Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Trainwreck Before The Trainwreck: Stopping Special Session Derailment, Plus: Campaign Staffs & Their Pay; Show Us The Money 

The train hasn't even started down the tracks and already we have what appears to be a train wreck in Santa Fe. Big Bill is locking down on his pledge not to touch in any way the budget for the public schools and conservative state Senators seem equally determined to go where the Guv does not want to go. They are now wrestling with a budget emergency the likes of which hasn't been seen since the Great Depression. Figures being released today show the shortfall has ballooned to an estimated $650 million for the budget year that started July 1. The special legislative session getting underway at noon Saturday is coming at us now like a speeding Roadrunner. Can we avoid a painful crash?

The Governor says: I'm not going to balance this budget on the backs of schools, teachers, education, kids, preschool. I'm not going to do it. And we can stay here as long as they want..

Fair enough, Bill. But is there some wiggle room there? How about if lawmakers put on your desk some budget cuts that don't solve the shortfall by balancing the budget on the backs of school kids?

We're talking about a surgical strike at the excess bureaucracy in the public schools. Do we need multiple principals and administrators at our schools? Can we trim salaries of the administrators and leave teacher pay untouched? Legislators could and should demand a list of specific proposed cuts from the school districts. No more being hogtied by the argument that the districts get to make the rules of this game.

In this emergency, the old order must go, but old style legislative leadership is in order. We're thinking Aubrey Dunn, Fabian Chavez and Manny Aragon. And up on the Fourth Floor, how about some Governor Bruce King thinking--you call a special session only when you have a deal. Is it time for the current Governor to drop the stick he keeps drawing lines in the sand with and start dealing?


Again, legislators can stop peddling the argument that they are helpless and all they can do is across-the-board cuts and let individual districts implement them. It doesn't wash. The Legislature can craft a round of cuts that make a surgical strike on public school spending (and university spending). Legislators can assert themselves and find the power they need in this crisis. It would be nice if the Governor could help them.

The special session could last longer than expected if lawmakers need to gather key information on school spending from across the state. But it will be worth it if they find non classroom savings that could persuade Richardson to lighten up. As it is, the special is expected to last anywhere from five days to two weeks because everything is at a standstill.

(ABQ Dem Senator Feldman told TV news that the session could cost from $28,000 to $50,000 a day. How about we get something done for that kind of money?)

Yes, if lawmakers go for specific administrative positions, perks and excess there will be gnashing of teeth and the pulling of hair over the Legislature overstepping its bounds. So be it. That's why we have the courts. What we need now in the Legislature is strong leadership to push back against the Governor, but also offer a compromise. (House Speaker Ben Lujan, as staunch an ally as the Governor has, is now saying cuts to the public school budget are inevitable). The "surgical strike" on administrative overhang may not produce as much savings as some lawmakers want, but it would ease parents' concern (and hopefully Bill's) over direct education being compromised as well as popular sports programs.

It would be preferable to see the restructuring of the administration of our public schools done at a leisurely pace with a blue ribbon panel presiding, but that opportunity seems to be gone in the wake of the overwhelming deficits. Right now, the across-the- board meat-axe approach is getting us nowhere except maybe to another special session that ends in chaos and defiant adjournment. A surgical strike would require boldness and imagination by both the Legislature and the executive. And that's just for starters.


Can the Governor share some of the compassion he is showing for New Mexico's public school children with the thousands of newly unemployed New Mexicans? Here's yet another report on how the jobless can't get through to the Department of Workforce Solutions hotline to file for unemployment benefits. The previous department secretary was dumped because they couldn't get the job done, now the more experienced Ken Ortiz is secretary. Ken, not to be too direct, but you need to start kicking ass and taking names.


Speaking of jobs, here's some of the most important political news of the week--where to apply for one of those nice city government jobs with ABQ Mayor-elect RJ Berry. He updated his Web site with this info:

Mayor-elect Richard J. Berry, Transition Office; One Civic Plaza Room 701 Albuquerque, NM 87102--Phone: 505-768-3300--Fax: 505-768-3321

You better get those resumes in to RJ before he starts eliminating the job you have your eye on. Like the state, the city is running low on money.


Eyebrows were raised over that poke GOP City Councilor Brad Winter gave to David Campbell when Mayor-elect Berry announced that Campbell is his pick to become the new Chief Administrative officer, a position that requires approval from the nine member council. Brad said the announcement was "a little premature."

Is there a rivalry between Brad and David? Well, we're told Winter and Campbell attended Highland High School together where Campbell excelled at wrestling and Winter was a champion pole vaulter. Maybe there's a renewal of some long ago competition. By the way, one of the councilors tells us he does not see the Winter jab as a threat to Campbell winning the required confirmation from the nine member council.


ABQ Dem State Senator Linda Lopez was in no hurry to put out details about her first round of fund-raising for the Dem Light Guv nod. There really wasn't much to say. Lopez raised about $17,000, but over 40 percent of that--$7,000--came from one donor--SunCal--the big development company on the Westside.

Can you envision a scenario where the leading candidates for Light Guv start to court the underperforming ones as that March 2010 preprimary convention draws closer? Money alone will not determine viability, but it is a major factor in deciding to go forward with a candidacy or deciding to make a deal with who you think will be the eventual winner.


Some comment today from GOP Guv candidate Allen Weh who we dunned for hiring a payroll company to pay his campaign staffers after he told us the payroll info would be listed on his campaign reports as has been traditional. He says:

Our use of a Payroll company was a management decision that made sense to me. A campaign at this level is essentially a small business, but a temporary one...It made no sense to me to task a campaign staffer with overseeing payroll when the staff ought to be totally focused on voter contact. Certain administrative functions can, and should, be out sourced...

That said, media inquiries as to who we have working for the campaign is a very legitimate request; We have the following staff:

Whitney Cheshire-Campaign Manager; Robert
Perea-Deputy Campaign Director for Finance; Diego Espinoza-Political Director; Chris Sanchez-Press Secretary; Pam Kingston-Office Administrator; Todd Johnson-Field Representative; Tom Greer- Volunteer Coordinator and Coalition Director; Damian Garde-Communications Assistant; Mike Mitchell-Veterans Coalition Director

...This campaign pays its staff in line with established salary ranges for the positions typically found in any campaign...Whitney Cheshire, campaign manager, is the highest paid employee, and her salary is currently $72,000 per annum.

Who is working for these campaigns and how much they are getting paid tells us something about how the candidate would organize a government and what kind of people he or she would hire. The intent of the law is that this info be disclosed and it always has until this payroll company loophole popped up. Weh says he is not releasing the salaries of employees other than his campaign manager because he does not consider the other salaries vital. But isn't that best for the public to decide. Let's plug the payroll loophole.

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