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Thursday, February 18, 2021

Same Old Record In Santa Fe; Record Revenue But Few Plans To Invest; Mattress Stuffers Prevail, Plus: Broadband Discontent Meets New Senator Lujan, And: Media's Larry Ahrens And Why He's Outta Here 

"A billion here and a billion there and soon you're talking about real money." So famously opined the late US Sen. Everett Dirksen. And so it is in Santa Fe. 

First, MLG said the $1.9 trillion stimulus package pending in DC would flood the state with $2 billion, Well, make that $3 billion, says Senate Finance Committee Chairman Georg Munoz.  

But who's counting? The sky is falling crowd immediately wailed the cry of the hoarders and said the oil fields of SE NM were being put out of business by Biden and that the state economy will soon crumble. Get the posturepedics out of storage, they cried, and stuff them so full they're as lumpy as your grandma's gravy.

The scare is not true, of course, but that's the only record the hawks have in their oldies collection. And they play it over and over.

They not only put it on the vintage turntable Wednesday when the $3 billion was rolled out but also when this news came: 

. . .Revenue levels in the coming fiscal year are now expected to exceed the state’s current $7.2 billion budget — that was pared back by lawmakers during a special session last summer — by $338 million. That’s double the estimated $169 million in “new money” from December. 

You would think Republicans would be talking about returning some money to the citizenry. Not to mention the Guv and Dems doubling down on the state's $200 million grant package for small businesses, or even some of the ideas featured here this week.

We're used to the hawks, as tiresome as they get. Actually, the most disappointing aspect of this session is the performance of the newly elected senators and representatives. No names necessary but have any of them come up with just one bold and publicly stated idea challenging the status quo and the crummy standings we suffer from in just about everything that matters? 

Not that our wax-free ears have heard.

Each legislature seems to end up the same. Newbies get there, quickly join the don't rock the boat club and become squishy cousins with the lobbyists who run the place (and rather effectively for their clients). 

Kick us if we're wrong but before you do please explain how else you become last in the nation year in and year out. Take your time. . . 

BROADBAND (CONT).

Sen. Lujan
Speaking of being last, on the state's broadband woes there's this: 

Senator Ben Ray Lujan held a virtual roundtable with members of New Mexico’s Homework Gap Team to discuss how to close the digital divide for the one in four New Mexico students who lack access to high-speed internet. . . Senator Luján highlighted his continued efforts to expand broadband access and asked panelists how he could support their work from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

How can Senator Lujan "support" their work? How about a five year plan to wire 90 percent of the state, money to go with it and a plan for cooperation between the state, the feds, local governments and private interests to manage the job? Lujan will get plenty of support from everyone, if he steps up with a comprehensive plan. Heck, any of our state's politicians would. 

Mabye reader David Strip near Cuba, NM can help. David reacts to our recent blogging about internet satellites as a possible longterm solution:

I've been waiting for someone in political circles to notice the Starlink and Kuiper efforts and connect them to rural internet issues in NM. As you suggest, there is no amount of money that will bring internet to everyone in NM if we rely on ground-based technologies, especially those that require wire or fiber to households. In the truly rural parts of the state where it can be miles between houses, the cost of running and maintaining a physical connection will be prohibitive. In addition, running new connections may require new rights-of-way.

New Mexico needs to break it's initiative into two parts. Identify unserved parts where dwellings are close enough together to use ground-based systems and those parts where space-based systems are most practical. The communities amenable to ground-based solutions will be served by a mix of wired and wireless technologies. The communities relying on space-based internet may still benefit from shared community connections to reduce the per household cost.

Finally, the state must review regulatory structures. The incumbent carriers in many cases provide awful service because they lack meaningful competition or won't meet their obligations to provide service. Two cases are Tierra Monte, north of Albuquerque, and Youngsville, near Abiquiu Reservoir. In each case, there is a community of 30-40 households, virtually all of which would subscribe to service. In each case, they are a few miles from a likely connection to the telco infrastructure. Each has tried for years to get service, to no avail. New options for rural internet, such as satellite, are becoming a reality and any legislative action toward universal access in NM must incorporate them. 

Geez, David, you're not even on the government payroll and came with a plan. Now do you have a billion or two to spare so we can get to work? 

MOVING ON AND OUT 

Ahrens
Veteran ABQ media personality Larry Ahrens, who held forth on mornings on KKOB radio for 27 years '(80-'07) and later to other postings, announced on Facebook he has moved from ABQ to Scottsdale, in part because of the economic outlook and quality of life here:

My years in Albuquerque have been a wonderful blessing. The community has given me so much support and I've enjoyed tremendous success because of it. I have loved living in New Mexico. But there's a vibrant atmosphere (in Scottsdale) that is very evident. I only wish it would be evident in NM. . . People here are upbeat, friendly and happy. For many years on the air I advocated for a great economy and opportunity for New Mexico. The city and the state have so much potential. I'm afraid now that it's going to take several years to climb out for the hole created by COVID and the lockdown. Life is short. I'm ready for something new. So here's to new beginnings and old friends. 

Ahrens, 70, briefly ran for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2002.  

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Wednesday, February 17, 2021

On The Econ Beat: Lifting New Mexico; How To Use That Heaping Reserve; Broadband And A New Tingley On The List, Plus: More Congress Watch  

News arrived late Tuesday that a confirmation hearing for ABQ Dem Rep. Deb Haaland as Secretary of Interior will start Tuesday, February 23 at 7:30 a.m. ABQ time. 

The hearing is before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. If approved there, the nomination will advance to the full Senate for a vote. 

GOP opposition to liberal Haaland has grown more noticeable in recent days but she is still expected to become the first Native American to serve as Interior Secretary. 

Our sources were calling for a late February committee hearing followed by a full Senate vote in March. That appears the way will it come down and will place the special election to replace Haaland into June.

Now on to the econ beat. . . 

With the pandemic crippling large swaths of the economy, we quoted retired NMSU economist Jim Peach January 12 saying spending down the state's budget reserves--even towards zero--would not be irresponsible given the economic backdrop. 

The only trouble with that quote is that it wasn't from Peach. It was from another noted NMSU economist, Chris Erickson, who has advocated for aggressive stimulus. We asked Dr. Erickson for his latest assessment: 

Joe and Jim, My testimony before the Economic and Rural Development Interim Committee included the following statement: The legislature should not be afraid to run down reserves to near zero [paraphrased]. However, circumstances have evolved. At the time of my testimony the forecast was for an additional large revenue shortfall. Now the forecast is for “new money.” A 25% reserve is too large, but “near zero” is too low in the current circumstances. One can argue what the correct level should be but 10% seems reasonable.

At last report the reserves were at a record-setting $2.5 billion or 35 percent of the $7 billion General Fund budget. Rising oil prices and federal economic relief have helped. 

Economic authorities around the globe agree with Erickson, urging governments to continue aggressive stimulus to prevent a move backwards.

In New Mexico, after more than a decade of dominance by austerity hawks and a tradition of fiscal conservatism by the Legislative Finance Committee, there are not many in Santa Fe willing to embrace that paradigm, but it's not too late to start.

LIFTING NEW MEXICO 

So where to start? Well, that's an easy reach. 

--Start with establishing a $600 million broadband fund to lift our connectivity ranking from 49th in the nation. A bill (SB 93) has begun to move in Santa Fe that establishes an office of broadband, separate from one that now does broadband work but combines it with other tasks. 

A broadband planning office without a major cash commitment is like an office without furniture. Unless there's an economic collapse of Depression caliber, that $600 million would hardly be missed. 

--Establish another fund of $200 million dedicated solely to satisfying the requirements of the Yazzie lawsuit. The court found the state to be in violation the state Constitution by failing to provide adequate education to thousands of at-risk public school students--mostly students of color. A $200 million fund would give the state a plan to easily measure progress or lack thereof to report to the court and finally provide the level of education those deprived deserve,

--One more. $100 million to build a 21st century multi-use facility at the NM state fairgrounds to replace the nearly 70 year old Tingley Coliseum. Never mind that $40 million state bond ask from the NM United  soccer team who want their own dedicated and mostly taxpayer funded stadium. 

That is high risk. For decades every attempt at starting a lasting ABQ sports franchise has withered. But NM United could use the new multi-use facility, as could major touring concerts, the annual Pow Wow of Nations, horse shows, conventions, the annual state fair rodeo and a myriad of other activities that would address a gap in quality of life amenities. The next generation is looking for opportunity and quality and they are not finding it here. 

These proposals total $900 million of that $2.5 billion reserve, leaving $1.6 billion under the mattress for the sky is falling crowd. 

There are points to be put on the board, but only if we have leadership determined to take the risk to make the big play for the big pay off.

CONGRESS WATCH

Dem congressional hopeful Randi McGinn told blog readers Tuesday that it should come as no surprise that she was unable to get elected to the Dem central committee from her ward as well as losing out on becoming precinct chair. She said: 

I was told in advance that running for county central committee or precinct chair would likely be futile because. . . I would be seen as a party outsider because I have had to sit on the sidelines as a political eunuch for the 12 years my husband was on the Supreme Court.

But in a social media post ABQ attorney Eric Shimamoto questions that explanation

It's odd that Randi would suggest she couldn't volunteer in her ward for the 12 years her husband (Charles Daniels) was on the Court: she continued to practice law in the courts of this state that entire time. The latter seems much more likely to lead to a conflict-of-interest than the former. 

For her part McGinn has now brought her grandchildren onto the trail, posting videos of the little ones as part of her #Grandi for Congress campaign. 

Now, if only they were old enough to be on the state central committee. . . 

This is the home of New Mexico politics. 

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Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Congress Watch: Bill To Restore Primaries For Vacancies Eeks Out Win But Passage Questionable, McGinn Falters At Ward Meet As Mailers Drop, Plus: Race Bait: GOP Senate Leader Apologizes To Cabinet Chief For Dubious Comments  

The bill that would have nominees for the expected vacancy in the ABQ congressional seat selected by primary elections, instead of by small groups of the parties central committee members, eeked out a narrow win in the Senate Rules Committee Monday. 

The measure passed 6 to 5 with most Dems voting against, including committee Chairman Daniel Ivey-Soto. 

The bill would require approval of two thirds of the House and Senate to take effect in time for the vacancy which is expected in March after Rep. Deb Haaland is confirmed as Secretary of Interior by the US Senate. The close committee vote signals that two-thirds approval is not going to happen.

The measure is sponsored by Rep. Daymon Ely who says the current system is "undemocratic." The Senate sponsor is ABQ GOP Sen. Mark Moores. 

It may be too late to change the rule for the Haaland vacancy but what about a bill to restore the primaries (and democracy) for future congressional vacancies? Ely and Moores ought to be able to handle that assignment.  

ALLIGATOR ALLEY

The Alligators are out of the pond on the Ely bill. They see it as a play for Dem congressional hopeful Randi McGinn, a trial attorney with considerable personal wealth. She would be the obvious beneficiary of a primary election because her opponents lack her resources.

McGinn ran into trouble at her Saturday ward meeting where she was unable to get elected to the Bernallio County Central Committee which in turn selects members to the state Central Committee who will choose the congressional nominee. She also ran for precinct chair and lost. 

McGinn
While McGinn is well-known in Dem circles as a major money donor, she has never sought public office. Her critics say the failure at the ward level shows she has few connections to the grassroots and is trying to buy the congressional seat. 

We asked McGinn about her ward defeat: 

I was told in advance that running for county central committee or precinct chair would likely be futile because, despite my 40 years of work in the party. . . supporting candidates, I would be seen as a party outsider because I have had to sit on the sidelines as a political eunuch for the 12 years my husband was on the Supreme Court. I ran anyway out of respect for the local process. We re-elected the current precinct chair and I have volunteered to help him walk the neighborhood to engage more voters. 

Even though the Dem nominee will be chosen by around 200 commitee members or fewer, McGinn is already spending major money, anticipating the general election with the GOP nominee (and independent contender Aubrey Dunn Jr.). A Corrales reader informs:

We just got our 3rd full-color mailer from her. Messaging on one was targeted at female voters: "A fighter for the women of New Mexico.” The message on another was more generic, “We need a fighter who will put people before politics.” That one bore the almost-endorsement from Nancy Pelosi. All of them were glossy. 

How about that description of the House Speaker's recent flirtation with McGinn as an "almost endorsement?" That's exactly what it was and looms large as the other Dem hopefuls--Reps Stansbury and Lewis, Sen. Sedillo Lopez, politico Victor Reyes and activists Selinda Guerrero and Francisco Fernandez--work feverishly to secure committee delegates. 

The special election is expected sometime in June. 

RACE BAIT

Sonya Smith 
Comments about race by Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca led him to apologize Monday to Veterans Services Secretary-designate Sonya Smith for his "insensitive line of questioning."

At Smith's confirmation hearing before Senate Rules, Baca pointed out that Blacks make up less than 3 percent of the state's population and that Hispanics comprise 48 percent, saying to Smith: 

Do you expect that in your time here, in seven years, that you’ve been immersed in this culture enough in this state that you feel comfortable entering a position? Do you feel like you are comfortable adequately representing both cultures — white, Native, Hispanics? 

Baca did not apologize in the aftermath of the Friday hearing but on Monday he came with the overdue mea culpa:

I spoke to her and did apologize to her for that insensitive line of questioning that I did lead her through. We had a great conversation and talked about New Mexico and our families and really just a great lady that I plan on supporting on the (Senate) floor.

Sen. Baca
Baca, an attorney in Belen, pulled off a mini-coup when he ousted longtime Senate Minority Leader Stu Ingle of Portales. He was tapped because R's wanted a more aggressive posture and a leadership presence in the vote-heavy Rio Grande corridor that has overpowered GOP dominated rural NM. 

Despite the apology, a Dem consultant took this swipe: 

Baca's comments reveal that he is undeserving of the leadership role given to him by his fellow GOP Senators. He does not have the experience nor the intelligence to lead.

The misstep reminded veteran observers of a more sensational wayward moment in 2011 when House Majority Whip Sheryl Williams Stapleton, a Black ABQ lawmaker, spoke of GOP Gov. Susana Martinez during a House debate. She accused a Republican lawmaker of "carrying the Mexican's water on the Fourth Floor." She later apologized, saying she had "lost it."

Secretary-designate Smith, who served as a medical technician in Operation Desert Storm, played it well and graciously answered Baca's questions. After the meeting she refused to comment on his racial inferences. Thankfully so.

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Monday, February 15, 2021

Presidents' Day Blogging: Immense Budget Surplus Accumulates in Santa Fe As Oil Rebounds, Plus: $2 billion Fed Dollars May Be On Tap, And: Media Beat Sees News Anchor Headed Away 

The riches are piling up in Santa Fe and the stockpile could soon get a whole lot bigger. With rebounding oil prices helping, the state is now sporting a record-setting budget surplus of $2.5 billion, or 35 percent of the current $7 billion General Fund budget. 

And coming out of a White House meeting Friday with President Biden and other government leaders, MLG reported that New Mexico stands to gain $2 billion from Biden's proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. The package contains $350 billion in aid for local and state governments. The $2 billion would be specific to the coronavirus impact but the Governor did not exaggerate when she called the huge sum "a game changer for us."

Photos showed MLG seated prominently near the President and VP at the Oval Office session. It seemed as though she had been rehabilitated from the fallout that occurred when she pursued a cabinet post, only to run afoul of Biden's staffers. The White House gabfest renewed speculation that MLG could still score a one way ticket to DC. Is it time to reboot our Howie watch?

TIED IN KNOTS

While that $2 billion potential windfall from the Feds is celebrated, New Mexico's Democratic political class is tied in knots over Biden's decision to freeze oil and gas leases on federally-owned oil lands in NM and elsewhere. Insider DC publication E&E goes heavy on the NM angle:

Democrats. . .are torn between wanting to support their new president and responding to deep anger and uncertainty back home. . . "It's a double-edged sword," said Joe Monahan, a local blogger and longtime political observer in the state. "The economic ramifications overall to the state budget and state economy loom very large." Oil and gas, he added, is "not a popular industry, but an industry that is treated with cautious respect." 

At the center of the debate is. . .how quickly the leasing freeze will be felt. . .Critics of Biden's executive order, like GOP Rep. Yvette Herrell, say the effects will be immediate and there is no salve other than a reversal of the policy. 

Sen. Ben Ray Luján said it's reasonable for Biden to "do a review" of existing leases as long as there is "robust public comment" as final decisions are made, with Sen. Martin Heinrich saying he opposes a "complete ban or moratorium." 

(MLG) has trod softly, neither condemning nor supporting the executive order. Her reluctance to come down on either side has worried oil and gas interests. . .Her spokeswoman said the governor recognized "the urgent need for federal action to combat climate change" (and) that Lujan Grisham remains "optimistic". . .  the state is not "punished for its high concentration of federal lands."

MEDIA BEAT 

KOB-TV anchor Steve Soliz will wrap up a nearly four year stint as a news anchor for KOB-TV at the end of the month, report our media mavens. Details of the departure are light but one of the mavens says Soliz has an interest in working with Hispanic journalistic groups.

Soliz came to the station from south Texas and was soon in the middle of a restructuring of the 10 p.m. news which is now labeled "Nightbeat." The new format seemed overly melodramatic for the serious Soliz as well as viewers who were accustomed to a more sober and concise rendering of the day's top events. Of course, if it works in the ratings, all is well. 

This is the home of New Mexico politics. 

E-mail your news and comments. (newsguy@yahoo.com)

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