Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Fast And Furious Developments From State Budget Debacle; Our Bond Rating Threatened, A UNM Hiring Freeze And More, Plus: Watch Senate R's For Any Signs Of Budget Compromise 

There are so many economic body blows landing we feel like a ringside announcer trying to keep up with a hyper fast boxing match. Well, let's just dive in and make the call.

--The University of New Mexico has slapped on a hiring freeze and is preparing to wield a meat axe with an across the board spending cut of at least five percent as the state budget crisis begins to eat away at the school's foundation like termites at a wood festival.

--Moody's is threatening to downgrade the state's bond rating because of its precarious financial position and the refusal so far to consider increased revenues to solve the dilemma. A downgrade would mean increased borrowing costs for taxpayers.

---The conservative newspaper has thrown in the towel on Gov. Martinez's refusal to entertain tax hikes and calls for a number of increases to start replenishing the state's meager coffers. That could provide cover for R's down the road when they look to break with Martinez.

--Some spin is surfacing that slightly higher oil prices may alleviate the state's immense shortfall, but little is being said that the deficit will probably worsen because overall production is going to decline even under this higher price scenario and is still not being accounted for by the Santa Fe bean counters.

Well, that's a lot of punches thrown, and they are of the strong, upper cut variety--not harmless jabs.

Still, the state's body politic seems strangely unshaken, probably in part due to the run-of-the-mill coverage the budget crisis mostly gets, similar to the reporting of aftershocks after a major earthquake.

So what's next?

From our perch in the bleacher seats, we're looking for maneuvering on revenue enhancement from top Senate Republicans and not just closing "tax loopholes." That newspaper editorial gives them a bit of cover to break with the Governor. Previous Governors (Richardson and Johnson) have suffered Senate rebukes in their second terms when they became intransigent as Martinez is with her "always say never" pledge on tax increases. It could well happen again--and in a bipartisan fashion in the Senate.

In the face of this dire predicament, you look to guys like longtime Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle to start moving us toward a compromise. If he and other reasonable R's can't bring Martinez on board they will have to leave her at the side of the road as happened in the Senate to Johnson and Richardson. The state must and will function.

That move may need to be delayed until the January legislative session when the election is over and it would be less damaging for Martinez and/or GOP legislators to revise their position. A special session this month to deal almost exclusively with the leftover deficit from the budget year that ended June 30 and leave the current year's mess to January seems the only way to break the gridlock.

The political games are now threatening the state with a financial downgrade. Aren't we already last in enough categories?


Onward we march this Wednesday and reader Mike Smith joins us:

It seems like Gov. Martinez and staff are clueless when it comes to the budget crisis. The corrections department is asking for over $4 million in new money even as cuts to Medicaid providers are discussed. Those cuts may not break the healthcare system, but they will certainly not induce more providers to come to New Mexico, likely exacerbating the current provider shortage.  Meanwhile it seems all but certain that the balance of the tobacco permanent fund will be swept to cover last year's budget shortfall. I find it interesting too that none of the government restructuring initiatives pushed by the R's during the Great Recession are being discussed now. Where is the drive to consolidate agencies and remove duplicative functions? Thanks for all your good reporting, Joe. 

The chances of this passing against the wishes of the powerful liquor industry and Gov. Martinez are about as good as the State Fair banning corn dogs, but that doesn't make it any less right:

Peter Benedititis, director of Alcohol Taxes Save Lives and Money, is encouraging the state to raise alcohol taxes 25 cents a drink to help ease the budget crisis. (it would) generate $54 million a year that can be used to ease our budget crisis.

And don't forget increasing the cigarette tax, freezing the corporate income tax cuts, increasing the capital gains tax and a temporary gasoline tax increase.


John Sanchez and Susana
This is from Senate Majority Whip Michael Padilla, but it applies to any Governor--Democrat or Republican:

Senate Democrats want a brief special session to address one issue: the urgent budget crisis that faces our state. It was alarming to see the Governor floating the idea of adding other items, such as reinstating the death penalty, to a special session agenda. Surely, that can only be meant to distract attention from the economic crisis created under her watch. To be contemplating any policy items other than fixing the budget shortfall is irresponsible . . As the state’s top Executive, it is really up to Gov. Martinez to propose a plan to address the state’s budget crisis. That’s what governors do. What’s your plan, Governor? And when is the special session?

That's "The Plan," Guv. Not "Da Plane!"

And where in the heck is Lt,.Gov. John Sanchez? Is this how he would handle a budget crisis as Governor? Ever since the Guv's political machine planted a hit job on him with a friendly reporter, he's been as scarce as a Republican in Rio Arriba County. (Strangely, the link to that heavily promoted story is no longer on the station's website.)

Sanchez has backed off after voicing a few disagreements with the administration earlier this year. That appears to signal that he plans to run for Governor in '18 on Martinez's legacy. She's polling at a 43 percent approval rating right now so John might want to rerun the numbers on that move, along with those from the budget debacle.

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