it happen? Don't bet your electric bill on it.

Rep. Lujan
Was that northern Dem US Congressman Ben Ray Lujan visiting NM National Guard members in southern Iraq Sunday, along with other US House members? Indeed it was. According to guardsman Eric Lucero of ABQ, who phoned us with the news, Lujan told the NM troops they would have plenty of green chile and beef jerky.

We're told that Lujan was on the journey as part of his work for one of his subcommittees. The homesick New Mexicans were glad to see him, and we hope they'll get to see home again soon. Thanks to our New Mexico troops for thinking of us!


Considering the union burst into the headlines with the PRC story mentioned here today, this union endorsement shows the vagaries of the news cycle:

The New Mexico Building and Construction Trades Council (NMBCTC), an organization representing 16 building and construction trades unions throughout the state, endorsed Mayor Martin Chavez for Mayor of in a recent meeting.

Chavez has also won the endorsement of AFSCME--the big public employee union.

GOP mayoral candidate RJ Berry was cutting TV commercials this past week. We expect to start seeing spots from the hopefuls by the end of August.

Democratic contender Richard Romero is canvassing neighborhoods with volunteers every Saturday morning. They meet up at 10 a.m. at campaign headquarters at 4605 4th Street.


They called him the "stealth mayor." And with good reason. Louis Saavedra probably gave fewer media interviews and had more combat with the ABQ press than any other modern political figure. We all chuckled when he started his mayoral term in December 1989 by removing from the Mayor's office the box where press releases were distributed. Instead, the box was placed 1o floors below in the lobby of City Hall. On Election Night he delivered a one-line zinger that drew roars:

"Let's have a moment of silence for the media."

Saavedra, who died from a a brain tumor at 76 Friday, had had his fill of the ABQ Journal and Tribune even before he was sworn in. His spending from a fund at TV-I (later renamed CNM), the school he led before becoming mayor, was called into question in the final days of the mayoral campaign. From then on he was a clam.

One of our Senior Alligators appraised the political life of Saavedra this way:

Louie was reclusive and secretive and consequently his accomplishment in building TVI and laying the groundwork for the success of CNM has not been appreciated to the extent it might have been. He was a member of the Albuquerque City Commission and Mayor but the success of TVI and CNM are his crowning achievements.

It was his success at TV-I, now CNM, which carried Saavedra into the mayor's office. That and the political help the Democrat recevied from his old political ally--Republican Senator Pete Domenici. Saavedra would become the city's first Hispanic mayor since the start of the modern form of government in '74. He also served on the old city commission. His wife, Gail, preceded him in death, in 2003. (I told KKOB-AM radio that Saavedra served as chairman of the old city commission, but I need to recheck that. Here's the audio interview.)


In 1989, it was a foregone conclusion that incumbent Mayor Ken Schultz would not be re-elected, and he wasn't. Saavedra faced off in a run-off election with then-City Councilor Pat Baca. The NE Heights, having to choose between two Dems, went with the more business oriented Saavedra. From the get-go, the new mayor never acted like he would seek re-election--and he didn't.

Saavedra's term was the last one marked by a steep recession. Cutbacks were the order of the day and Saavedra and his chief administrative officer Art Blumenfeld excelled--some said too well---at scaling back the city work force to match revenues with expenditures.

But the city survived even as Saavedra pared back staff. He must have been overjoyed to have a built-in excuse to be the only mayor to not have a press secretary. And he eliminated the deputy chief administrative officer positions, plums that were created by his predecessor. They were reinstated by Mayor Chavez. We were reminded of that by Pete Dinelli who today holds the Chief Public Safety position and who was one of those who ran for mayor with Saavedra back in '89. Saavedra's handling of one of the city's bad economic streaks may have some lessons in it for the next mayor who will be elected October 6.

Saavedra may have been quiet and reserved, but he was a savvy political warrior. Mike Santullo, Mayor Schultz's outgoing press secretary, recalls how he presented some proclamations to the new mayor for his signature.

He began signing them with a felt pen which had a turquoise color. I told him they needed to be signed in legal ink. He replied: "I can sign them however I want; I'm the mayor." I replied: "Yes, you are."

Saavedra left office deeply unpopular in large measure because of his refusal to communicate with the public, but his dedication to improving the city and region are unquestioned. Looking back, his legacy is his ability to handle tough times as mayor and the thousands of successful graduates of CNM. It is a legacy that now comprises a completed chapter in the never-ending book of La Politica.

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