Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

1-4 Two Senators Aim to Climb Political Ladder

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- It appears only two state senators will be trying to climb the political ladder this year. Senators have four-year terms, as do statewide elected officials.
Those offices -- governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, auditor, treasurer and land commissioner -- all are elected in even-numbered years with no presidential election.
State Senate elections are held at the same time as presidential elections. That means state senators are in the middle of their four-year terms when statewide officials are elected.
So senators can take a shot at statewide office while not giving up their Senate seats unless they happen to win that higher office. Years ago, state Senate seats were staggered, so only half of them were able to keep their seats while running for higher office. But they wised up.
Every four years, several senators usually jump into a statewide or congressional race. The small number looking at higher office this year likely is due to the secretary of state, attorney general, auditor and treasurer all being eligible to run for a second term.
All four may end up unopposed in the Democratic primary and maybe even in the general election. At least a half-dozen lawyers were considering running for attorney general when it appeared current AG Gary King might decide on another gubernatorial bid. But when King announced he would seek a second term, all lost interest.
Santa Fe county Clerk Valerie Espinosa has mentioned a challenge of Secretary of State Mary Herrera. All has been quiet about any challenge to Auditor Hector Balderas or Treasurer James Lewis.
For the 2010 election, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez announced the formation of an exploratory committee for governor. But nothing has come of it.
Sen. Tim Eichenberg announced his intent to enter the Democratic lieutenant governor race but then backed out. Only two state senators, both from Albuquerque, have remained interested in higher office. Both got into the Democratic lieutenant governor race early.
Sen. Linda Lopez is chair of the Senate Rules Committee. She promised that her committee would write an omnibus ethics reform bill. They worked on it for 60 days last year but nothing came of it.
Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino is positioning himself as the candidate of progressive Democrats. With a large field in the Democratic lieutenant governor race, that could give him an edge but neither he nor Lopez has been able to raise much money.
Ortiz y Pino also is trying to position himself as the only Democratic lieutenant governor candidate who isn't interested in the office serving as a steppingstone to even higher office. At 67, he says he would want to go no farther so he could concentrate on being the best lieutenant governor possible.
Two state representatives also are seeking higher office. That requires much more commitment because it just about completely prevents representatives from keeping their seats in the House.
If a representative does not succeed in getting on the primary election ballot by winning 20 percent of the March nominating convention vote, there are two choices. Either get additional nominating petition signatures for the office being sought or get petition signatures for the House seat the representative currently holds.
Switching back to run for a House seat isn't always easy. Time is short and other candidates may have entered the race. The state House has lost a number of good members over the years because of unsuccessful attempts to climb the political ladder.
Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones of Albuquerque is in the race for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. She will be remembered as the lawmaker who forced audio and video feeds from an unwilling New Mexico Legislature. Her expertise in technology will be missed by the House.
Rep. Jose Campos of Santa Rosa is in the Democratic race for lieutenant governor. As the only candidate from outside the Albuquerque-Santa Fe area, he is expected to draw heavily from the rest of the state.
MON, 01-04-10

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


Monday, December 28, 2009

1-1 New Year's Predictions

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Happy New Year. Here's a toast to it being a happier year that this past one. Actually the entire decade has been pretty grim in many ways. Let's hope this decade is an improvement.
In keeping with tradition, herewith are some predictions about what may be in store for our state in the coming year.
This year will be another uncertain one as far as our leadership is concerned. It was during the opening week of January 2009 that Gov. Bill Richardson announced he wouldn't be leaving for Washington.
The governor's announcement led to a year of speculation about what would happen next. It is easy to predict the speculation will continue.
Despite that speculation, I predict Gov. Richardson will remain in office through the final year of his term. After all, that's what he told us and, so far, he's kept his word longer than Brett Favre or Urban Meyer.
Lt. Gov. Diane Denish will best former state GOP Chairman Allen Weh in the November gubernatorial election. The lieutenant governor race remains to unpredictable on both sides.
So far, U.S. Rep. Martin Heinrich appears to be making the right moves to stay in his 1st Congressional District office. The 2nd Congressional District race, down south, appears to be another close one that can go either way.
In the 3rd Congressional District, look for libertarian activist Adam Kokesh to out-hustle Tom Mullins in the Republican primary.
That isn't necessarily the state GOP's preferred outcome but Kokesh can pick up votes in the November general election from Libertarians, Greens and independents. It still won't be enough for a Republican victory in the heavily Democratic district.
The economy will remain lame throughout the year. The 30-day session of the Legislature beginning Jan. 19, will be the most contentious ever. At least $600 million still must be cut or taxes raised in order to balance the budget.
Lawmakers will have to decide the proper balance between budget cutting and tax raising. At this point, legislative opinions range from $0 to $600 million on both sides of the equation.
House members must stand for reelection this year. Some, both Republican and Democrat, will be in trouble in their own party primaries for votes they cast this year on budget cutting.
In 2008, a group of left-leaning nonprofit organizations defeated three Democratic lawmakers who hadn't been liberal enough. Seeing their success, a right-leaning nonprofit is organizing to do much the same.
Ethics reform will be on everyone's lips and next to nothing will be done about it -- as usual. Democratic corruption will be the major election focus of GOP campaigns.
But their only solution will be to throw out the Democrats. As we know from watching changing administrations in Washington, corruption is bipartisan. It follows whichever party is in power.
Former Gov. Gary Johnson will continue to be more visible through his effort to sell libertarian views, especially on marijuana legalization. He won't get invited to any Republican gatherings, but talk shows will enjoy interviewing him.
Former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias will stay in the news. Congress is still investigating the political firings of U.S. attorneys around the country and Iglesias doesn't mind talking about it.
Former state Senate leader Manny Aragon will get in the best physical shape he has ever enjoyed. Federal prison time does have a few benefits.
The search for Billy the Kid's DNA is not over yet. We'll be hearing more about our most famous New Mexican this year.
And finally, the world will not end on Dec. 21, 2012 but we'll hear much about it the next three years. The Mayan calendar ends on that date but Mayans say they know how to make a new calendar. They've done it before.
I'll also predict that on Dec. 22, 2012, the talk will turn to an Isaac Newton prediction that the world will end in 2060.
FRI, 1-01-10

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


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Fw: [Inside the Capitol] 12-25 Merry Christmas

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Merry Christmas. I hope I haven't ruined anyone's morning. I realize not all of you are Christians but ours is a diverse society. We should all be willing to appreciate each other's traditions.
A Jewish congregation down the street places a large menorah on its fence, this time of year, which I always appreciate. Apparently the rest of the neighbors do too because it goes back up every year.
We have a sparkly crescent and star hanging prominently in our house. And we aren't bothered that to nearly all the world, it is thought of as a symbol of Islam.
To us, it is a reminder of a magical evening, sitting atop the Hotel Conrad on the Asian side of Istanbul, looking across the Bosporus at the European continent and seeing a crescent moon and star above us in almost the exact position as on the Turkish flag.
Actually the crescent and star are not a Muslim symbol. If they were, they couldn't be on the Turkish flag. The crescent and star were a Turkish symbol long before Islam came into existence.
The Turks quickly became the great power of the Muslim world. When their legions conquered southern Europe, the sight of the Turkish flag they carried caused people to associate the crescent and star with Islam. Eventually Muslims began to make the same association.
But its no big deal to us. We have Santos and Bultos all over our house but we're not Catholic. We have them because we like them. We also have a large cross collection and over 300 nativities for which we had to buy a storage shed to keep them between Christmas seasons.
The point is that people get too serious about words and symbols. As Mike Huckabee said in explaining Mitt Romney's religious beliefs, it is an individual's relationship with God, not his church or religion, that defines what kind of person he is. Words and symbols shouldn't mean that much.
And if they do, don't sweat it. There's no law against public display of Christmas, even for government entities. Most choose not to do it for fear of hurting someone's feelings, but the Supreme Court never has agreed to hear the issue.
Government bodies seem to be moving toward the unwritten "one reindeer rule" by putting something secular in their Christmas display. If I were to move to a country where the predominant culture was other than Christian, I would not expect to see that culture adapt to me.
Some businesses like to play it safe and not lose any customers by mentioning Christmas. But many stores have discovered they can lose more customers by being politically correct.
The Christmas season is a great time to give thanks for the birth of our savior and to focus on peace and good will. But Dec. 25 isn't that sacred. We should give thanks year round.
It appears very likely that Christ was not born on Dec. 25 because shepherds would not have been in the fields tending their flocks in the middle of winter.
December was a common time for most cultures and religions to celebrate because they didn't have to be tending their fields at that time. So it was a good time for Christians to have their big celebration.
Nothing says birthdays have to be celebrated on the anniversary of one's birth. I know people born on Dec. 25, who celebrate their birthday in July.
And by the way, the use of Xmas isn't too un-Christian. In Greek, the language of many early Christian writings, X (Chi) was the first letter of Christ.
So don't feel intimidated about celebrating Christmas in exactly the way you want. You get to make the rules by which you live.
And don't let the blustering Bill O'Reillys of the world get you too worked up either. No one has declared war on Christmas and no one has won it for us. MERRY CHRISTMAS
FRI, 12-25-09

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

Here's the attachment

From: Jay Miller
Sent: Thursday, December 17, 2009 4:23 PM
Subject: [Inside the Capitol] 12-25 Merry Christmas


Posted By Jay Miller to Inside the Capitol at 12/17/2009 04:20:00 PM

12-25 Merry Christmas


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

12-23 Dreaming of a White Christmas

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- We'll be spending Christmas in Phoenix again this year. It's easier on the kids and grandkids. Besides our son-in-law always seems to be on call at Mayo Hospital on Christmas Day.
The entire family would rather be in Santa Fe's snow, farolitos, pine trees and icicles. Some day it may start happening again but until then, we will have to dream along with Irving Berlin about the white Christmas we are missing.
The Arizona Biltmore Hotel, in Phoenix, claims Berlin wrote "White Christmas" while sitting beside its magnificent pool. The verse of the song mentions orange and palm trees swaying but it also mentions being in L.A. where Berlin spent time writing movie scores.
The Biltmore says Berlin also was known to stay at that hotel and write songs. The only reason he didn't say Phoenix is that it doesn't rhyme with much of anything.
The Biltmore has been a landmark for nearly 80 years and has hosted many stars. Its pool is said to have been Marilyn Monroe's favorite. Many political events also are held there, including John McCain's election night party.
New Yorkers, of course, say Berlin wrote the song there despite the orange and palm tree references. They contend that since Berlin didn't read or write music, he composed on a piano, which would have been difficult by the pool.
Maybe Berlin wrote it both places. Since he wrote both words and music, he might have written the words by the Biltmore pool. Regardless, it has been the world's most popular song.
Berlin got the secular Christmas music tradition started on Tin Pan Alley with "White Christmas." Numerous others followed during the 1940s, mostly written by Jewish songwriters.
They weren't offended about Christmas. Many were immigrants, as was Berlin, and they were embracing everything American. And since America is majority Christian, they were willing to participate in the experience without partaking of the religious aspect.
But today the attitude seems to be different. We worry about offending others. happy holidays has replaced merry Christmas in stores and in public places.
The problem isn't that there is a law against Christmas greetings and Christmas displays. Maybe it is a fear that in our litigious society there will be court suits from non-Christians so its easier to save the hassle and back down.
There still are Christmas displays on public property but there will usually be a plastic reindeer or a Santa Claus thrown in.
Four years ago, when New Mexico provided the tree for the U.S. Capitol, House Speaker Dennis Hastert decreed that it would be renamed the Capitol Christmas Tree instead of the Capitol Holiday Tree. By the way, Arizona will be providing the tree this year for the first time.
Actually, the observance of Christmas has had a mixed history in the United States. Early settlers on the East Coast strictly opposed Christmas celebrations because they encouraged public drunkenness, shooting and swearing.
The attitude spread to mainstream churches. Throughout the 1800s, mainstream churches still were trying to hold the line on Christmas celebrations by not accepting the day as a holy one. And since the Bible doesn't mention Dec. 25, the date must have been derived from pagan customs.
But gradually feelings began to change. Clement Clarke Moore's "Visit From St. Nicolas" at mid-century gave a family feeling to Christmas. Political cartoonist Thomas Nast's cartoons created an image of a jolly Santa who gave gifts to children.
By the early 1900s, the retail industry had caught on that Christmas could become a buying bonanza. It is now abundantly obvious where that has led.
Will Christmas always be celebrated in the manner it is now? Will tough economic times mean a long term de-emphasis on compulsive buying? It appears that is what happened this year. Retail merchants are feeling a major pinch. And Christian churches are urging their congregations to find ways to make Christmas a more spiritual day.
We always have had a dynamic society. Change could be coming.
WED, 12-23-09

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


Fw: 12-18 Gary Johnson Ventures Onto National Scene

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is in the national news again. He has launched a nationwide nonprofit campaign to advocate libertarian views on current issues.
The campaign includes a Web site,, containing written statements and film clips of Johnson explaining his positions on the economy, drugs, civil liberties, the environment, abortion, the Federal Reserve, taxes and defense.
On the controversial issue of drugs, Johnson says, "We advocate a 'Don't do Drugs' policy. Drugs can be harmful, addictive and destructive. The current war on drugs, however, has not been successful.
"We believe there needs to be a new direction in fighting these problems," Johnson says. "One of the best solutions to help with the many problems caused by drugs is to legalize marijuana. We do not advocate the legalization of any other drugs and believe that harm reduction measures should be implemented."
Johnson believes that marijuana should be regulated and taxed by the federal government just as tobacco is currently. It would lead to a lower price for the product and eliminate the criminal element from its distribution just as the repeal of prohibition did for alcohol.
Drug cartels may be powerful and ruthless but I'd love to see the pharmaceutical industry take them on. Drug lords wouldn't stand a chance.
It was Johnson's libertarian beliefs that confounded New Mexico lawmakers and public. Many have trouble wrapping their minds around advocacy of smaller government, fiscal responsibility along with personal freedoms for everyone whether you agree with them or not.
Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives believe in personal freedoms but for those freedoms with which they disagree, they want them prohibited by law.
It was Gov. Johnson's views on drugs that brought him national recognition during his second term as governor. He could have had the Libertarian Party nomination for president in 2000 but chose to remain governor of New Mexico where he could lead a drug reform effort that had a slight chance of succeeding.
Johnson continued to have his Libertarian Party supporters in 2004 and 2008 but didn't want to waste his time on a losing effort. After all, Johnson never has lost a political race and wants to remain a winner.
There is still a possibility that his fight against the war on drugs eventually will succeed. At this point, it still is not a subject of legitimate debate. But there are signs that is changing.
The focus on the war on drugs of the 1990s has been replaced by the war on terrorism since 9/11. The current economic crisis is causing lawmakers nationally to rethink how government money is spent. The drug-related violence in Mexico is beginning to cause a national anxiety that it will spill across the border.
A New York congressman, who opposes decriminalization of drugs for non-medical use, nevertheless has introduced legislation to create an independent commission, similar to the 9/11 Commission, to review whether U.S. anti-drug policies in Latin America are producing positive results.
The bill passed the House unanimously and is given a good chance of passing the Senate.
Three former Latin American presidents from Mexico, Brazil and Columbia have jointly pronounced the drug war a failure and have suggested decriminalizing marijuana since it is no more harmful than alcohol and tobacco.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called for consideration of marijuana legislation. A bill has been introduced in the California legislature to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol. And a petition drive has begun to qualify it for the California ballot next year.
These and other events indicate that our nation is headed for a debate that a few years ago would have been considered impossible.
And if we do have that debate, Gary Johnson will be right in the middle of it and may have positioned himself to be in the right place at the right time to further his political ambitions.
FRI, 12-18-09

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

I just learned that I clicked on the wrong address when I sent Friday's column two days ago.

From: Jay Miller
Sent: Monday, December 14, 2009 4:25 PM
Subject: 12-18 Gary Johnson Ventures Onto National Scene


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

12-21 Government Efficiency Takes Spotlight

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Government efficiency is currently the major focus in Santa Fe. Maybe it was the stern warning from legislative leaders that tax hikes are not inevitable as Gov. Bill Richardson has suggested.
The spotlight on tax increases certainly will return as the Budget Balancing Task Force makes its report to the governor.
But, for now, the talk is about how state government can save money by eliminating waste. The Legislative Finance Committee and state Auditor Hector Balderas are working to find instances of questionable spending. Lt. Gov. Diane Denish has established a Governmental Efficiency Hotline to receive phoned-in suggestions.
And now Gov. Richardson has appointed a Committee on Government Efficiency to analyze potential savings through streamlining, consolidating and eliminating areas of wasteful spending.
The governor's independent blue-ribbon committee is as blue as they come. It is headed by former Gov. Garrey Carruthers, a vice president at New Mexico State University, who has pitched in to help Gov. Richardson on other top issues.
The eight-member committee is stocked with the best brains in state government, present and past. Katherine Miller, cabinet secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration provides a tie-in to the current administration.
Past DFA secretaries serving on the committee are Willard Lewis, Dr. Dan Lopez and David Harris. Lewis and Harris served under Republican governors Lopez served under a Democratic governor. Harris also was director of the Legislative Finance Committee.
John Gasparich is a former state budget director and is now fiscal analyst for Senate Republican floor leader Stuart Ingle. Tres Giron is a former chief financial officer for the state Department of Education.
And Chris Krahling was administrative assistant to Gov. Jerry Apodaca during the massive government reorganization that occurred during Apodaca's term.
Some of Gov. Richardson's Budget Balancing Task Force members have been criticized for being unseasoned and unfamiliar with state tax policy. That can't be said of any members of the Committee on Government Efficiency. Gov. Richardson has asked them to conduct a top-to-bottom review of state government.
There aren't any state legislators on either of the governor's two committees. One committee is looking at taxes. The other is looking at cost cutting. Both will help formulate the governor's proposals during the upcoming 30-day, short session of the Legislature.
There is no evidence the governor and legislative leaders will make any attempt at working anything out before the 2010 Legislature convenes on Jan. 19.
Gov. Richardson has attempted to involve a wide variety of representation on his committees but there is one segment that neither he, the Legislature nor state Auditor Hector Balderas have involved.
We're talking about state employees themselves. They see instances of waste and questionable spending first hand. Many would be glad to talk about it as long as they could maintain some anonymity to protect them from retaliation.
It appears that some of the suggestions Lt. Gov. Denish is receiving on her governmental efficiency hotline may be coming from state employees.
With all the individuals and groups looking at how to plug the remainder of the state's big deficit, let's hope the 2010 Legislature can come up with a balanced plan of cutting spending and perhaps raising some more revenue.
A fiscal crisis can be advantageous. The state budget ballooned by 50 percent during the first six years of the Richardson administration. Some of that had to be bloat.
We know much of it was done in the name of economic development. Some likely worked and some probably didn't. And some may have been necessary after eight years of the frugal Gary Johnson.
It is now time to take stock of where we are and to work toward a more efficient state government.
MON, 12-21-09

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


Sunday, December 13, 2009

12-16 State Races JUst About Set

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Time's a wastin' for candidates to decide whether they're in or out of statewide races. Most of the field got started last summer and visited the far corners of the state, lining up key supporters and raising money.
The field is now fairly well set except for late additions by political parties to fill blank spaces. Such candidates usually get some party help with nominating petitions and news releases but little else.
Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, the Democratic nominee for governor, appears to have scared all fellow Democrats out of the race with her announcement three years ago.
This could be the first time in history that Democrats have not had a lively race for the gubernatorial nomination when there is no incumbent.
Lieutenant governors usually do not have the political muscle that Denish has. Her huge, and highly successful, head start on fundraising is the primary reason she became invincible.
The GOP has a lively race underway for its gubernatorial nomination. Allen Weh, Susana Martinez, Janice Arnold-Jones and Doug Turner, in that order, have jumped into the race.
Although it is technically possible, all four are unlikely to get the required 20 percent of the nominating convention's vote next March.
This column continues to give former state party chairman Allen Weh the advantage for getting a sizable chunk of the convention votes due to his familiarity with every county party in the state.
Weh and Martinez are thought by political observers to be the most conservative of the group. Since GOP conservatives have proved to be very successful at winning delegate seats, it may mean that the battle for the third ballot spot will be between Arnold-Jones and Turner.
Don't count out the winner of that spot having a decent shot in the June primary.
Because of Gov. Bill Richardson's current slip from glory, the Republican gubernatorial field seems focused on running against Denish by attacking the Richardson/Denish administration.
Democrat leaders are decrying the tactic, conveniently forgetting that at this time two years ago all Democratic presidential candidates were running against President George Bush. It isn't a new tactic.
The Democratic action is focused on the lieutenant governors race. Brian Colon and Lawrence Rael have been the top fundraisers and likely will capture the top two spots on the primary election ballot. I'm giving Colon the nod for top ballot position because, like Weh, he is the former state party chairman.
The race for state land commissioner always attracts a crowd on both sides. Republicans have been relatively successful at winning the seat even when they're weak in the other races. It is a post that attracts the interests of ranching, mining, oil and gas, all traditional Republican constituencies.
Republican Pat Lyons has held the post the past eight years and now must move on. At this point, three Republicans -- Bob Cornelius, Errol Chavez and Matt Rush -- are seeking to replace him.
Democrats in the race are former Land Commissioner Ray Powell, Public Regulation Commission chairman Sandy Jones and Santa Fe County commissioners Mike Anaya and Harry Montoya. Powell should have the advantage among the Democrats.
The other state races all have Democratic incumbents running for a second term. Secretary of State Mary Herrera, Attorney General Gary King, Auditor Hector Balderas and Treasurer James Lewis all are seeking reelection and currently have no Democratic or Republican opposition.
In my 60 years of watching state politics, New Mexico has had one Republican attorney general, one Republican auditor, one Republican treasurer and no Republican secretaries of state elected to office.
Often GOP leaders will help a candidate get on the ballot just to fill the position. When no Republican files, the Green Party sometimes will put a candidate on the ballot in order to get some Republican vote that will help the party qualify as a major party.
WED, 12-16-09

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


Thursday, December 10, 2009

12-14 Next Bidget Fix To Hit All

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Everyone will be affected by the next round of state budget balancing.
Thus far, lawmakers have been able to fill budgetary voids by sweeping money out of the cubby holes of state government and cutting back on agency spending.
But next time the pain will be felt almost everywhere. The easy cuts have been made. Further cuts will affect services. Some of those services are not really noticed.
Who wouldn't like to see the budget of the Taxation and Revenue Department cut? Arizona did it and lost state revenues totaling many times the budget savings.
State employees felt the hammer on the latest round of budget cutting. Some 17,000 will have to take five unpaid furlough days.
Instead of spreading those days throughout the year and keeping state government open, the days will be designated by the State Personnel Board on Dec. 16 and state offices will be closed at those times. The recommendation to the board from the governor's office will be for the days to coincide with upcoming holidays.
It will mean longer weekends but a lower paycheck may put a damper on how those days are enjoyed. The governor's original proposal would have lowered three consecutive paychecks during and after the upcoming holidays.
Following numerous employee complaints, the schedule was revised to substitute a March furlough day in place of New Year's Eve.
Another suggestion to close state offices the week between Christmas and New Year's Day and spread the docked checks through the rest of the fiscal year was not accepted.
As with the hiring freeze imposed by the governor a little over a year ago, there will be exceptions to the furloughs. About 4,100 essential employees will not be affected. Most of the exceptions are for direct patient care in hospitals, prison staff, state police and dispatchers.
Other employees will be required to take alternative furlough days in order to ensure they will be available for snow removal or to keep state parks open during popular holiday weekends in the spring.
Gov. Bill Richardson has announced the furlough plan will save the state $8.1 million. Another $8.3 million will be saved by the elimination of state exempt positions.
Those are the political appointees the special legislative session told him it wanted removed. The Legislature set the number at 102. Richardson vetoed the number and said he would issue an executive order eliminating 84 positions.
Gov. Richardson fought tax increases during both legislative sessions this year but says they are inevitable at the session beginning in January. He has appointed a Budget Balancing Task Force to tell him the pros and cons of increasing the state's various taxes.
The task force, which will hold its final meeting on Dec. 17, is considering over 30 tax increase proposals. Chairman Rick Homans says the group only wants to look at proposals that will raise meaningful revenues.
So far those proposals have included reimposing the gross receipts tax on food, which was lifted in 2005, raising taxes on liquor, cigarettes, cars, trucks and gasoline and imposing a surtax on upper-income earners.
Most of these tax targets have heavy-duty, highly-paid lobbyists, who will make passage of any tax increases very difficult. The two possible exceptions are the taxes on food and upper incomes.
Think New Mexico, a think tank with an effective lobbying program, will fight the food tax and propose in its place a tax on junk food, sugary sodas and candy. They just might succeed.
High income families aren't organized to fight a tax but they do have Gov. Richardson on their side. Seven years ago, the governor successfully got the tax on high incomes reduced as a means of encouraging economic development. He still feels that way.
Corporate lobbyists will be up against the newly-found power of non-profit groups representing the poor.
Something has to give.
MON, 12-14-09

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


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

12-11 Gov., Legislature Headed for Big Clash

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Disagreements between Gov. Bill Richardson and the Legislature are making state budget cutting even more traumatic. Both sides are pushing hard on the limits of their authority to get the upper hand on what will be cut.
Our state constitution created a weak governor in order not to put too much power in any one person's hand. But it does give the governor line-item veto authority. Gov. Richardson has been using that power to its fullest extent.
The clash between Richardson and Legislature has created some big questions. We know the governor cannot use his veto pen to increase an appropriation. Only the Legislature can appropriate.
But does the governor have the authority to decrease a budget cut? That is what he did when he line-item vetoed the Legislature's 7.6 percent in spending for his agencies and then issued an executive order imposing lesser cuts.
And how much authority does Gov. Richardson have when he issues executive orders? He has vetoed several other bills in the past and then issued an executive order doing it his way. Eventually a court may have to decide that issue.
We also know that a governor cannot spend more than the Legislature appropriates for any item in the budget. His executive agency must make a special budget adjustment request of the Legislative Finance Committee before it can spend more.
But we also know that a governor can spend less on a budget item than the Legislature appropriates. Gov. Gary Johnson was famous for doing that? The big question now is whether a governor can cut less than the Legislature cut. That may have to go to court too.
Gov. Richardson used the same strategy to reduce the number of political appointees the Legislature directed him to cut. The Legislature wanted him to axe 102 appointees. Richardson line-item vetoed the language and vowed to cut 84 appointees.
Richardson accuses the Legislature of micromanaging state government. Lawmakers say he is overstepping his constitutional authority.
Since the governor gets the last word, the court system is the only place the Legislature can go to make its case. It has been done before and the Legislature usually has prevailed.
During Richardson's seven years in office, lawmakers have tended to give him the benefit of the doubt. Will that continue or will they decide it is time to make a stand?
Evidence is building that lawmakers are reaching the end of their rope. Filing a lawsuit has been discussed. In all likelihood, it would go to the state Supreme Court on an expedited basis.
As promised, Gov. Richardson has appointed a Budget Balancing Task Force to consider means of plugging the ever-enlarging hole in the state's budget. The group will provide the governor with pros and cons of various funding options.
The task force has met four times in Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Santa Fe and Farmington. It will hold its final meeting on Dec. 17 in Santa Fe. Its final report will go to Richardson on Dec. 21. The final two meetings are being webcast in order to assure the public that there are no secrets.
The task force has no lawmakers, contrary to Richardson's original statement of intent and the group's report will contain no recommendations.
Legislative leaders contend that the Budget Balancing Task Force is merely intended to give Richardson ammunition to raise taxes and that the emphasis should be on expenditure cuts.
It appears there will be even less effort to reach any agreement between the governor and legislature than there was before the recent special session.
The likelihood of seeing a replay of the special session and its aftermath becomes stronger every day and so does the possibility of seeing all this in court before it is over.
FRI, 12-11-09

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