Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

5-4 Is Rail Runner Worth It to the State?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Gov. Bill Richardson's most noticeable big spending initiative has been the Rail Runner train , which now extends from Belen to Santa Fe.
Over $400 million has been expended on the project thus far but that's chicken feed compared to his dream of extending the line from Las Cruces to Raton. He's even talked about his vision of a line from El Paso to Denver.
Somehow I never really caught the train bug. They've been a thing of the past to me. Passenger air travel became the rage in the late 1940s. Ten years later, the Interstate highway system made long distance car travel much faster and easier.
Short haul rail transportation in large metropolitan areas remained popular but otherwise many rail lines started going broke. So why are we now thinking that it's such a good deal in the spread out West?
I've ridden the rails between Albuquerque and El Paso a few times over the decades. I enjoyed passing through the bosques along the Rio Grande but the trains were never very full and passenger service declined to a halt.
So now the state wants to spend a huge amount of our money starting it up again? Personally I'd rather bet on the spaceport
I guess it is other considerations that have brought railroads back. Less highway construction and maintenance. Less pollution. Less traffic congestion. Less worry about rising gasoline prices. And the governor tells us there is an economic benefit.
For all those reasons, I surmise, ridership on the Rail Runner is reported to be good and increasing despite the trip from Santa Fe to Albuquerque taking an hour and a half rather than an hour by car.
Rapid rail it isn't. Europe and Asia have figured out how to go 200 miles an hour but we're stuck at about 59, while passengers watch cars out run them on I-25.
The main reason for the train seems to be getting state workers to and from their jobs in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The first trains begin arriving in both cities at 7:30 a.m. Many are scheduled again around quitting time.
The Rail Runner is popular. Many state employees buy monthly passes. A little of the shine has worn off because of the extra time for a normal run and further delays for malfunctioning crossing bars and livestock on the track.
We are told the malfunctions are decreasing as bugs are worked out and that the railroad is building fences to keep out the livestock. Trains have killed seven so far.
Other than good schedules for 8-5ers, other riders have problems. Early morning workers who have to report before eight have no train. There are large gaps at midday. And those who would like to go to Albuquerque for a game or concert are also out of luck. So are airline passengers with early or late planes.
The problem is that the neighborhood meetings during the planning process ended up requiring officials to promise not to run the trains during normal sleeping hours.
Another indication the Rail Runner is meant for getting state employees to and from work is that no service was originally planned for Saturdays and Sundays. But some Saturday trial runs while the train was being promoted worked out so well that Saturday service is now offered and Sundays are being considered.
The question remains as to whether $400 million to benefit people living along 90 miles of the Rio Grande is a good expenditure for New Mexico. Granted, three of the largest cities in the state are in the corridor. Las Cruces would be the fourth if the Rail Runner ever is extended that far.
The train never is expected to make money. Passenger fares will be subsidized by a gross receipts tax in communities served beginning this summer. Annual operating costs are estimated at around $20 million.
MON, 5-04-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

5-1 Haste Makes Waste

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Hasty implementation of a great idea early in Gov. Bill Richardson's administration has haunted state government ever since.
When Richardson took office state government had 70 disparate payroll and human resources systems It made sense to combine those into one overall system. Many other states were in the process of doing the same thing. Software programs had been developed that would handle such a task.
Fitting 70 different systems into one new statewide system wasn't going to be easy. New Mexico could have contracted to have such a system designed and installed but it was cheaper to buy it off-the-shelf and then hire another company to help you do it yourself.
Such conversions were taking other states in the neighborhood of 28 months to get everything up and running smoothly. That included some time to run both systems in parallel for awhile to be sure they gave the same results and time to convert a few departments ahead of the others just to see how things worked.
But someone in New Mexico state government wanted to do the conversion in half the time and half the cost. That pressure usually is blamed on the Department of Finance and Administration, which was responsible for the new system.
No fingers were pointed at our new, popular, let's-go-get-'em governor but it is unlikely anyone thought the orders were coming from anyone other than "fast-forward" Bill.
The changeover also needed to include outside experts in every agency to train personnel and to handle any early implementation problems. But New Mexico chose a train-the-trainers approach, in which someone from every department was given training and then told to go back and teach coworkers.
Some agencies had information technology employees who have experience with similar systems outside New Mexico. They did all right but the rest needed more help than they were receiving.
So the new system, called SHARE, debuted three years ago this July. It was largely a disaster. Thousands of state employees, vendors and contractors received no payments, late payments or incorrect payments. Some vendors said they were forced out of business because of having to carry the state for so long.
Those problems were solved first. After six or eight months, the dust settled a little but the Legislative Finance Committee decided to take a much closer look because if the system had so much trouble with the little stuff, what about big things, such as audits and handling federal money?
And sure enough, agencies have had problems, the worst being the state Department of Transportation which was notified that its federal reimbursements had been suspended because the SHARE accounting system was inadequate to handle its reporting in the form that the feds require.
Since a good 40 percent of state highway money comes from the federal government, that action caught everyone's attention. Sen. Phil Griego, a member of the Legislative Finance Committee asked for an investigation of SHARE and who is responsible for its failures.
As we said earlier, the LFC has been looking into SHARE for two years. So it may take more than that. From here, it appears what it is going to take is money to do the job the way it should have been done originally.
We had plenty of money back then to do the job right. Unfortunately Gov. Richardson had many other big ticket items he also wanted to sell at the time.
Many other states use the basic Peoplesoft system we bought off the shelf. It is a respected company and a good product. What we need is a lot more brainpower spending a lot of time to design the system to meet federal needs.
Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, an expert in the field estimates it will take 90 days, at 18 hours a day, with a really good team to do the fix.
There may be little choice but to do that.
FRI, 5-01-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Monday, April 27, 2009

4-29 No Border War This Time

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- New Mexico is having border problems again. This time it's with Arizona and maybe Colorado.
Recent articles report that the Four Corners Monument, a popular tourist attraction denoting the only place in the nation where four states come together, is about 1800 feet off the mark.
That's only about six football fields but if they are lined up along the entire state borders, it becomes a big chunk of territory. The majority opinion seems to be that the convergence of the four states is to the east and just a little north of where the marker is located.
That would put it in southwestern Colorado, although there are other opinions. The problem arises from surveying instruments back in 1868. It is a real tribute to those surveyors that they came so close.
It appears New Mexico came out the victor over Arizona from the mistake and that we'd have to give up some land to Colorado.
So will the four states be fighting over that land for the next century, as we have fought with Texas over the disputed land along our eastern border?
The answer is no. All four states got together long ago and agreed that the four corners of our states are exactly where the Four Corners Monument presently is regardless of what today's precision measuring now says.
It doesn't really matter much anyway. The land is barren in the area and it is all on the Navajo Reservation anyway.
For the record, the official New Mexico highway map shows the Four Corners Monument as being in New Mexico.
Our border problem with Texas, on the other hand, continues to simmer. The original survey team ran into all sorts of difficulties, partly the result of trying to avoid hostile Indians. A subsequent survey got it much closer to correct.
But the original survey favored Texas so it bullied Congress into giving Texas the extra land in return for Texas recognizing our right to become a state.
Actually Texas never wanted New Mexico to become a state. It wanted our land, too, at least as far as the Rio Grande, but it also had its eye on expanding as far west as San Francisco.
Oddly, the congressional resolution that made Texas a state gave it the right to divide itself into as many as five states. But Texas wanted just the opposite, although it did say it would like to have 10 senators.
When New Mexico became a territory a decade or so later, it had no choice. Congress divided it into five states. What is now Arizona and the southern portions of Colorado, Utah and Nevada all were originally a part of New Mexico, and before that, New Spain.
When Sen. Johnny Morrow represented northeastern New Mexico in the state Legislature, he tried numerous times to direct the attorney general to sue Texas for the 600,000 or so acres of grazing land and oil patch that Texas muscled away from New Mexico.
When Morrow left the Legislature, his officemate Sen. Shannon Robinson carried on the fight. But attorneys general never saw much legal merit in the argument that we gave up the land under duress.
We were under duress because we had tried so long to gain statehood but we had fairly well signed away our rights on that one.
Morrow lost his Senate seat to Patrick Lyons, who now is New Mexico commissioner of public lands. Lyons may have come the closest to getting an upper hand in the land dispute. He challenged the Texas land commissioner to a duel.
The Texas commissioner accepted even though Lyons is known as a quick draw. Unfortunately the Texas commissioner was quicker, although Lyons claims he was the victim of foul play.
Our best opportunity now may be encouraging Texas to go ahead and secede from the union, as its governor, Rick Perry has been threatening of late.
Then the U.S. government would be on our side and it could build the border fence along the 103rd meridian as it is supposed to be.
WED, 4-29-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Free, at last?

Dear readers--
Hopefully, I've foiled the bad guys who cracked into this blog. Sorry for the distractions.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

4-27 It's the Silly Season Again

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Some of our friends and neighbors still are doing the darnedest things. Taking first place these days for craziness is Gov. Rick Perry of Texas talking about seceding from the Union again.
Perry may actually have gotten sucked into this deal. Certifiably silly commentator Glenn Beck, who has bounced around the airwaves recently, has been suggesting since the November election that the states that didn't vote for President Barack Obama should secede.
When Gov. Perry delivered a Texas Tea Party speech on tax day, several partiers started yelling "secede." That got Perry energized and so he started talking about secession and about how Texas has a special right to secede.
I kinda thought we settled that business back in the 1860s and that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled since that secession was unconstitutional. But Perry says since Texas entered the union under special circumstances its treaty of annexation gives it the right to secede.
My history consultant, Dave Clary, down in Roswell, tells me the 1844 treaty never was implemented because Congress voted it down and Texas never took it up.
In 1845, President John Tyler persuaded both Congress and the Texas Legislature that they could adopt a simple resolution admitting Texas into the union. Thus Texas became a state, but without any right to change its mind.
It's gotten kinky enough again in Texas that the colorful Kinky Friedman has decided to run for governor again. This time, he'll run as a Democrat instead of an independent. Gov. Perry will face longtime U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson. Looks like Perry is trying to get to the right of her.
Things continue to be exciting down in Lincoln County. This time, a guy wanted on drug charges put a death notice in the newspaper so the charges against him were dropped. Former Deputy Sheriff Steve Sederwall notified authorities that the guy was very much alive and living just down the street from him.
Why go to all the trouble of faking your death when you can just put a notice in the paper? It's not really that uncommon an occurrence. Anyone interested in a New Mexico-based novel on the subject can pick up Stuart Woods' "Santa Fe Rules." One of three he's written about the area.
A Phoenix radio station played a wacky April Fools joke on its listeners this year. It announced that the city had bought 1,000 red light and speeding cameras in order to balance it's budget from the fines it plans to collect.
Calls to city hall reportedly were overwhelming. The story was believable because the state of Arizona bought 100 cameras last year to help balance its budget.
Statistics support the contention that traffic cameras save lives but Arizona's motivation is money. Camera violations are very costly but the ticket doesn't go on your record and insurance companies aren't notified. If you can afford it, speed all you want in Arizona. If you can't, be very, very careful.
Earlier this month, an Arizona jury sentenced a serial killer to death. It was quite controversial but the killer invited the jury to go ahead and do it. New Mexico's last execution went much the same way. In 2001, Terry Clark said he was ready.
With the college of Santa Fe about to go out of business, the newly restarted athletic program also will be a casualty. And with it, also will go the quirky name the students had chosen as a mascot.
It seems quite likely that no other schools call their teams the prairie dogs. And yes, the city of Santa Fe still treats its prairie dogs like royalty. They can't be eradicated.
They must be relocated to facilities better than what our homeless receive. Holes must be dug for them at 45-degree angles with just the right amount of vegetation around them so they will have plenty to eat but still have a place to hide.
MON, 4-27-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

4-24What is Motivating Governor?

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Things aren't always as they seem, especially in politics. Reasons are given for actions but that creates an entire industry of columnists, commentators and talking haircuts attempting to cut through the intrigue.
The biggest question among New Mexico state employees, other politicos and the media is what's next for Gov. Bill Richardson? That question doesn't have an answer yet. Much will depend on the grand jury considering pay-to-play allegations.
The probe is said to be moving aggressively, yet it appears stuck in neutral. Will the dismissal of charges against Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens cause other U.S. attorneys to become a little less aggressive?
Richardson says being governor of New Mexico is still the best job in the world, yet he appears a bit detached and he gave his first extensive interview on his current situation to the Washington Post. That interview has since been carried in some New Mexico newspapers, which use the Post's writers group.
Gov. Richardson told the Post that he is at peace in New Mexico, yet many suspect he will be out of here as quickly as possible. The Post interview ended with his comment that he still has years left ahead of him. Richardson is 61.
The governor confounded political observers during the past legislative session by signing a bill he had been talking about vetoing and vetoing a bill he had been talking about signing.
A measure to open conference committee meetings between House and Senate leaders had been on Richardson's agenda for years but when one finally passed, he indicated he was changing his mind. What could have caused that? Several answers have been proposed.
Richardson's stated answer was that the bill contained a big loophole allowing the House and Senate to vote not to close conference committee meetings if they changed their minds.
Proponents of the bill argued that the provision made the bill weaker but it was the only way to get the measure passed and it was better than no open conference committees at all. It appeared the bill's proponents suspected the loophole wasn't Richardson's real reason for suggesting he might veto it.
Senate leaders were known to be very much against the bill but when it passed they announced they were immediately opening conference committees.
At the first open conference committee, Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Luna, a member of the conference committee, used it to embarrass House Speaker Ben Lujan. Did Lujan, who is close to the governor, recommend a veto to Richardson because he suspected the Senate might use it for more mischief?
Did Senate leaders inform the governor their next step would be to open his cabinet meetings? Although not mentioned often, Senate leaders worried that opening their conference committees would give the governor the unfair advantage of listening to their deliberations?
Governors sometimes use their veto power as a bargaining chip. Might he veto the bill to win a big concession from Senate leaders on some unknown issue? Or was he suggesting a possible change in positions to leverage something from the bill's proponents?
Then unexpectedly, the governor quietly signed the bill on a weekend.
The other surprise Richardson action came on the "double-dipper" bill to allow retired public employees to return to work and collect their regular pay, plus their retirement. The governor had indicated he would sign the bill but then vetoed it to the dismay of budget hawks who objected to the cost and state employees who felt it was unfair.
Gov. Richardson has appointed a task force to develop a better solution than the bill proposed.
Who got the governor turned around on this one? Columnist Carter Bundy says Richardson got some bad information. Newspapers have reported that Attorney Gen. Gary King recommended a veto because of unspecified legal problems. Some have suggested that King has many double-dippers on his staff.
The answer to this may be easier. Richardson wants to control the situation with a task force.
FRI, 4-24-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

4-22 Republicans Have Fun Too

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Our capital city lived up to its reputation at the April 15, Tea Party by turning out a very large and eclectic crowd for the event.
Santa Fe is accustomed to rallies and demonstrations. But most of them are of the liberal variety. Could conservatives successfully pull one off in this land often called the People's Republic of Santa Fe?
Yes, they could. They did a good job. The Santa Fe New Mexican estimated the crowd at 500. Organizers claimed 700 and said they collected 540 petition signatures to send to elected officials.
Various sources estimated the crowd in Boston at "a few hundred." Many New Mexico communities beat that.
Certainly it isn't difficult to get people riled up on the day we must pay our federal and state income taxes. April 15 always produces political theater from all stripes of people opposed to paying taxes to support government programs with which they disagree.
But the folks who organized tea parties in hundreds of cities and towns across the United States did a good job of putting them together. No one wants to take credit for the accomplishment, preferring to call it a grassroots movement.
The GOP was in evidence at many of the rallies, but officially the organizers in each community were concerned individuals. Fox News claims it was just reporting, not organizing the events. But I did see hours of promotion for the parties on the channel, with maps showing where events would be.
Former U.S. Rep Dick Armey and other lobbyists for companies receiving bailout money have been fingered as the real organizers. Having been an organizer myself at one time, I know such things don't just happen, especially on a national scale.
The only reason it matters is the claims that this was the beginning of a continuing movement. The next rallies will be on July 4. That should get the blood boiling in the folks who complained that the April 15 events misinterpreted the true meaning of the 1773 Boston Tea Party.
Back to the fun in Santa Fe. The event was advertised as non-partisan, family friendly and peaceful. And that it was. There was music, many costumes, children's activities and smiles on faces everywhere.
Invited speakers included former Democratic state Sen. John Grubesic, a former libertarian-leaning Gov. Gary Johnson and Republican gubernatorial hopeful Greg Zanetti.
The only unpleasantness of the evening came when Grubesic announced he doesn't like taxes either but they are necessary to operate a civilized society. That and a few other comments brought some heated retorts from the audience.
Gov. Johnson and organizers apologized for Grubesic's treatment but that's what sometimes happens at large gatherings. Grubesic took it in stride, saying he has been treated worse by Democrats at times.
Johnson showed up wearing a shirt with a large peace symbol on it and told the crowd he was disappointed with both Republicans and Democrats for wrecking our economy.
Signs and posters tended more toward humor than the hateful ones we saw on TV at rallies elsewhere in the nation. One sign said "John Galt Lives."
It's likely many in the crowd didn't have to ask the central question from "Atlas Shrugged." Reportedly those who did ask "Who is John Galt" learned more than they might have wanted about Ayn Rand's philosophy of ethical egoism and how well it fit into the rally's theme.
Some 16 tea parties were held throughout the state in Hobbs, Roswell, Carlsbad, Alamogordo, Las Cruces, Las Vegas, Silver City, Clovis, Farmington, Taos, Raton, Aztec, Albuquerque and even Mayhill.
Attendance was good at all I have heard from. Roswell may top them all at a reported 1,000.
That's encouraging. The two most overlooked, and often least popular, of our five 1st Amendment rights are the rights to assemble and to petition our government.
WED, 4-22-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Thursday, April 16, 2009

4-20 Why Governors Veto?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Every governor seems to have his own style for signing and vetoing bills. Gov. Gary Johnson gained notoriety for vetoing more bills than any other governor in state, and maybe even national, history.
Johnson had a libertarian philosophy but knew he'd have to run as a Republican in order to get elected. Libertarians believe in limited government and Johnson figured that vetoing bills was a great way to limit government.
Gov. Bruce King vetoed a great many bills also. His motivation wasn't especially philosophical. It was practical. He had a favorite explanation about how he introduced and passed many bills during his first year as a legislator.
But then King noticed during the remainder of that year that most of his new legislation didn't seem to work out quite the way he had expected. So the following year he introduced legislation to repeal much of what he'd accomplished the first year.
King decided that most legislation isn't really needed. In fact, one year, he even vetoed a bill that his wife, Alice, was championing. The following year that bill passed very quickly and was signed even quicker -- complete with an elaborate signing ceremony.
I also recall Gov. Johnson doing something similar to his first lady, Dee. Johnson always insisted he never looked at the name on the bills he was vetoing. No one had a bit of reason to doubt that statement because Republican legislative leaders suffered just as many vetoes as anyone else.
Democrats had fun trying to override bills introduced by Republican leaders. It requires two-thirds of both houses to override a veto and enough Republicans always stuck together to support their governor even when it meant voting against their own bill.
On the other end of the spectrum are governors who vetoed very few bills. Their motivations were somewhat harder to discern. Vetoes must be explained but signings don't.
One possible explanation is that these governors were nice guys who didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings and figured who were they to override a decision of the Legislature. If you still believe in the Easter bunny, that's probably a pretty good answer.
A more likely explanation is that governors who veto few bills want to build as many good relationships with lawmakers as they can in order to get as many of their own legislative initiatives passed.
Former President George W. Bush developed his own style. He didn't veto a bill for several years after he became president. But he created what he called signing statements in which he essentially said he was going to carry out only those parts of the bill with which he agreed.
That could be something that happens with New Mexico governors except on a much more subtle basis.
Gov. Bill Richardson is one of those governors who doesn't veto many bills. There is speculation that he is using his signing or veto power as a bargaining chip with lawmakers, especially the top ones.
Two bills on Richardson's desk following the 2009 legislative session raised many questions about what Richardson might be up to. One was the bill to open conference committees to the public, press and other lawmakers.
Conference committees are the closed sessions legislative leaders hold to iron out differences between similar bills passed by the House and Senate.
For a decade lawmakers, with support of the press, have fought to open these meetings. Only the six legislators involved in the conference committees get to know what is going on. The other 106 lawmakers are as much in the dark as the general public.
Gov. Richardson always had said he would sign such a bill if one ever made it through the legislative process. But when one did this year, Richardson backtracked. He also surprised on another bill to restrict state employee double dipping.
We'll discuss those in depth soon.
MON, 4-20-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

4-17 Fixing Government

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Recently this column mentioned that Lincoln County seems to have the strangest goings-on of any place in the state. In that column, we talked about their fandangos, which were quite the rage a century ago.
In fact, fandangos got to be so wild that the state Legislature banned them. To our knowledge, that law has never been repealed but the town of Lincoln , where many fandangos once occurred, has reinstated them, although on a somewhat tamer scale.
My other point was a measure that still was hanging fire on Gov. Bill Richardson's desk when that column was written. Since then, the governor signed the bill exempting candidates for county office from having to collect nominating petition signatures like everyone else.
Up until now, the law said that county candidates had to file nominating petitions but because of some confusing language in old sections of the law, the secretary of state's office was not directing county clerks to require nominating petitions from county candidates..
So the nominating petitions never were required anywhere in the state until last June when a sometimes controversial candidate filed to run against the incumbent sheriff of Lincoln County.
When Steve Sederwall walked into the courthouse to file, he was told he must have petitions. With only hours remaining until the deadline, there was not time to collect sufficient signatures.
Sederwall didn't make the ballot so he sued claiming he had been told by several public officials he didn't need signatures and that he had been treated unequally because his opponent wasn't required to have signatures.
The case quickly went to the state Supreme Court which ruled that Sederwall could collect his signatures and get on the ballot. It didn't toss the incumbent sheriff off the ballot for not having signatures but did strongly suggest that something should be done about making the practice fit the law. Otherwise there would be a slew of lawsuits come the 2010 elections.
The message obviously was received loudly and clearly. The fix was introduced as Senate Bill 3 in this year's legislative session, passed both houses unanimously and was quickly signed by the governor.
Another bill Gov. Richardson was expected to sign quickly related to state employee double-dippers who retire, wait 90 days and then return to service with both retirement pay plus a regular paycheck. And they usually step back into their high-paying old job, thereby preventing other employees from the chance for advancement.
Rep. Lucky Varela tried to remedy this situation in the 2009 Legislature by introducing a measure limiting this practice but Gov. Bill Richardson vetoed it. He is appointing a task force to look into the situation and report back to an expected special legislative session in the fall.
Varela says he worked long and hard to fashion a reasonable compromise on this thorny issue but Gov. Richardson decided he wanted to tackle it himself. "Let's see what he comes up with," Varela says.
Varela understands the issue well. He is a retired state employee who has many friends on both sides of the issue. His solution was to require employees to wait a full year before returning to work and imposed a $30,000 yearly limit on earnings after which their pension is suspended.
Almost 2,200 retired state employees have taken advantage of the current law. Gov. Richardson says the majority of them are "extremely dedicated, skilled and caring employees who are dedicated to public service."
Richardson also says their combined salary and pension, which can total more than $150,000, are far from egregious. That sounds pretty steep to me but when compared to salaries of university administrators and Wall Street executives, I suppose it's chicken feed.
Richardson had said he would sign the bill and many are wondering what or who made him change his mind. Maybe he decided that returning the old pros just might make state government run more efficiently and effectively.
FRI, 4-17-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Sunday, April 12, 2009

4-15 It Could Have Been Worse

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Reports from around the nation indicate that New Mexicans have escaped the current financial crisis with less pain than most of our fellow Americans. Numerous states already have enacted tax increases
And there may be more because most states have much longer legislative sessions than we do. Some range up to a year. Many of those states still haven't figured a way out of their dilemma. And some of those aren't discussing any other legislations until they set their budget for this year and next.
New Mexico lawmakers had our budget for the remainder of this fiscal year passed and signed by Gov. Bill Richardson on Feb. 6. Next year's General Appropriations Act was passed before the March 21 adjournment of the Legislature and signed by the governor on Apr. 7.
A special session of the Legislature still is a possibility in case the economy gets worse or the federal government does something unexpected later in the year.
Everyone has their complaints about New Mexico's state government but this certainly is an area in which it appears very competent.
Visiting some neighboring states recently, we have had the opportunity to witness the trials they are going through during the current financial crisis. Arizona, Nevada and California have been the three hardest hit states in the nation. Each have about a 30 percent budget deficit for this budget year and maybe another 30 percent for next year.
California's fiscal woes and attempted fixes all have been highlighted nationally. Nevada's and Arizona's dilemmas have been even worse.
In February, the Arizona legislature told all departments they would have to cut their budgets in the 30 percent range for the rest of the year. No excuses. Lawmakers didn't say where to cut. They just said figure it out and report back to us.
Needless to say, many public services have been cut. Perhaps worst of all, the Revenue Department had to lay off 44 percent of its tax collectors and auditors for the last four months of the year ending in June.
Those 208 tax collectors and auditors bring in many times their annual salaries in delinquent tax payments. But the only alternative was to lay off the employees who process tax collections and returns. That would have had an even greater impact on revenues that don't get collected.
This all happened after the department had released all probationary employees and not filled their positions and after implementing furloughs for all remaining employees.
Although not too many people are taking much pity on the tax collectors, their impact on the budget is huge. Lawmakers are debating whether to restore some of those positions in next year's budget but that budget may have to be even more austere than this year's cuts.
Another interesting situation developed in Arizona when the head of the Department of Transportation was called to testify to a legislative committee about the effects of the cuts on his department. It just so happened that the department head was himself on a mandatory furlough at the time.
He toyed with the idea of notifying the committee that he would be unavailable. It would have made a good point but the director decided that action would cause him a great deal more grief than just showing up.
The only New Mexico state employees who received any cuts were the hundreds of top staffers hired by the governor. He cut their salaries two percent and took away their compensatory time and end-of-the-year payouts for annual leave.
But they aren't getting much pity either. They are the ones who get the publicity and cause a public perception that we have too many state employees, all of whom are overpaid.
JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Thursday, April 09, 2009

4-10 Lincoln Town Throwing an Illegal Fandango?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE – What is the most interesting county in New Mexico? Is it Rio Arriba, with its political intrigue and 400 year old cultural traditions.
Is it Dona Ana, with its southern Rio Grande Culture? Is it Grant County with its mining history, Black Range Tales and the most colorful Madame in the West? Is it bustling Albuquerque or historic Santa Fe?
It would be possible to name every county in some category but I seem to find myself writing about more unusual happenings in Lincoln County than any place in our state.
I've lived many places in New Mexico but never in Lincoln County so it isn't hometown loyalty that focuses so many of my columns on Lincoln County. It has to be the people and what they do..
Catching my eye this week was a news release from the New Mexico Department of Tourism about a fandango in old Lincoln town, a state monument that has been seeing action since the building of Fort Stanton in 1855.
Back at that time, fandangos would attract nearly everyone in the community. Americans had been enjoying them since the days of the Santa Fe Trail , beginning in 1821.
Early merchant Josiah Gregg described them in 1840 Everyone was welcome, even Anglos, and all classes of people and danced together. Often there was a gambling hall that was part of the same building.
Somewhere along the way, fandangos became a little raucous and were outlawed by the state Legislature, presumably after statehood in 1912, when temperance unions came in full swing.
At times in the last 40 years, I remember bills introduced to lift the ban on fandangos. Much joking ensued but I can't remember it ever involving the passage of one of those bills.
To tell you the truth, I can't find reference to a fandango in the statues but then my computer isn't treating me right these days and I may somehow have missed it.
But there is a strong likelihood that on May 16th, the Lincoln State Monument Visitors' Center will host an illegal fandango to welcome participants in the 7th Annual Billy the Kid Trail Ride.
That ride traces the 125-mile route that Billy the Kid took back in 1881 to escape from the Lincoln County Jail to Fort Sumner, probably to meet his girlfriend Paulita Maxwell.
This year, as in the past few years, the route will be ridden backwards, from Fort Sumner to Lincoln. It's an eight-day ride with nights spent under starry skies at host ranches along the way.
The trail ride offers a true Western experience with historically accurate reenactments, story telling, chuckwagon dinners and safe horsemanship.
It isn't at all likely that this year's fandango in Lincoln will be raided. Publicity for the fandango says after trail riders have a well-earned opportunity to freshen up, they will join Lincoln residents and visitors in old-fashioned fun.
This isn't quite expected to be the same as the old-fashioned fun of the Santa Fe Trail and territorial days but a later form of fun, say from the 1930s.
Advertising says participants will be served green chile stew, frijoles, tortillas and homemade cobbler with ice cream. Story tellers and musicians will provide the entertainment.
It doesn't say anything about booze, gambling or dancing girls. But, hey, how often do you get to tell your friends that you attended that you attended an illegal fandango. And this one is on the exact site of the famous Lincoln County War.
The Department of Tourism says lodging is available in Lincoln for riders and visitors. It says to contact The Ellis Store Country Inn, 800-653-6460 or the Dolan House, 575-653-4670.
The other piece of Lincoln County excitement awaits the signature of the governor. It involves whether county officials throughout the state will have to collect nominating petition signatures just like all other candidates. More on this later.
FRI, 4-10-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Thursday, April 02, 2009

4-9 Que Viva Tamalewood

MON, 4-06-09

SANTA FE - Tamalewood is still in business. It was touch and go there for awhile with dueling studies indicating that the movie industry is contributing either 15 cents or $1.50 for each dollar the state puts into its film making incentives.
Some legislative financial leaders wanted to put a cap on the amount of rebates it could pay out in order to attract more movie business. That would be similar to a company stopping payment of commissions because its sales force was selling more than anticipated.
How could two studies be so far apart? It depends on how far out they go in measuring the secondary and tertiary effects of an industry. Most impressive were the findings that 2,220 new jobs and 200 new film-related businesses have been created since Gov. Gary Johnson and state Sen. Shannon Robinson got the ball rolling at the end of Johnson's term.
The Richardson administration put on a full-court press after the Legislative Finance Committee released its study indicating the film industry isn't worth the money spent in keeping it here.
The November 2008 edition of the New Mexico magazine was featured as a collector's edition and titled, "Hooray for Tamalewood." Certainly the issue wasn't put together in a few weeks but the Richardson administration knew it would have to work hard to keep the money flowing in a year of fiscal austerity.
In case the name "Tamalewood" is not familiar to you, it has been used to describe New Mexico's film industry since its renaissance back around 2003. It is a takeoff on other movie and music centers, such as Bollywood and Dollywood.
Not everyone likes the name but it is popular enough to fight about. Leonard Sanchez of Santa Fe has trademarked it for film production and clothing purposes but hasn't copyrighted it, which may be why the state Department of Tourism could use it on the cover of its November magazine.
The name Bollywood is not particularly appreciated by the film industry centered in Mumbai, formerly Bombay, India, but that's what Hollywood likes to call it so that's what we will continue to hear.
We got to hear a lot of Bollywood talk earlier this year when "Slumdog Millionaire" won an Oscar. Obviously millions of Americans loved it as a feel-good story. But my movie-going friends had the opposite reaction. They were repulsed by the conditions under which the poor children of Mumbai have to exist. They left the movie feeling depressed and upset.
Soon after the movie became so popular, letters began appearing in local newspapers telling how people can help the poor children of India. It all involved sending money. That speaks to the greatness of this nation when its people can be that concerned about helping the long oppressed despite our own financial problems.
But is that really the most effective way to help, I've been asked? India bills itself as the largest democracy in the world. It also is working very hard to become the biggest economy in the world. It definitely is in competition with us and it draws nearer to overtaking our economy every time we outsource more work to them.
So where is the disconnect? If India is an economically powerful democracy, why can't it do more about the problems of its poor? Why do its people need help from other countries around the world?
The answer seems to be that India is a country of a billion people divided into many different ethnicities, religions, classes, castes and regional differences, each of which has its own political party. These parties all duke it out in a parliamentary form of government, fashioned after its former British rulers.
So not much gets done other than for the business class doing a good job of handling the economy. That economy could be so much stronger with a focus on the young.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

4-3 Best Session Ever for Renewable Energy?

FRI, 4-03-09

SANTA FE - Although barely noticed by the media, renewable energy supporters feel very good about the legislative session just completed. One solar energy spokesman even announced, "We're pleased about everything that happened."
He had a point. The solar industry received favored treatment by lawmakers and the administration of Gov. Bill Richardson. Backers of some other renewable energy sources weren't happy that solar power received so much of the attention and they received so little.
For instance, a company that wanted to use methane produced by dairy cattle on the east side of the state, said it had trouble getting a welcoming ear from anyone in the administration, which was pushing solar so hard.
But according to representatives of the solar industry, it was the year New Mexico finally got on the renewable energy bandwagon. Interestingly, many other states think New Mexico has been on that bandwagon for quite awhile.
Very soon after becoming governor, Bill Richardson appointed an economic recruitment team that had renewable energy as a prime target. Armed with financial incentives passed by the 2003 Legislature, Richardson's team set out to lure solar companies from other states.
One of those states was Arizona, which wasn't accustomed to losing anything to New Mexico. It assumed that since it had the hottest weather anywhere, it was a natural magnet for the solar industry. But six months over 100-degree weather doesn't necessarily mean more solar power.
If that were true, Oregon wouldn't be so successful at attracting solar industries. Oregon is successful because it offers numerous incentives. The Arizona Legislature is trying again this year to pass a package of solar incentives but most of its lawmakers seem unable to understand why anyone would want to go anywhere else, especially to New Mexico.
Jim Colson, who was on Gov. Richardson's original economic team and then moved on to Phoenix to do economic development, says Phoenix didn't consider New Mexico as even being a competitor back then. Now Colson is president of site selection for a national economic development consultant.
A recent front-page article in the Phoenix Republic quotes Colson as saying that New Mexico no longer considers Phoenix a competitor in the battle to attract the solar industry. The Phoenix mayor now says that if the Arizona Legislature won't move, his city will go out on its own to attract solar business.
It's nice for New Mexico to be out in front on attracting solar business. Evidently Oregon is the only state leading us. Solar lobbyists have done a good job and spent big money promoting their cause.
Does that mean New Mexicans are getting the most efficient solar energy at the lowest prices? Some renewable energy advocates suggest we aren't. Now the competition will move to the federal level for the stimulus money that is becoming available. And don't be surprised to see further battles in New Mexico's 2010 Legislature.
This is the second year in a row that the Arizona Legislature has gotten all aflutter about New Mexico outperforming it in attracting an industry. Last year, it was film making.
When "3:10 To Yuma" was shot in southern New Mexico instead of southern Arizona, that was begging for a fight. Then when "No Country for Old Men," filmed in New Mexico, won the Oscar for best picture, Arizona became incensed.
But it didn't do anything. The Arizona housing market already was in free fall at this time last year and the Legislature decided it wasn't the time to add new expenditures to its budget. That likely will be its decision again this year as it strives to overcome the second biggest budget deficit in the nation.
Nevada has the biggest deficit at 37.6 percent. Arizona is second at 28.2 percent. New York is third, California fourth and Louisiana fifth.
It's nice to be giving Arizona at least a little competition.

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