Monday, March 29, 2010

Nothing Is Sacred: Now Gov't Layoffs; Alarms At APS; Signal Of What's To Come; ABQ And NM Being Reshaped By Historic Downturn, Plus: New Guv Polls 

The Great Recession is now charging in a new if not unexpected direction--the first mass layoffs of New Mexico government workers is being planned by the ABQ public schools. Up to 700 APS employees--many of them teachers--may be let go and some 500 positions left unfilled. The news rattled the state's government classes and shook the ground under City Hall where more unemployment means an ever steeper budget crisis.

The apparently unprecedented APS decision (has anything like this ever happened in post WWII ABQ?) shreds the argument that the city will be protected from the long-term damage of this ruthless recession by its huge government employment base.

State and city governments have slapped on hiring freezes; the state has already implemented furloughs and the city appears to be next in line for either furloughs, layoffs or both. The University of New Mexico is also in the recession-ravaged club, shedding employees and wielding the budget axe. The Santa Fe school system joins that crowded club, as it grapples with its own budget crisis.

Only the Federal government, not required to balance its budget, is keeping all the lights on in New Mexico, as the Washington printing presses pour money into the economy to fend off an even deeper sinkhole.


They say to beware the Ides of March, but the entire month has been an economic danger zone in the state's largest city, starting with the layoffs of 100 at the Garduno's restaurant chain, followed by 700 lost jobs at call center Convergys and then the coup de grâce--the 700 APS layoffs and the decision not to fill 500 other positions. All told that's 2,000 jobs gone with the spring wind.

We're still in the middle of this hurricane and can't say with any certainty what this historic reshaping of the city's economy means for the long term. The official ABQ metro jobless rate is now just shy of the unheard of 9 percent mark. With the recession now whipping the government work force, we could easily head to 10 percent, or even head down as people give up hope and stop looking for work.

We are replacing some of the lost jobs. The Rio Rancho Sprint call center will hire 200. Hewlett-Packard, also in Rio Rancho, will add some. But what will replace the government jobs that provide long-term security and good salaries and benefits? Where will the laid off teachers go? Where will the next generation apply for work if there are no jobs with the schools, the city or the state?

The age-old complaint is that many talented people have to leave ABQ and New Mexico to have a decent career. The major exception has always been local government and education careers. No longer, at least not now.


Bernalillo County Commission candidate Dan Serrano, running in a Dem primary against Loretta Naranjo Lopez and Michelle Lujan Grisham, says his door-to-door campaigning reveals the dominance of the jobs issue in the working class West side district he seeks to represent:

If they answer the doors at all, it is all about jobs. Either they lost a job, a relative has or a friend of theirs is out of work. It is by far the number one issue I am hearing...

It's hard to see the population here shrinking, given the quality of life, but you are not going to build a new economy on well-off retirees or low paying service jobs. And if the population is not moving up much, there will be a need for fewer small businesses, the creation of which is seen as the way out of this mess by leading thinkers in economic and political circles here.


The windows of City Hall rattled when the APS announcement came down. The city and Mayor RJ Berry now face a deficit for the budget year starting July 1st of perhaps over $60 million as gross receipts activity crashes in the wake of the consumer pullback.

And what's to come?

APS employs 14,000. The layoffs and hiring freezes would total 1,200 or nine percent of its work force. If you work for APS, you're not going to be shopping the sales at Dillards much, or stopping by Yanni's for souvlaki. That means even less tax money flowing into city coffers.

You can argue that 90 percent of the city is still working. You can argue that, but it is not going to free families from their fear.


While we await a turn in the economy, or a new template for economic development that will bring in jobs to replace those being shed, the issue of fairness arises in the latest sour headlines. For example, the University of New Mexico says it will clean its classrooms less often, saving $268,000 over the next two years. But that means less work for the lowest of the lowest paid--the janitorial staff.

Yet UNM stays behind its wall of silence when it comes to the bloated bureaucracy of 20 vice-presidents costing the state over $4.5 million annually. It is also quiet on the overpayment of the school's executive VP ($428,000 a year and $50k in deferred compensation) and its university president who has taken a pay cut, but is still pulling down well over $500,000 a year.

UNM could eliminate one VP position and save all the money they would by cutting the hours of the janitors and support staff. Or they could trim all those VP salaries to make up the money. Why don't they?

It's the same at APS where questions of a bulging bureaucracy protecting overpaid administrators fall into a black hole, aided by school board members who seem to contract Stockholm Syndrome as soon as they're elected.

Ditto for Santa Fe, where the Legislature met in special session, but did nothing about the hundreds of unnecessary and highly paid political appointees, but instead engaged in the ultimate political disconnect by passing that now vetoed tax on food.

With too few exceptions, the New Mexican political classes remain cocooned in comfort, seemingly concerned only with preserving their small isles of turf or their next campaign contribution. They observe the rampant economic disparity as if it were a night at the Santa Fe Opera, not the real-world, tragic farce it has become.

Doug Turner
Soon-to-be Dem Guv nominee Diane Denish maintains a lead over all five of her potential GOP challengers, but she is below the key 50% level against Doug Turner and Allen Weh, meaning the race for the Fourth Floor remains competitive.

Rasmussen polled the state Wednesday night (Mar. 24) and its findings are similar to a PPP poll conducted in mid-February, but with a few quirks. While PPP had Denish leading Pete Domenici Jr. 45% to 40%, this survey has ABQ businessman Turner doing best against Denish--43% for Denish to Turner's 34%. That's a nine point lead, even though Rasmussen's Web site says the poll shows Denish leading all her challengers by "10 to 22 points."

Allen Weh gets 35% to Denish's 45%. Domenici polls 35% to Di's 52%. Susana Martinez gets 32% to the Light Guv's 51% and Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones scores 30% to Denish's 52%.

Denish was below 50% against all her potential rivals in the PPP poll.

While Denish is below the 50% mark against two of the GOP contenders in Rasmussen, her overall approval rating is above the crucial 50% level, coming in at 53%. That's pretty good for an incumbent in this climate and much better than Gov. Bill (his numbers follow).


So what else does the poll mean? Well, at first blush we'd point out that GOP polling leaders Weh and Turner have done paid media, especially in the important ABQ media market. Maybe it paid off. Turner did some TV late last year and followed it with billboards that are still up and radio ads that are still running. Weh started a flight of TV and radio ads the week before the Rasmussen poll. The other three challengers have been dark.

Turner said his outsider status was the reason for his good showing against Di:

Republicans and conservative Democrats are looking for a Governor from the private sector with real world experience, not decades in government. I've never run for elective office, I’m not a lawyer, I’ve never held a job in state government, and I’ve never been in the party machinery.

That Domenici did not keep Denish below 50% as he did in that PPP poll is interesting. Did his last place preprimary finish and other stumbles have an impact on his performance? He does have the best known name in the field.

The GOP pack will be separated even further as we see who has enough money to run major media campaigns leading up to the June 1 primary.

Some other notes from that poll conducted a few days after Obama's health care victory. His approval rating in this key swing state is at 54%, a healthy number and one that is being closely watched by all three of the state's congressmen who face re-election this year.

And while the February PPP poll had Big Bill's approval rating at only 28% among registered voters, Rasmussen polled "likely" voters and said he scored 39% approval. But it's clear that Richardson is being hurt by the economy and budget crisis, the corruption stories and the general anti-incumbent mood.


According to an auto dialer poll from Pete Domenici Jr., his dismal showing at the GOP preprimary convention--he finished with less than five percent of the delegates--did him no harm. He said the March 22 survey of 2,250 of likely GOP primary voters puts him on top with 30 percent; Allen Weh is at 21%. Susana Martinez gets 17%; Doug Turner 8.5% and Janice Arnold-Jones 4.5%.

While the numbers say the GOP primary is still being driven by Domenici's name ID from his famous father, in actuality the race is changing. Domenici now has to fight to get more money after his poor preprimary showing and other disappointing performances on the campaign trail. If the money doesn't come, his campaign may peak early. If the cash comes, that high name ID is going to be a factor until the end.

Doug Vaughan
There's nothing like a big bear market to force from under the rocks all kinds of slithery creatures. Speaking of which, a reader asks:

Are the authorities able to prevent Doug Vaughn from leaving the country?

Good question. Vaughn, the longtime real estate operator charged with running a Ponzi scheme that lifted millions from the wallets of hundreds of New Mexicans, is not yet under indictment for criminal actions. He's appeared in court in relation to his various bankruptcies.

Vaughan, either shameless or oblivious, even spent some time in Las Vegas recently, comped by the Bellagio hotel where he apparently lost some of the millions he ripped off from investors.

Someone might want to check on Doug's passport status.


We've received word of the death of Marshall Plummer, the first-ever Navao Nation vice president. He died Thursday of recently diagnosed lung disease. Blog reader and Plummer friend Matthew Tso wrote to us February 1 and said Plummer would be running for a seat on the NM Public Regulation Commission this year, but then he was felled by ill health. Marshall Plummer was 62...

GOP Guv candidate Allen Weh says he has has narrowed down to four the list of names for his new campaign bus: The Common Sense Express, The Politically Incorrect Express, The Weh Forward, and The Tour of Duty.

Or maybe Weh should name his bus after the 2006 GOP Guv candidate who lost in a landslide and who the Dems claim Weh resembles. How about: "The Not John Dendahl Express."

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