Friday, February 12, 2016

The Bottom Falls Out Of The State Budget; It's Mostly Oil But There's More To Blame Than That, Plus: More News, Comment And Finger-Pointing Over The Big Legislative Story On A Fiery Friday Blog 

Sen. Smith
Jaw dropping numbers over the state's dour financial outlook now have legislative insiders saying a special session to deal with the crisis may be inevitable and that it could come as soon as April. The doomsday scenario has the state losing upwards of $800 million in the months ahead. That is huge when you consider the legislature is looking at spending $6.3 billion for the budget year that begins July 1.

State Senator John "Dr. No" Smith, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, argues that no one is to blame, that plunging oil and natural gas prices have cost the state hundreds of millions in taxes and royalties. Maybe in Santa Fe they think no one is to blame but out here in the real world where real people face potential budget cuts that will cause real pain, there's plenty of blame to go around and the arrow points straight up La Bajada to that little building called the Merry Roundhouse.

The Martinez administration has had five long years to diversify the economy and failed utterly. This administration and the one before it engaged in years of tax cutting--the personal income tax, the corporate income tax, the capital gains tax, etc.etc. That has cost the New Mexican treasury much of its gold. Senator Smith finally admits the tax-cutting is hurting but still believes it is good long-term policy. But what about the long-term financial health of our state and its people? While we cut taxes we continue to plunge into poverty, joblessness and depopulation. Senator Smith's home county of Luna is faced with double-digit unemployment, the highest in the state.

Yes, it's mainly the crash in oil doing in the budget but we've done nothing to buffer ourselves. Instead, Santa Fe made it worse. And the great downsizing goes on unabated. The latest:

University of New Mexico officials said Thursday that they have eliminated 44 open staff positions, resulting in $1.7 million in savings that will help offset a projected $3.3 million tuition shortfall. President Bob Frank told the Board of Regents the culling of vacant positions is part of the effort to make ends meet as it continues to lose state funding and tuition revenues.

At least Smith is agreeable that every possible tool must be on the table, including raising revenue via tax hikes. Gov. Martinez is still strapped tightly to her ideological chair of no tax hikes--ever. But if we come anywhere near those doomsday numbers that chair is going to start rockin'.


Rep. Larrañaga
That we are faced with this debacle with only a few days to go in the legislative session speaks volumes about the political and fiscal mismanagement the state suffers under. Take, for example, ABQ GOP State Rep. Larry Larrañaga, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee where the budget originates. Where in the name of deficit spending has he been? Well, busy whipping up a fantasy budget that was predicting money was tight, but not that we were about to fall off the fiscal cliff. That's where he was at. He had to know better and that surely deserves this Alligator strike from inside the Roundhouse:

This is a budget session. We should have focused on the budget crisis the day it started. Instead, Rep. Larrañaga chose to play politics with the budget at the request of the 5th floor to sell crime for three weeks. The 5th floor (Gov Martinez chief political adviser Jay McCleskey) knew crime would not sell if people understood the scope of our budget crisis. So, Larrañaga passed a budget that showed growth in revenue to keep crime alive. 

As recently as Wednesday Larrañaga said the House GOP put money in the budget to pay for increased incarceration. What money did they put into the budget? We do not have any new money. We are in an actual deficit. Larrañaga has lost the respect of many people for playing political games during a crisis.

That's right. More blame. And you can throw in House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, a solider of the Governor's machine who has treated the budget crisis as if it were a case of the chicken pox. He refuses to touch it.

Then there's the cheerful but feckless Speaker of the House, Rep. Don Tripp. Has anyone heard a peep out of him protesting the ludicrous "all crime all the time" session  engineered by Martinez and company while the budget implodes? And what about fiscal newbie Rep. Jason Harper, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee? Not a word. Does the cat have his tongue--or does Jay? You really don't have to ask.

And then there's the calcified Martinez Department of Finance and Administration, putting out nonsensical statements in the face of Dr. No's budget warnings saying they're not really sure there is a budget problem. And they even have a real doctor in charge--Dr. Tom Clifford, now also a political tool of the Fifth Floor. Tell us it ain't so, Tom, but you know it is.

And all this from the political party that prides itself on "fiscal responsibility?"  Aah, the heck with it, just order another vodka and pizza pie and party like it's 1999.


Well, not every Republican in Santa Fe is in lockstep on this. Out of the blue comes GOP State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn (he of the black hat) with the statement that should have come from our MIA  Governor:

They’re (the legislature) going to have to do both – they’re going to have to cut expenses and they’re going to have to figure out a way to raise revenue.

Maybe Dunn's DNA would not allow him to tout the zombie-like statements the GOP is putting out about taxes. After all, back in the day his famous father was State Senator Aubrey Dunn Sr., the stern but very knowledgeable chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Dunn's dad knew how to run a railroad (and a newspaper and apple orchard, too) and also stand up to a political machine. Where are the likes of him these days?

Look, this land commissioner is to the right of Attila the Hun but if he's going to call Santa Fe out on its bullshit, the anti-Martinez Republicans (currently in hiding) should give him a look for the '18 gubernatorial nomination. And we hope Lt. Gov. John Sanchez heard that.

The best the administration's minions can do is urge calm." They just don't get it. If anything is causing panic it's the absence of any sign that the Governor or her staff is equipped to deal with this reality. They are being led by a political consultant who specializes in character assassination, not by policymakers who understand a budget, care about outcomes and who are serious about governing. (And if you read that truth anywhere else, give that fella a gold star).

But the nonsense extends to both sides of the aisle. Which is our cue to say hello to Northern Dem Senator Carlos Cisneros. He says it would do the Senate no good to look at any revenue enhancements because the big, bad Governor has said she would not support any. Carlos, what's up with that? Are you afraid she's going to throw a beer bottle off a balcony at you? Here's the deal, Carlos. You get elected and then you try to do something. "Try" being the operative word.

It's a mess, alright. Let's do the clean-up with some Senior Alligator disgust:

The problem, Joe, is also our civic culture. It is so cowardly and so corrupt that nothing will be done about our real problems--which is not, despite what the news media and Martinez want us to think--not having enough people in prison. And the people who are about to take it on the chin even harder than they have been, are the people who can afford it the least - the rank and file of New Mexico. People who don't have the means to hang out at all-night pizza parties in luxury suites at the El Dorado Hotel using their political power and connections to avoid entanglements with local law-enforcement.

Amen. That really inspires you to run for something--like the state line.

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