Monday, March 06, 2017

Martinez Approval Still Weak But She Still May Get Way On Budget;, Plus: Higher Ed Secretary Shies Away From Sweeping Reforms But Others Don't, And: Pearce Evens Up Optics With Grisham  

Gov. Martinez's long lame duck walk continues. Her latest approval rating in the PPP poll is 42 percent, the same as in the Research and Polling survey last September.

The PPP poll, which is run by Dems, also says 57 percent of respondents "disapprove" of her performance. But that would mean only one percent are undecided about her. The liberal group ProgressNowNM, which commissioned the poll, says the extremely low undecided is because the electorate is more polarized under Trump. However, Research and Polling showed 14 percent undecided about Martinez. The Gallup Poll on Trump has been showing an "undecided" response of 5 to 8 percent.

The good news for Martinez is that she may have hit bottom. The bad news? Getting back to 50 is not in the cards.


As for Martinez's low approval number impacting public policy, Democrats don't seem to be making much hay over it. The senate did pass a ten cent a gallon boost in the gas tax to fund government as well as an increase in the minimum wage. But the state's three major cities have already approved minimum increases so there's not much firepower there. As for the gas tax, they don't have  have the votes in the senate to override a Martinez veto.

(ABQ's minimum wage is $8.80. Santa Fe is at $11.09 and Cruces at $9.20. The statewide minimum is $7.50 and hasn't been raised since '09.)

The minimum wage debate throws a little bone to the Dem base but the issue is not motivational for most of them. With the Senate's Democratic fiscal conservatives still given reign over economic policy it is impossible for the Democratic Party to advance a full-fledged economic program that distinguishes them very much from the Republican Governor.  Senate Majority Leader Wirth and House Speaker Egolf signaled early on they were not going to tamper much with the status quo and they've been good on their word.


Unsurprisingly, it appears Martinez is going to prevail on her pledge not to raise taxes, a plank that keeps her in good standing with her political base and from plunging even more in the polls. Here's the deal that's brewing, according to longtime Senator Minority Leader Stu Ingle:

The final package will probably include a tax on out-of-state internet sales, a rollback of contributions to local governments, an increase in fees on heavy trucks, and the expansion of the state gross receipts tax to more health care providers. Ingle said a conversation he had with Martinez about 10 days ago indicated that she supports that approach, though neither side discussed specifics.

With less than two weeks ago, that's pretty much it for the budget in Session '17. There will be some intermittent drama but the cake appears baked: No veto overrides, little hair pulling by the majority Democrats and no big picture overhaul of the state's tax and fiscal policies.

If that package Ingle is reporting raises enough to cover the projected deficit and raise the cash reserves enough to avoid another downgrade of the state's bonds--and it appears it does--that will be more than enough for a legislature that has been worn down by the nonstop budget debacle and the stubborn Governor.


As we blogged at the start of this session if there is going to be a serious overhaul of economic policy it will have to wait for a new governor in 2019. The Harper GOP tax overhaul being touted by conservatives is a nonstarter,. It does not address the fundamental problem of raising recurring revenue to finance government operations, including the public schools.

That doesn't mean under the next Governor there will be a major overhaul and that the kick-the-can budgeting will finally come to an end. It just means that if there is to be one it won't be until 2019.


NM Secretary of Higher Education Barbara Damron surprised some when she shied away from calling for a broad consolidation of the 31 colleges and universities in the state, a number that is clearly too many for our stalled out state.

Damron, who has been mentioned as a possible future UNM president, said the solution is to centralize authority over the many campuses, not consolidating or closing them. But acting UNM President Chaouki Abdallah is more bold. When asked by newsman Chris Quintana if the current higher ed model was sustainable, Abdallah remarked:

You want a one-word answer? No. But I don’t think it’s sustainable across the U.S,

Abdallah suggested that consolidating the state’s higher education system would probably be beneficial in the long term for the state, though in the short term it could disrupt local economies.

Damron says she will come with a "strategic plan" for the higher ed crisis in September, but that plan may be destined to gather dust unless she does more than tinker with decentralization and ignores downsizing.

Meanwhile, enrollment at the multitude of campuses is eroding dramatically. We now have 131,000 higher ed students compared to 155, 000 in 2010. Clearly something has to give. Resistance to closing any institution will be fierce. Secretary Damron has decided to avoid that battle in her short time left but the Great Downsizing that has followed the Great Recession will not be denied. As President Abdallah said the current mode is unsustainable.


It was a short-lived optics win for Dem US Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham over GOP Rep. Steve Pearce. The southern congressman and possible '18 Guv candidate was heavily criticized when he opted out of holding a town hall meeting in today's volatile environment. Instead he went for a telephone town hall. Meanwhile, Grisham, an announced Guv candidate, held a town hall that garnered wide notice. But over the weekend Pearce reversed course and threw open the doors of the Ruidoso Convention Center for a town hall that attracted over 300, (albeit a lot them protesting Democrats) along with ample media coverage.  Pearce may not be officially in the governor's race with Grisham, but he's acting as though an entry may be around the corner.

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