Inside the Capitol

Thursday, January 28, 2010

House-Senate Basketball Game

The New Mexico state House and Senate will will square off on the basketball court Friday, Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. The annual game will be held this year in the St. Michaels High School gymnasium.
Here's your opportunity to see state lawmakers in a completely different light. Tickets are $5 and will be available at the door. All proceeds go to the UNM Cancer Center. You don't want to miss it. Lawmakers and the crowd both have a great time. Further information can be obtained by calling 505-272-6744.

2-1 GOP Begins filling Election Slate

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- The state GOP has found a solution to having a dozen candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and state Land Office while having none for secretary of state, auditor, treasurer and attorney general.
Its simple. Talk some of them into running for something else. That isn't easy, of course. Why buck the odds and run for an office Republicans almost never win?
One answer might be that if a Republican wins the gubernatorial race, a top job in the next administration might be offered to those who make a good effort.
It won't be easy to win one of those posts. The four races for which the GOP could not find a candidate are held by Democratic incumbents who are eligible to run for a second term.
Getting in this late means scrambling to get new petition signatures and raise some money. The state GOP can help with some of that out of gratitude for having what looks like a slate of candidates.
After all, the Republican Party has to do something to fulfill my predictions that the GOP isn't dead. I've received some teasing about those predictions.
Actually winning will be almost impossible. But without some competition, the four Democratic incumbents can spend their campaign time helping their candidate for governor.
Errol Chavez will move from the state Land Office race to the state auditor's contest. Little chance exists for primary election competition so consider Chavez the GOP nominee.
Chavez says he is glad state GOP Chairman Harvey Yates recruited him to run for auditor because he is now in his element. Chavez has spent 36 years in law enforcement, most of it with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, tracking down corruption. And that's what he will do as state auditor.
Attorney Marco Gonzales will run for secretary of state. In 2008, Gonzales unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for the 3rd Congressional District.
Some are surprised Gonzales didn't take on the attorney general race. Gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez has been encouraged to switch to the attorney general contest but she still has high hopes for governor.
As Democrats lose traction on the national level, the governor's office is beginning to appear as though it might be within reach for the GOP. And Pete Domenici, Jr.'s entry into that race adds another strong candidate.
It also is surprising to have a male in the secretary of state race. It has happened before but not successfully since the early 1920s, when women won the right to vote. The post has not been held by a Republican since the beginning of the Great Depression.
But this could be a year when Republicans can put up a good fight. Recent Democratic secretaries of state have had trouble getting the records the office maintains into an electronic form accessible to the public
.And there is the problem with the investigation of former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil Giron for misuse of federal election funds.
So here's how the state Republican ticket looks now. Running for governor are Allen Weh, Janice Arnold-Jones, Susana Martinez and Pete Domenici, Jr.
Candidates for Lieutenant governor are Dr. J.D. Damron and former Reps. Brian Moore and John Sanchez. That's a pretty heavy duty field. Both Damron and Sanchez are former Republican gubernatorial nominees.
Republican hopefuls for the state Land Office are Bob Cornelius, Matt Rush, Jim Jackson and Spiro Vassilopoulos. Why such a big crowd? That's a race Republicans have won three times in the past few decades. The current land commissioner is Republican Pat Lyons, who has served two terms so can't run for another.
Lyons has declared for the Public Regulation seat from southeastern New Mexico, currently held by Republican David King, who also is term limited.
Last week former Rep. Bob Corn, of Roswell, also tossed his hat in, making that another hot GOP primary race.
MON, 2-01-10

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


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

1-29 Governor Race in Full Swing

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- And the gubernatorial race is in full swing. With the somewhat surprising entry of Pete Domenici, Jr., candidates for governor moved into full campaign mode.
The four Republican candidates already in the race were reported to be none too pleased with the development and even presumed Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, took a shot saying we can't afford a governor who has a name but no ideas.
Denish didn't mention names but she appeared to be crowning Domenici as the GOP nominee. No polls have been conducted yet but Domenici, Jr. appears to be the pick of insiders based almost completely on his father's influence and out-of-state fundraising ability.
Pete, Jr.'s announcement couldn't be described as exciting but his answers to questions revealed some mental agility and understanding of issues.
Despite Denish's allusion to Domenici's candidacy, it is expected that the two will stay off each other's backs, at least for the time being. They'll leave that to the state party chairmen..
GOP state chairman Harvey Yates has been pounding Denish for quite awhile, insisting she has ties to Richardson's big spending and pay-to-play allegations.
Democratic state chairman Javier Gonzalez spent a week researching articles from the past decade in the Albuquerque Journal and Associated Press concerning Domenici's law clients. Then he issued a scathing news release.
The articles Gonzalez cites indicate Domenici represents business clients charged with environmental violations and calls him a special interest corporate lawyer. Gonzalez also asks that Domenici disclose the identities of all his clients, past and present.
The Albuquerque Journal also got into the fray this past week editorializing last Friday against Domenici's representation of a client in a $10,000 suit against a neighbor for smoking in her back yard.
Then on Monday, the Journal took out after both Richardson and Denish for using state aircraft for non-essential trips when the governor had announced the planes would be used only for emergency services.
Since Denish will be presiding over the Senate during the next month, she is bound to be high profile. But she will be even more so because she has announced packages of governmental and ethics reforms she plans to back during the session.
And almost surely she also will be even higher profile by being maneuvered into tie-breaking votes in the Senate. Unlike the House's electronic voting, the Senate still uses a roll call system which allows members to change their votes in order to create ties on controversial measures.
Some of the big questions surrounding Pete, Jr.'s late entry into the race center around how it came about. Did GOP leaders feel they didn't have any candidates capable of winning? Did Pete, Sr. not like any of the four candidates already running?
For his part, Pete, Sr. says he counseled his son on the pitfalls of running but after the decision was made, he was in full support.
This probably has nothing to do with Pete, Sr.'s thought process but 40 years ago he ran for governor and narrowly lost to Bruce King. It was Pete's only political loss. Is it possible he would finally like to see a Domenici as governor?
According to the four candidates already in the Republican gubernatorial race, Pete, Jr.'s entry into the race is not going to chase them out. And it may not even make Domenici the favorite.
It will, however, produce a lively primary race among conservatives Allen Weh and Susana Martinez and moderates Janice Arnold-Jones, Doug Turner and Domenici.
Will the five-way battle fracture the state GOP? No way. The last two Republican governors Gary Johnson and Garrey Carruthers both battled large fields in their primary elections and still won in the general.
The GOP preprimary nominating convention relegated Johnson to third on the ballot. None the less, Johnson won the primary election, beating the party favorite and went on to win the general election.
FRI, 1-29-10

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


Monday, January 25, 2010

1-27 Consolidation is Coming

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- What will the next 20 days bring? Republican leaders say all $650 million of the deficit should be covered by cuts in government.
Gov. Bill Richardson has ruled out increasing any of the taxes he has cut during the first seven years of his administration.
Some Democrats say all of the deficit must be covered by additional taxes. Their reasoning is that since taxes were cut by a billion dollars during the good years of the Richardson administration, they should be reinstated now that the economy has turned bad.
And some conservative Democrats say it should be a mix of governmental cuts and tax increases. But first, they contend, there has to be some agreement that everything is on the table for budget cuts and for tax increases.
As this is being written, no agreements on anything have been reached. As the stalemate increases, one bright spot on the horizon may be the report of a committee on governmental efficiency Gov. Richardson appointed in December.
The committee, chaired by former Republican Gov. Garrey Carruthers, was asked to take a quick look at the structure of state government and make recommendations about streamlining state government and saving taxpayers some money.
With only a month to do its work, the committee was asked to make recommendations for changes that could be made relatively easily. The governor called it "low-hanging fruit."
The result was a report that identified $129 million in potential savings. Included were mergers and consolidation of many state government departments and the elimination of 18 boards and commissions that have outlived their purpose. The recommendations also included changes in Medicaid benefits and public school funding.
Richardson says the recommendations make sense and he and he is ready to pursue many of the recommendations immediately during this legislative session.
Carruthers also appeared before the Legislative Finance Committee shortly before the session started. Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith said he was pleased with the recommendations because the Legislature has a tremendous opportunity to redefine state government.
That is a point in which Republicans also can agree. State government has expanded tremendously over the decades. During the first six years of the Richardson administration the state budget grew by 50 percent.
The efficiency committee's recommendations may not be particularly easy to get through the Legislature. But nothing is going to be easy now that one-time sources of revenue for plugging the budget gap have been just about exhausted.
Elimination of 18 unneeded boards and commissions may be the easiest to pass. Many would like to see more of them go. Consolidating departments of state government will be tougher.
Since 1978, the state has doubled the number of cabinet-level departments. With some independent agencies added in, the governor's cabinet is now at 30.
The efficiency committee's recommendations essentially take the departments back down to their 1978 levels by returning the new departments that have been created since then back to their previous division status within other departments.
All of the new departments were created with much effort to pass them through the Legislature. The interest groups that pushed their creation will be back to fight their elimination.
An effort also will be made to consolidate some school districts. Back in the 1950s, school districts were pared down from over 600 to 89.
Since then, unsuccessful efforts have been made to trim that even further. It is a tremendous blow to a community to lose its school district and you can bet they will fight hard to prevent any future efforts.
Actually the process already has begun. Sen. Smith has introduced legislation reducing the financial distribution to small and rural schools. So get ready for that discussion. Small districts already are organizing.
WED, 1-27-10

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


Sunday, January 24, 2010


The following columns did not get posted this past week.

1-20 GOP Bouncing Back

WED, 1-20-10

SANTA FE - This column has often declared that the Grand Old Party is not dead in New Mexico or nationally. Although Republicans had some major defeats in 2006 and 2008, reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Victories back East in off-year elections last November gave the national party reason for hope. And in New Mexico, a surprise October mayoral win in Albuquerque has given the state party a dose of adrenalin.
Analysis of state Rep. R.J. Berry's Albuquerque victory over longtime incumbent Marty Chavez, indicates it was tried and true GOP campaign methods which won the mayoral race. The party had only one candidate in the contest, contacted its members often and produced a large absentee voter turnout.
City elections in much of the rest of the state will be held in March. There will be an opportunity to try the same tactics again in areas where Republicans don't already hold the mayoral posts.
Statewide, the GOP has an opportunity to win the governor's race and some legislative seats by focusing on scandals of the current and past Democratic administrations.
They are working now to tie major contributors to Gov. Bill Richardson around the neck of Lt. Gov. Diane Denish. Although Denish claims no connections to any of the alleged Richardson pay-to-play charges, Republicans will try to show a similarity in their contribution lists.
Denish has worked hard at heading off such a campaign by developing and publicizing an ethics reform legislative initiative and by challenging GOP gubernatorial candidates to release contribution reports quarterly.
Republican Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones has gone Denish one better by announcing she will post contributions on her website as they come in. Other GOP gubernatorial candidates have been slow about responding to Denish's challenge. Susana Martinez of Las Cruces now says she soon will release her contributors as of the end of 2009.
Allen Weh, thought by many analysts to be the GOP frontrunner, has not addressed ethics reform publicly except to say he plans to clean up corruption in Santa Fe with a baseball bat. Weh reportedly is self-financing much of his campaign so maybe he doesn't have many contributions to report.
It will be interesting to see if any of the Republican gubernatorial candidates support ethics reform legislation during the current session.
National GOP fundraising committees are reported to not be doing well raising money at this point. Much of the party's help to candidates may be in non-cash form. That could mean that New Mexico Republican congressional candidates won't be able to expect much.
Former Rep. Steve Pearce in the 2nd Congressional District might have to finance more of his campaign than he would have liked. Adam Kokesh, in the 3rd Congressional District has built himself an independent funding source with the help of Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul. But first, Kokesh has Republican opposition.
GOP fundraising ability could cause some changes in the party's gubernatorial efforts. Alan Weh is reported to be able to finance his own campaign. How far that might go hasn't been revealed but in 1994, Gary Johnson financed most of his successful campaign against incumbent Bruce King.
GOP fundraising problems also could be a reason that Pete Domenici, Jr. is talking about jumping into the race. Young Domenici never has run a campaign but reportedly some Republicans think his name might loosen some Republican pocketbooks.
Blogger Joe Monahan reports that Domenici, Jr. is an attorney who has done work on some federal projects. You can bet that Democrats will be looking to see whether Pete, Sr. might have had anything to do with any of those contracts.
In New Mexico, we've seen the King dynasty plus several smaller ones. Maybe we are in for a Domenici dynasty.


1-18 What Taxes Do We Incxrease?

MON, 1-18-10

SANTA FE - Even before the 2010 Legislature convenes, its shape has begun to form. Both Gov. Bill Richardson and legislative leaders have announced they think about $400 million more in cuts and maybe $200 million in tax hikes seem to be in the ballpark.
After several years of fighting, a little bit of agreement comes as a relief. After Richardson's initial honeymoon of big spending on ambitious projects, lawmakers began pushing back, making the subsequent years less than pleasant.
The next 30 days may not be so pleasant either. Little agreement exists over where those cuts should be. And there may be even less agreement about where the tax increases should be. People don't like to see their taxes increased when the economy is bad.
Will tax increases make the economy even worse? Republicans say yes. Democrats say President Herbert Hoover cut taxes during the early years of the Great Depression and the economy tanked even more. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, they say, raised taxes and the economy improved.
That seems counterintuitive but we may have to do it anyway and find out. We're running out of major areas to cut and not harm public services.
So what taxes do we increase? A majority of Democrats don't want to hurt the little people. The poor are most hurt by sales tax increases. They are called gross receipts taxes because the sellers actually pay the tax but always pass it on to you.
A few years ago, the gross receipts tax on food items was eliminated. A proposal to eliminate that tax is going nowhere this year because many Democrats don't like it. Gross receipts taxes are some of the least objectionable taxes to Republicans but with a chance to kill any tax hike, Republicans have unanimously lined up to make this a non-starter.
Another closely related proposal is a sin tax on alcohol, tobacco and junk food. Who can oppose that? Every one of those products have strong lobbies that contend their products already are taxed too much. And besides, we're hearing that poor people consume more than their share of these items so this tax also is unfair. We likely still will hear more about this one however.
On the other end of the economic spectrum are the wealthy whom Gov. Richardson has tried hard to court for seven years with lower income tax rates, lowered capital gains rates and deductions, rebates and giveaways to selected industries. He calls it economic development. Understandably many Democrats and some Republicans call this corporate welfare.
Richardson claims these economic development measures have benefited the state immeasurably. Expect the 2010 Legislature to demand some convincing measures of these benefits. If Richardson can't provide any convincing evidence, we may see some legislation passed. Since Richardson has vowed to veto any such legislation, this appears to be one more possible tax that doesn't stand a chance.
So what's left? A popular whipping boy the past two years has been the corporate taxes not paid on New Mexico sales by national corporations. Somehow they manage to declare those sales in other states with lower tax rates.
That would seem like a good tax to go after except, like all other big corporate interests, it has a powerful lobby that has kept the tax from being imposed in the past. New Mexico awards in the neighborhood of $1 billion of tax breaks, exemptions and deductions to corporate entities at this time and it is unlikely to decrease.
1. A modest increase in the excise tax on new cars will be proposed. But in the West, driving is a sacred right that isn't to be tromped upon. Attempts to raise taxes on cars, registration or gasoline have been known to be disastrous to political careers.
That doesn't leave much left to tax. Maybe we'll have to look for more government services to cut that aren't as sacred.


1-15 Athletic Expenses

FRI, 1-15-10

SANTA FE - University of New Mexico administrative expenses continue to be a favorite whipping boy when state budget-cutting conversations arise.
Although salaries and expenses of administrative staff at other colleges and universities in the state aren't frequently publicized, they do come in for criticism too.
We are told salaries must be high in order to attract the best but is that argument just copied from the one used by captains of industry, where everybody helps everyone else get the biggest salaries they can?
UNM football expenses also are getting beat up on. Basketball spending is escaping consternation while the team is winning. Those victories are helping pack the Pit despite the inconvenience of the construction project to expand the arena.
But revenues from the big basketball crowds will never play the role of revenues from big time college football. A story floated around several months ago that Alabama football coach Nick Saban bailed out that university's $3 million deficit with a contribution from the athletic department.
New Mexico's two largest universities are learning the value of big time college football. UNM plays in the Mountain West Conference and New Mexico State University plays in the Western Athletic Conference. Both conferences did well during the recent bowl season
National Collegiate Athletic Association rules call for bowl participants to share their revenues with the other universities in their conference. Although neither the Lobos nor Aggies qualified for a bowl game this year, they both will get help with their athletic budgets courtesy of the top teams in their conferences.
Our two big schools might do even better were it not for the stranglehold that the very big daddies have on college football. The mightiest conferences have formed what they call the Bowl Conference Series.
They picked the richest of the bowl games around the country and said only teams in their BCS conferences will play in those bowl games. After some pressure, they relented and said they would allow one or two non-BCS teams to play in the big bowls. Those teams often come from the Mountain West or WAC conferences.
It usually requires a perfect record to go play with the big boys and our regional conferences have done very well for themselves and for us. The BCS bowls bring in big time money - in the vicinity of $20 million to split among the teams and their conferences.
This year, Boise State University and Texas Christian University won the two conferences NMSU and UNM are in. It is highly likely that the top teams in the BCS put out the word that they did not want to play either team.
For some reason, the teams from the smaller conferences perform much better than they should, according to the sports analysts. The reason given is usually that the little guys play with a chip on their shoulder because they are overlooked.
Whatever the reason for our dominance, the big boys managed to avoid having to play either Boise State or TCU by having them play each other. It took a lot of fun out of watching that bowl game because it eliminated the David and Goliath scenario.
But it did provide a big chunk of money for athletic budgets at two New Mexico universities. And it may cause our Legislature to look a little more closely at those athletic budgets.


1-13 Big and Little

WED, 1-13-10

SANTA FE - It's the little things that count. Or is it the big things? It kinda depends on whom you're trying to convince of what. When it comes to balancing the state budget, it is some of both.
Gov. Bill Richardson and the Legislative Finance Committee both have now made recommendations about how to balance our state's budget. Both involve additional cuts in state government beyond what was cut from expenditures in the two sessions last year.
And both leave the door open for a few hundred million dollars to be raised from revenue increases. Actually legislative leaders hedge the possibility of increased revenue by suggesting it all could come from additional cuts. The move demonstrates the deep division among lawmakers about whether the state budget should be balanced with more cuts or more taxes.
If taxes are to be increased, they bring in some good-sized chunks. Gov. Richardson brags that taxes have been cut during the first six years of his two terms by a billion dollars. That's a big chunk. Repealing a fraction of those decreases would easily balance the budget. The problem is that it also would draw a big chunk of voter disfavor.
If any taxes are to be increased, there are some little things voters will be looking at. They are little in terms of the amount of money they would raise but they are big in terms of public perception that some cuts have been overlooked.
The first target is the budget cutters themselves. Have Gov. Richardson and lawmakers sufficiently trimmed in their own backyards? The governor has received quite a bit of scrutiny by lawmakers. His political appointees have been examined and found in need of trimming.
Richardson agreed to trim somewhat fewer political appointees than the Legislature desired. And even with the reduced number, the governor has been unwilling to release any names. He says it is a privacy and dignity matter. Inquiring reporters have managed to get a few names from agencies but nearly all of Richardson's announced cuts still are a mystery.
And as with any incidence of governmental secrecy, the rumor mill has started. The word in the Capitol hallways is that the layoffs are actually transfers to positions covered by the state personnel act, which provides some due process rights before a person is laid off.
Gov. Richardson's airplane also will be discussed. Some would like to see it sold and the governor grounded. Others would be satisfied to see out-of-state travel severely limited for the governor, lawmakers, state employees and all the many members of state boards and commissions.
The state Legislature needs scrutiny too and so far, Gov. Richardson is about the only one asking any questions. True, legislators work hard while they are in session and they are unpaid. New Mexicans spend less of their lawmakers than nearly any other state.
But we are accustomed to being at the bottom of many lists. Legislative leaders have been adamant that everyone needs to feel the pain. That should mean everyone. Legislators included. Let's see some cuts in their per diem and travel expenses. They already have announced some cuts in staff.
University administrations sound as though they should have some drastic pruning - in salaries and number of personnel. The reported 21 vice presidents at the University of New Mexico is outlandish. Maybe we should have a contest to see who can name 21 different functions for which a university might need a vice president.
And the big fat daddies at the top of university administration are due some hefty pay cuts. Those cuts should be a much higher percentage than the little folks, who are making less than a tenth of the big boys and girls,
All these cuts, added together, won't even make a small dent in the state budget deficit. But making the cuts just might make a big dent in whether voters will be willing to accept the service cuts and tax increases that carry the big price tags.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

1-22 and 1-25 columns

FRI, 1-22-10

SANTA FE - In these trying economic times, New Mexico state government could use a Maralyn Budke. The tactical genius, who fought cancer for decades, came into New Mexico state government in the early 1960s.
Budke was in her early twenties and rose quickly to head the Legislative Finance Committee staff. That staff worshiped Budke for her intellect, hard work and her ability to outthink and outmaneuver the opposition
When Republican David Cargo became governor in 1967, he quickly picked her as his chief adviser. Cargo had served two terms in the New Mexico Legislature and was quite aware of Budke's reputation.
Following Gov. Cargo's two, two-year terms in office, Budke returned to head the LFC staff until her retirement. In 1987, when Garrey Carruthers became governor, he convinced her to become his chief of staff. Budke agreed to take the job and asked for only $1 a year salary.
Govs. Carruthers and Cargo both were Republicans but the lawmakers Budke worked for on the LFC were Democrats. Back in the '60s and '70s, the New Mexico Legislature was run by Democrats. But the leaders were conservative Democrats, mostly from southern New Mexico, who didn't think much differently than Republicans.
So it was people such as Rep. John Mershon, and Sens. Harold Runnels and Aubrey Dunn for whom Budke performed most of her amazing work. Most of the southern Democrats of those days are now Republicans. Sen. Dunn's son, Aubrey, Jr., ran for the Republican nomination to Congress in 2008.
Surprisingly, there still are two conservative southern New Mexico Democrats who currently enjoy leadership positions in the state Senate. Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, of Roswell, and Sen. John Arthur Smith, of Deming, are fighting for some of the same limited government principals Budke was helping Mershon, Dunn and Runnels with three and four decades ago.
New Mexico's energy boom of the 1970s rivaled our boom of the past decade. We didn't go as hog wild with spending back then but we nevertheless had a period of psychological adjustment to leaner government that will be necessary again.
One subject Budke and the old guard would be sure to address today would be the bloated administrations at the University of New Mexico and other higher education institutions in the state.
Back in the '60s, universities, and especially UNM, were seen as breeding grounds for rebels. Sen. Runnels was instrumental in the creation of the University Study Committee, which was assigned the task of visiting every college campus in the state to find out what was wrong
In those days, lawmakers didn't bring anyone from a university to testify on any piece of legislation. Legislators who happened to have a PhD. never revealed the damaging information.
As evidence of how far we've come from that, David Harris who succeeded Budke as head of the LFC and then was Republican Gov. Gary Johnson's chief of staff now is a UNM vice president about whom lawmakers have the biggest problem concerning his high salary and benefits.
Former Richardson communications director Billy Sparks, who left to assume a top position with UNM Hospital, also causes legislative heartburn.
The flattening of bureaucratic administrations would not stop with higher education. It would continue through state government and public schools if the old-timers had anything to do with it. New laws and regulations today cause many of the extra layers of administration. Decision makers of the '60s would be taking a close look at those causes too.
Another cause for extra layers of government is the creation of many new departments. Between 1975 and 1978, Gov. Jerry Apodaca compressed state government from hundreds of independent agencies into about 10 departments run by secretaries who formed Apodaca's cabinet.
It took all four years of Apodaca's administration to accomplish the feat because it was fought so vigorously by the many fiefdoms in existence. Apodaca won but future governors have double the number of departments.
MON, 1-25-10

SANTA FE - Gov. Bill Richardson's economic development initiatives continue to be his top priorities for projects not to be cut in this legislative session.
Richardson calls them the bold initiatives of which he is proudest about accomplishing during his seven years in office. These are the initiatives that have brought New Mexico into the 21st century, he tells us.
These initiatives have been boldly promoted but their successes in terms of hard numbers are something lawmakers are going to want to see before this legislative session is over.
Economic development is sexy. It's like getting something for almost nothing. But too often, "something" turns out to be almost nothing. And spending "almost nothing" to get it turns out to quite something sometimes.
Rep. Dennis Kintigh and other legislators question the 25 percent rebate and other benefits we give the film industry. The goodies bring in lots of films but might we be giving back more than we get? Neither side seems to have good enough data to prove its point.
All the tax breaks and benefits we gave Eclipse aviation to build a corporate jet for under a million dollars was to produce a huge bonanza. But close to the total investment now appears to be gone.
Spaceport America is another long shot. It could prove to be a major success but it will take years to find out because of the slower than expected advances in commercial space travel.
The Rail Runner already is up and running. It was sold as economic development but railroads are not moneymakers. This railroad gets some state employees to work easier and improves the environment by taking cars off the road. But, unlike a building, it is not something we can sell if it becomes a burden.
Renewable energy is part of the wave of the future but without subsidies, none of it is showing a profit yet.
So what if we had tried to help our industries that already are here? Might we be better off? It's not as exciting as bringing in Sir Richard Branson and a collection of movie stars.
But we know the industries that already are here are likely to stay. They've already chosen New Mexico for various good reasons so aren't going to be fickle when they decide some other state's goodies are better than ours.
What are some of these industries and what could we be doing for them? Agriculture probably is the oldest industry in the state. The state performs quite a few services for farmers and ranchers already but there is more we can do to help develop crops, publicize them and get them to market,
Tourism has been around a long time because New Mexico is such a great draw but we are told that other states without nearly as much to offer spend much more to attract tourists.
The oil and gas business has been a mainstay of our economy for almost a century but we treat it like a cash cow that can't go anywhere else to drill so we'll make as much as we can off it while regulating it as much as possible.
We've always suffered from a lack of refining capacity. Can we help with that while not freaking out environmentalists? The same can be said for helping the mining industry.
People in all sectors of the arts have loved New Mexico at least since statehood. Is there more love we could give them back?
High technology enables many small businesses to operate anywhere they want. Many of them come to New Mexico. We could be giving them more help getting to know the lay of the land, finding financing, and networking.
The loss of Microsoft for want of a $35,000 loan is overdone. We'd have lost them anyway because we didn't have the labor pool they needed. But we should learn everything we can from that.

It has come to my attention that at least at least one paper did not receive these last two columns I sent early this past week.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

real gone

I'll be out of office until Jan. 22. You can reach me by computer.

test of new laptop


Sunday, January 03, 2010

1-11 Can Secrets Sometimes Be Good?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Perhaps there was good reason for Attorney General Gary King to want his advice kept secret concerning the veto of a double dipper bill last March.
This column and many other commentaries on King's action had suggested his motivation was suspicious, maybe even nefarious. But it may be the secrecy was necessary to the performance of his job.
Those of us in the news business hate secrecy. We go to court to gain access to documents. But it appears the attorney general may sometimes be forced into secrecy because the office can find itself in the position of representing both sides of an issue.
First, a little background so we're sure we're on the same page. Double dippers are those of us who retire and then go back to work and collect a paycheck in addition to our retirement check.
If it's not with the same employer, no one seems to care. Military retirees probably are the most common double dippers.
Last year, the New Mexico Legislature almost unanimously passed a budget-balancing measure preventing state employees from returning to work and collecting a state paycheck plus a state pension. Gov. Richardson somewhat surprisingly vetoed the measure upon advice from the attorney general, who wanted the reasons kept confidential.
It has been suggested to me that private attorneys see a pretty good unequal treatment lawsuit based on the fact that public employees from the federal government, military and other states would not be similarly affected.
Might the attorney general have been concerned that if the measure were to pass again in the future and be signed, his advice would be used against him if a lawsuit were to be filed?
The attorney general's office would be called upon to defend such a suit despite the fact that he disagreed with the legislation. It won't do any good to ask King if that was his reason for secrecy because if he tells me I'm right, I'll tell the world and that would be used against him.
The election of attorneys general presents a problem. They usually run on vague promises that they will be the people's attorney, fighting for their rights and protection.
That is a lot of what attorneys general do. But they also are called upon to be the government's attorney and that can put them in conflict with doing what they may think is best for the state, for instance when state officials are accused of wrongdoing.
Some of that confusion might be reduced if the attorney general were to be appointed, rather than elected. In the federal system, the attorney general is appointed and we know he's the president's guy, not necessarily the people's.
Some of that problem is resolved at the state level by a state agency, such as the governor's office, hiring its own attorney. But in the case of the Legislature getting representation, that usually is done by the attorney general, who wants represent the body vigorously since the Legislature sets his appropriation.
* * *
While we're on the subject of the Attorney General's Office, Chief Deputy AG Stuart Bluestone recently wrote an opinion piece in the Albuquerque Journal complimenting the process used by the Legislature's interim Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee to develop legislation creating an ethics commission.
Numerous unsuccessful attempts have been made to pass such a measure in recent legislative sessions. This one may get no farther but Bluestone feels the process used to draft the bill deserves credit and recognition.
A subcommittee of equal numbers of Democratic and Republican, House and Senate members was appointed. Hearings were held throughout the state. Bluestone felt there was remarkable bipartisan involvement.
As drafted, the commission would have eight legislative members chosen on a bipartisan basis and three appointed by the governor, one of which can be neither Republican nor Democrat.
MON, 1-11-10

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


Saturday, January 02, 2010

1-8 Readers Reply

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Hooray. We still have a year to redeem the first decade of the 21st century from being a complete bust.
Reader Earl Nielsen, of Alamogordo, e-mailed to remind me that 10 years ago, I participated in the effort to remind the world that the decade, century and millennium didn't end on Dec. 31, 1999. It ended a year later.
When you count, you start with 1, not with 0. That means our next decade doesn't start until we finish with 2010. It makes perfect sense. When the Romans began counting years, they started with year 1. They didn't even know about 0. The Arabs had to teach us that.
But I forgot about that little crusade and let the rest of the world suck me into a premature end of the decade. We've already chosen the athletes of the decade, and the movies, and the best and worst of everything. But at least you and I know we still have another year left to straighten ourselves out in this decade.
Gov. Bill Richardson has a year to wind up his term too. But when I predicted that he would remain in office the full year, I heard from state employees that isn't the word in their hallways.
According to those who contacted me, the governor will leave as soon as the legislature ends to take a job in industry.
Why would a governor, as driven as Richardson is, want to leave before he has the opportunity to finish as many initiatives as possible and shape his legacy?
Richardson knows the Legislature has its eye on many of those initiatives. Has he become depressed and ready to give up? If that is so, he might as well quit now and not endure what is sure to be a very painful budget cutting session.
It is very believable there are big businesses out there that value Richardson's enthusiasm and contacts. As a former secretary of Energy, he has credentials and connections that would interest a company wanting to get into an alternative energy field, for instance.
But why tarnish his image by doing it now rather than waiting until he completes his term?
If he were to leave at the end of the Legislature, that would be in mid-February, although the fat lady doesn't sing until 20 days later, which is the deadline for signing and vetoing bills. This past year, Richardson made a habit of vetoing legislative cuts and then imposing his own lesser cuts by executive order.
If he does leave, one legislative mandate that could easily be filled, and even exceeded, is the reduction of political appointees.
A year ago, when it appeared Lt. Gov. Diane Denish would be taking over, she wrote all Richardson appointees, thanking them for their service and suggesting that if they had any plans for future employment in state government, they should contact her office.
It was quite obvious her plans did not necessarily include any of them. As you might guess, she received a large volume of contacts, group lunch invitations and meeting requests.
An early Richardson departure would give Denish an opportunity to place her mark on state government and separate herself from the Richardson administration. But Richardson has never given any indications that Denish's future is a consideration in any of his plans.
In addition to the huge increase of high-paid Richardson political appointees to agencies throughout state government, some state employees also wonder about the large pay increases they have seen for classified state employees covered by the state personnel act.
Unlike political appointees, whose salaries aren't controlled, there are set pay rates for employees covered by the personnel act. State rules make it extremely difficult to increase pay for covered employees beyond the set rate.
But under the Richardson administration, there may have been hefty increases above standard pay rates, especially for higher-paid employees. causing the pay gap to widen.
If that is a problem, it is one that hasn't been brought to light thus far.
FRI, 1-08-10

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


1-6 Happy Birthday, New Mexico

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Happy 98th birthday, New Mexico. You're getting up there in years. What in the world are we going to do for your 100th?
The answer is not much. We don't celebrate such things as grandly anymore. It has become so complicated. We still feel pretty free about celebrating Christmas, New Years and athletic victories. But anniversaries of events are something else.
It's not that we don't know how. New Mexico had a huge celebration in 1940 for the 400th anniversary of Coronado's Expedition. It was truly statewide. And it happened despite a depression and an impending war.
Our biggest celebration of all was the 1883 Tertio-Millennial Anniversary (very approximately) of European influence in New Mexico. The 45-day celebration attracted tens of thousands of visitors from throughout the nation. The Associated Press covered it daily for all its outlets nationally.
How could such a huge celebration have been possible? The railroad had recently reached New Mexico and the business community wanted to take full advantage. The Santa Fe Railway was more than willing to help out with special excursion rates from major cities throughout the United States.
So New Mexico knows how to party. It's just that other things have gotten in the way.
One of those changes came in 1992 with the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage. The Native American population of the hemisphere, led in part by New Mexico newsperson Diana Reyna, of Taos Pueblo, made a major impact. Reyna's television documentary "Surviving Columbus" reminded us there was a downside of European colonization.
Then there was the 1996 sesquicentennial anniversary of Gen. Kearny's arrival in New Mexico, making us part of the United States. The Hispanic community reminded us there was a downside among Hispanics throughout the hemisphere to us forcibly taking half of Mexico.
Yes, the victors get the spoils and they get to write history. But the vanquished do remember and their voices have become louder. So our society has become more sensitive to those remembrances. It is political correctness but it is also reality and it demands to be taken into account.
Besides, 100th anniversaries of statehood have become rather common. They've already occurred in 46 states. So it isn't going to get us the notice of our 1883 exposition. Our uniqueness lies in our over 400 years of European colonization. But our 1998 observance of that event didn't get much attention either.
Had a few things gone differently, we might have been celebrating our 160th anniversary of statehood this year, as California is. The United States took California at the same time it won New Mexico and Arizona. But slavery issues prevented us from gaining statehood out of the Compromise of 1850.
Presidents Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore wanted to make us a state as soon as possible. But the more Congress observed our state, the more it felt we were too Hispanic, too Indian, too Catholic, too politically corrupt and too violent.
The Jan./Feb. issue of True West magazine has a delightful feature on the violence impediment to our statehood. It is the story of a shootout between Republicans and Democrats on the La Mesilla plaza in 1871 that killed and wounded dozens.
Certainly New Mexico should celebrate its centennial of statehood anyway -- for ourselves, if nothing else. . Gov. Richardson issued an executive order in 2008, creating a task force to promote statehood commemoration activities in communities throughout the state.
The focus is on presenting our state's colorful past while also imagining its future. The website lists 14 community projects already being undertaken Check it out and get on the bandwagon.
WED, 1-06-10

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