Friday, February 05, 2010

They Call Those Cuts? House Budget Prepped, Plus: Update On Pete Jr. Parade, And: Endorsements: Matter Or Not? 

Speaker & Guv
State House Speaker Ben Lujan has jolted awake napping taxpayers, prepping a budget for passage today that would trim a measly $71 million from state spending and raises a bevy of taxes by $400 million to fill much of the remainder of an estimated $600 million budget hole. But the Lujan low-balling on spending cuts is already dead-on-arrival in the Senate, signaling the lack of communication between the two bodies.

(The House Friday passed a half percent increase in the gross receipts tax that would generate about $240 million a year and a surcharge on higher income tax payers that would generate about $66 million. Another tax increase that would have taken the toal amount of hikes to $400 million annually, was killed.

The chamber also approved a $5.6 billion budget that relies on the tax increases and $200 million in federal aid. It now goes to the Senate.)

Everyone has been prepared for some kind of tax boost, as long as it was accompanied by some serious budget cutting. But the House completely passes the buck to the Senate, where Finance Committee Chairman John "Dr. No" Smith and friends stand ready with razor sharp shears.

There are enough safe Democratic House seats for Lujan to apparently win passage of the tax hikes, but the more conservative Senate is not going to go along--no way, no how. And neither, it would seem, will the general public. Economic pain is widespread, with household budgets tighter than the lug nuts on a '57 Chevy.

The public doesn't understand why the government they fund should stop trimming when they can't. That's especially so when they see that the huge fat pads on the asses of the most politically protected state employees have barely been scratched by this Great Recession.

The House leadership's major tax hikes are not unexpected--increase the gross receipts tax a half percent and slap a one percent surcharge on higher income taxpayers, among other things, but the argument coming from the chamber that all the cutting that can be done has been done is not cutting muster. A compromise wiith moderates and conservatives will need to be brokered, or else they go into meltdown mode in a special session.

The yawning gap between the two chambers over the direction of the state's finances cries out for some stronger leadership from the Governor. This gridlock in Santa Fe is not helping anyone make business decisions or inspiring confidence in consumers who drive the state economy. Gridlock will only accelerate the downward economic spiral of which many solons in Santa Fe seem oblivious.

If you wondered how long it would be before retired Senator Pete Domenici showed up on the trail for Pete Jr's. GOP Guv run, the campaign has an answer:

Pete's dad, U.S. Senator Pete V. Domenici (ret.), will be the special guest at a campaign reception for Pete at the Hotel Albuquerque on Friday, February 19 from 6:30 to 8:00 PM.

Domenici the Senior appeared at his son's January announcement of his candidacy.

The Domenici campaign is also having a $250 per head fund-raiser Feb. 10 at Larry Monte's ABQ cigar shop. Monte is treasurer for the Domenici campaign.

Domenici's fund-raising totals will be closely watched. The campaign says it will report them at least monthly, so we would expect one in early March. Domenici's foes will set the bar high for the newcomer to the race, saying his famous name should generate gobs of cash and if it doesn't, it will be a sign of weakness.

How much muscle will ex-Senator Domenici exert to help with the money collection? That remains to be seen. As far as campaigning, the former Senator will want to support his son but not look a as if he is shoving him down the throats of party regulars.

Senator Domenici's recent public statements about having lukewarm feelings about his son's entry into the Guv battle could have been crafted to address the concern over Domenici dynasty building.


GOP operatives not supportive of Domenici's Guv bid say his presence is already sucking up a lot of GOP oxygen. How they attack him is also a major worry, as the Domenici name remains popular in Republican circles and probably among most of the 90,000 or so R's expected to cast ballots June 1st.

Here's an e-mail from a Senior GOP Alligator trying to delicately spin down expectations that Domenici is a natural choice for the GOP Guv nomination and that "outsider" Doug Turner would be a better choice:

(Domenici) does nothing for the formula by which the GOP has traditionally won the state's top job, especially when considering the established brand seems all he has to run on. Gary Johnson, Garrey Carruthers, and David Cargo--the last three Republican Governors--were all were pretty much outsiders Doug Turner is demonstrating that winning combination of fresh blood with a real understanding of how to make things -- whether a campaign or a company--really work. Turner's the last pick of the insiders, if only because they know they can't get their hooks into him.

Seriously, are we really going to rehash the party's divisions of recent years with another knock-off? The Dems are surely salivating at the prospect...

Interesting stuff. The paradox for Turner is that while he may have appeal to the broader electorate as an outsider type candidate, it is the political insiders who will determine at the March convention whether he earns an official spot on the ballot.


Meanwhile, speculation is heating up over Heather Wilson, a longtime ally of the Domenici's and whether the former ABQ GOP Congresswoman will soon come out of political hibernation and publicly support Domenici the Younger. Insiders tell us there are signs she may. If she does, they see her potentially being used as a key player for Pete Jr. at the March preprimary and maybe also helping to raise money. We'll see.

Wilson decided not to make a run for the Guv's chair, a move that looked good when it was made in the political climate of last October, but not so much now because of the shifting of the political sands for the Dems. But, as they say, timing is everything in politics.


Results from ward meetings like those held in Bernalillo County last night are often difficult to count. Delegates are elected, not candidates. Having said that, Lt. Governor hopeful Brian Colon is laying claim to what he calls the "lion's share" of delegates that were elected last night and that will eventually vote at the March preprimary convention. He claims to have carried 45% of the Beranlillo County delegates.

We won't know for sure until that convention how everyone actually did. Delegates elected last night can change their minds. A candidate at the preprimary will need 20 percent of the statewide delegates to get an official spot on the June 1st primary ballot. The campaigns of legislators and Light Guv hopefuls Joe Campos and Jerry Ortiz y Pino also pronounced themselves as satisfied with the results, with Ortiz y Pino's field director estimating he received around 25 to 30 percent of the delegates in big Bernalillo. No initial spin from Lawrence Rael or Linda Lopez.


We go through this one every cycle--do endorsements matter? This week Doug Turner trotted out kudos from onetime GOP prez candidate Steve Forbes. And GOP Guv hopeful Susana Martinez has been bragging about her endorsements from GOP legislators. A veteran of the 2002 battle for the Dem lieutenant governor nomination featuring Farmington area legislator Jerry Sandel and Diane Denish came with this:

History tells us endorsements don't mean much in the competitive races. (Legislators love to jump on the noncompetitive ones.) Almost every Dem state House member endorsed Jerry Sandel in 2002 and Denish won both the pre-primary convention and the primary election...

True enough. Endorsements are largely ignored in the mainstream media, but they give the candidates something to e-mail to supporters and even to get mentioned on this blog. Aah, the thrill of that...

And a final note on endorsements. We mentioned one received by Dem land commission hopeful Ray Powell which prompted another Dem contender, Sandy Jones, to make sure we had heard about his endorsements:

The New Mexico Professional Fire Fighters Union, New Mexico Building and Construction Trades Council, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 611, Iron Workers Local 490, Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 412 and Lordsburg Mayor Arthur Clark Smith have all endorsed Sandy Jones for land commissioner...

Maybe someone should start an all-endorsements-all-the-time blog.

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