Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Trainwreck Or Gridlock? Maybe Both Before This Session's Done, Plus: Lots More Coverage Of The Ins And Outs As The 2010 Legislature Faces Final Hours 

You could trot out that well-worn cliché and say the New Mexico Legislature on this penultimate day of the 2010 session is headed for a train wreck. But it takes moving rail cars to cause a crash. Right now in Santa Fe it's more like a rush hour gone bad at ABQ's Big I--not much of anything is moving.

The capitol veterans will say of this late hour gridlock: "Been there, done that." But this time there is a different feel. Democrats at the Roundhouse are torn apart at the seams and the wall-leaners who double as bookies are calling it better than even money that there will indeed have to be a special session.

There's plenty of incentive for the fratricidal Dems to get out of town. The longer they stay there at a standstill, the more campaign momentum it gives to the waiting-in-the-wings Republicans.

Wily old warhorse and Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle semed to have a gleam in his eye if not his tongue in his cheek when he remarked that he was confident the Legislature would conclude its business by its noon Thursday deadline. He said of the Grand Canyon sized gap over tax policy between House and Senate Dems:

There’s some little disagreements on a couple of things, there always is...

Those "little disagreements" are on taxes and spending cuts. The Dems are playing right into the R's hands as they threaten to tear apart each other and that "big tent" the state's longtime majority party is housed under. And Ingle and his compadres have the best seats in town to take in the action.


Big Bill says if a deal can't be cut by noon Thursday, he will call a special session for next week. But hold on. The state will be getting new revenue projections at the end of March. Shouldn't we wait for those before we have a special session? And have to cut even more based on a reduced revenue forecast? Bill wants a deal done long before that dreary news is set in ink.

The Guv was accused of being a control freak during last year's October special session, called to address the ongoing budget crisis. This time he is being charged with near dereliction. Like President Obama and his health care plan, Bill threw the budget ball onto the lap of the Legislature. So far, he is having about as much success as the President, but let's see what unfolds in the next 24 hours.

Besides, it's really Lt. Gov. Diane Denish and her gubernatorial aspirations that are most politically relevant here. The 2010 certain Dem Guv nominee sent out a news release on the first day of the session warning against any tax increases for "working families" before there were spending cuts and efficiencies. But some Dems fear she may be steering too far to the right. They fear the war within the party could dampen enthusiasm for Denish and keep usually loyal Dems at home this election year.


Di can continue to stay out of the line or fire, or she could mount a leadership campaign, coming out for the small personal income tax surcharge that has already passed the House. It would bolster her stance with the Dem left and it may actually help her, not harm her with independent voters. How many of them make over $133,000 a year, the level the surcharge would kick in at?

The centrist plan that's been advocated to solve this budget shortfall of some $600 million and is now being pushed toward Denish is like an orphaned child. It doesn't look much like us, but we love it anyway. That plan is for spending cuts that are seen as the real deal by the voting public, combined with an increase in taxes on the wealthy (that surcharge) and a quarter or eighth cent increase in the state gross receipts tax.

If Denish is thinking about trying to broker a deal between the House and Senate or is already doing it behind-the-scenes, you can hardly blame her. If the budget vase breaks, she is going to own it.


There is very little populist pitch among key Senate leaders. They were so tone-deaf to the public mood that they passed a tax on tortillas that will go down in history as one of the top ten cases of legislative ineptitude. Now Big Bill is back floating the idea of raising the tax on "sugary foods" but dropping the tax on tortillas and other food staples.

The problem is a six percent or more gross receipts tax on sugary foods again slams the working class that is a key constituency of the Democratic Party. Hispanic women and working women in general have to be of concern to Denish. We go from taxing tortillas to taxing the cokes and candy bars of their kids?

Let's call this one the "Tax on Tots" and bury it in the same plot where the tortilla tax is headed. The same goes for that proposal to put another dollar a pack tax on cigarettes Are they trying to create a black market in Marlboros on the Santa Fe Plaza?


Meanwhile, Bill's tin ear just keeps ringing--if that's what tin ears do. He's now fretting over the fate of $3 million for Hewlett Packard to subsidize their Rio Rancho call center as well as $2 million for Fidelity Investments ABQ facility. The state already has given those corporate giants $10 million. And Bill wants more? When unemployment is setting new records? With a state budget deficit of epic proportions? When the Medicaid and food stamp rolls are bursting at the seams? When food banks are drawing record crowds? When state workers are getting furloughed? When HP has over $13 billion in cash in the bank? That's right--$13 billion.

The longer we're on this planet the less we understand about life in general and Bill Richardson in particular. Will someone please grab a shovel and bury this corporate welfare along side the aforementioned Tortilla Tax and Tax on Tots?


You better hurry if you want to get in on bashing the Tortilla Tax. Its hours of survival in Santa Fe are numbered, but you can still join over 1,000 other tax bashers on Facebook.

If someone there can tell us whether it is proper etiquette to wrap our chicharonnes in a tortilla--as is our custom--we would be indebted to them.


Neri Holguin
As if the Democrats did not have enough rancor in their ranks already, the poison still coursing through the party's veins from the bitter 2008 state Senate primary contests surfaced Tuesday.

Governor Bill's nomination of progressive political consultant Neri Holguin to the state Enviornmental Improvement Board was shot down by the Senate on a vote of 25-17.

Holguin, 35, helped elect ABQ liberal Senators Eric Griego and Tim Keller by helping them defeat Dem Senators James Taylor and Shannon Robinson in the '08 primary. The districts were flooded with hit pieces about the two incumbents paid for by nonprofit groups funded by progressives. The nonprofits argued they don't have to disclose their specific funding sources. The attorney general took them to court and lost, but is appealing.

While the nonprofits await final word on whether they will be able to continue to operate in secret, Holguin was handy to be taken on a trip to the senatorial woodshed. She is currently consulting the campaigns of Dem land commission hopeful Ray Powell and Dem Bernalillo County Commission candidate Maggie Hart Stebbins. That is when she's not applying salve to the wounds she received on that trip to the woodshed.

Here are the Dem Senators who joined with the Republicans to spank Neri and the nonprofits: Linda Lopez, David Ulibarri, John Arthur Smith, John Sapien, Bernadette Sanchez, John Pinto, Mary Kay Papen, George Munoz, Howie Morales and Richard Martinez.


Our Tuesday blog on Santa Fe mayoral hopeful Asenath Kepler was nothing but a puff piece, declares City Different reader Pat Garduno:

Anyone in Santa Fe knows that Kepler has been dismissed or asked to leave from the jobs she has held. Furthermore, (Santa Fe Mayor David) Coss and the City Council axed her cause she was making sweetheart deals with union bosses at the expense of the workers and with zero authority to do so. Coss is taking some heat for economic and crime problems that went down on his watch, but he at least has a track record of doing something beyond getting canned...

Hold on there, Pat. Getting "canned" is a great American tradition. At least it has been at our place. Of course, working in the radio biz as we did is akin to working in a revolving door.

Not that our piece heaping praise on on Kepler and Coss for conducting thoughtful campaigns wasn't a bit puffy. Once in a while we see hope for the future of New Mexico politics. Like we said--once in a while.

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