Inside the Capitol

Thursday, April 29, 2010

5-3 Tough Times For Elected Officials

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- "Being a legislator is a great job to have at a time like this." Those were the words, or very close to them, of former state Rep. John Mershon, an Otero County Democrat, back in 1982.
At the time, New Mexico was plummeting into an economic downturn almost as severe as we have at present. Mershon was the longtime chairman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee and an ardent supporter of smaller government.
Rep. Mershon saw an opportunity to trim government programs that had continually been added to the state budget over the years. During those lean years, traditional state responsibilities such as education and law enforcement, increased as a percentage of the budget.
This time around, state lawmakers don't seem to be looking at eliminating any recently added government services so much as they are in making across-the-board cuts.
There may be some hope, however. A newly-created Government Restructuring Task Force will take a look at consolidating state agencies and eliminating some.
It came about as a result of a group Gov. Bill Richardson appointed late last year to make recommendations on how state government can save money.
Former Gov. Garrey Carruthers headed the effort, which in one short month produced some restructuring suggestions that got lawmakers thinking. As Carruthers said at the time, "We should never let an economic crisis go to waste."
And maybe it won't go to waste. Something has to be done. New Mexico's financial decline isn't over yet. As one member of the restructuring panel warned, "We're going to have to make some ugly decisions."
Making ugly decisions isn't something most elected officials like to do. But at this point they are all faced with tough decisions. It has reached the local level where school boards, city councils and county commissions will have to make drastic cuts.
This is budget-making time for all local governments. Their new fiscal years begin on July 1. And none seem to be enjoying their jobs right now. They live among the people whose jobs and services they have to cut
One of their first big decisions is whether to raise taxes or reduce services. For school districts, it is a no-brainer. They can't raise taxes for anything but building construction and maintenance. So they must cut services.
Municipalities and counties can levy additional gross receipts taxes. The only place, of which this writer is aware, that is even considering such a move is Rio Rancho. So all local governments are faced with making major cuts.
Some are starting at the top. In Santa Fe, the school board has cut its own payment for attending meetings and its travel budget. Top administrative salaries are being cut two percent.
In other districts, assistant principals are being eliminated, principals are being assigned more than one school to administer and administrators will have to take over some teaching duties.
In cities and counties, director positions are being eliminated, recreation facilities and libraries will have shorter hours and fire and police hirings will be frozen.
And here come the traffic cameras again. At least one city is contemplating installing them in order to take some workload off police.
Retirees, who have returned to work and are drawing a paycheck and a retirement check, are being targeted. In most cases governing bodies originally intended to dismiss them all but then discovered many are in positions for which replacements are difficult or impossible to find..
But the aforementioned cuts usually won't do it all. Personnel will be affected. In most local governments, personnel are 80 percent to 90 percent of the budget so that is where the savings are to be found.
In most cases, it means employees will assume more duties. In schools, it means class sizes will increase.
MON, 5-3-10

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


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

4-30 Don't Get Too Excited

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- It's getting a little noisy out there. Do you think you could tone it down? Probably not. We have a lot going on. And people have a lot to say.
America is at one of those points along its path through history when serious disagreement occurs about the directions it is heading.
This time around, two very disparate groups are loudly demonstrating their displeasure with government actions. It is to be expected.
In November 2008, Americans decided to alter their course, involving wars and financial institutions running rampant, by choosing a leader with minimal experience and much darker skin than our nation previously ever had considered accepting.
Although he won by majority vote, that leader was a symbol of change that a vocal minority of Americans do not like. And thus was born the Tea Party movement.
The Tea Party's objectives still are developing but its overarching message seems to be that it does not like much of anything about government and is eager to assemble and express its desire for change.
While the Tea Party movement has been developing over the past year, Americans have watched, and many have worried, about their fondness for taking firearms to rallies and asserting guns may be necessary for taking back their country.
Following the recent passage of a national health care bill, property crimes were committed against the offices of several members of Congress. The crimes were well publicized amid charges the reporting of those crimes was politically motivated.
In a completely unrelated development, the new governor of Arizona signed state legislation requiring police to question people about their immigration status.
Many in the Hispanic community contend the law is blatant racial discrimination. Some demonstrations have become violent. Those instances also have been reported.
And thus our nation currently is experiencing protests from both the right and the left. But we can handle it. We fought a horrible four-year civil war and survived it. We came out on the other side even stronger.
Name me any group of Americans that didn't come over on the Mayflower and they have been discriminated against at some point in our history.
And yet we've made it through all those crises. In fact, except for minor occasions when we forget, Americans value diversity. We feel it makes us stronger.
Remember those dark days following the 9/11 attacks on our country? Newspapers throughout the world carried glowing tributes to our nation and how we would survive as the beacon to the world. I reprinted some of those in this column.
My wife and I traveled even more than usual in the months following 9/11 because few others wanted to and travel was cheap. No matter what the foreign country, we saw signs saying things like "We all are Americans."
Our country wasted much of that good will in subsequent years but the world still admires us as a resilient nation that can overcome its disagreements and come out even stronger.
I've written before that politics is just a game and that we shouldn't let it distress us. The events of today, with Republicans unanimously saying no to everything Democrats try to cram down their throats, happens in cycles.
Both parties have their chances to be on top and do all those things that a decade later they will be damning the other side for doing. No principles are sacred
Ideological groups on both ends of the political spectrum demand purity to their principles from their elected representatives. But the politicians in the middle fight over what is possible, using whatever tools are beneficial to them at the time.
Even this column, an attempt to lower blood pressures, will elicit heated responses contending I just don't understand that one party has it all right and the other all wrong.
It just isn't worth that coronary, good people.
FRI, 4-30-10

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


Sunday, April 25, 2010

4-28 Who Can Beat Diane?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Who would be the strongest Republican candidate to take on Lt. Gov. Diane Denish for governor? It is a question on many Republican and Democratic minds.
Not all minds, mind you. Some would fight to the death for their personal or ideological favorite. But many Republicans will take a more practical approach about which candidate has the best chance of winning the general election this November.
And virtually everyone who plans to vote for Denish in November is interested in how she will stack up with each of the five Republican hopefuls.
Not that they can do anything about it. Crossover primaries and open primaries are not allowed in New Mexico. Republicans and Democrats must stick with their party. Independents are out of luck.
That's for the best. It prevents mischief. Why wouldn't a strong Denish supporter not vote in the GOP primary for the weakest candidate? Voting for Denish doesn't do any good because she is unopposed.
But then the problem is choosing the weakest Republican candidate. The only official poll taken so far was at the GOP pre-primary nominating convention in March.
Susana Martinez practically swept the field in that, taking 47 percent of the delegate vote. Allen Weh was the only other candidate put on the ballot by the convention. He came in a weak second with a vote in the 20-percent range.
Janice Arnold-Jones finished in the teens. Doug Turner was in single digits and Pete Domenici, Jr. was totally embarrassed. All three of the lower tier candidates submitted extra nominating signatures to get on the ballot
Getting on the ballot with extra signatures normally is considered useless because no candidate with less than 20 percent of the convention vote has ever won. But in this particular race, those thoughts were not publicly expressed.
Before the convention, a college class conducted a statewide poll and found Domenici in first place. It may not have been a beginner's mistake. The poll wasn't just among convention delegates. It may have reflected the general public's opinion at the time.
Unfortunately for Pete, Jr., he doesn't seem to have fulfilled his high expectations since then. My wife and I are reminded of the Hawaiian tsunami for which we were evacuated. It now appears Domenici might do better in a general election than a primary. But that's not how the game is player.
Another poll, conducted since the convention shows fourth place finisher Doug Turner doing better against Denish in a general election than the other GOP candidates.
So maybe all five GOP candidates belong in the primary race. Regrettably, it doesn't matter how they would do against Lt. Gov. Denish, They have to beat all four of their opponents first. And only one of them is going to do that.
Winning the primary and the general will take a ton of money. Denish already has it and she's sitting there waiting. Allen Weh has the most on the Republican side and that will make a big difference.
But what about the prediction heard among many Democratic leaders that Weh would be the easiest Republican for Denish to beat? The Democratic reasoning is that Weh will not get much more than the white male vote, which may be enough to win the Republican primary but not a general election.
Many Democratic strategists see Susana Martinez as the most difficult Republican to beat because she has appeal to many Democratic constituencies.
If she were to win the June primary Martinez might do quite well in national fund raising from groups focused on the legislative and congressional redistricting that will occur next year as a result of this year's decennial census.
It isn't likely the GOP can take over either the New Mexico House or Senate but if they can elect a Republican governor, Democrats can be prevented from gerrymandering at will.
WED, 4-28-10

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


Thursday, April 22, 2010

4-26 Election 2008 a Game Changer

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- If you would like to know the inside story of the presidential campaign that put Barack Obama in the White House, "Game Change" has all the details.
Written by two of the country's leading political reporters, John Heilemann of New York magazine and Mark Halperin of Time magazine, the book provides the scoop on what had to be the race of a lifetime.
The book came out in January so you may already have read it. I didn't have time until a recent vacation. The book's detractors say it's just a rehash of information everybody already knew but as someone who followed network and cable news throughout the election, I found many surprises in every chapter.
The authors conducted hundreds of interviews with the people who lived the story. They followed the campaigns of those who, in their judgment, had a reasonable chance of winning.
Featured are Barack and Michelle Obama, Hillary and Bill Clinton, John and Cindy McCain and John and Elizabeth Edwards. Yes, the spouses came in for much comment.
Also included were chapters on Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani. Gov. Bill Richardson came in for some mention but mostly in terms of his surprise endorsement of Obama rather than Clinton.
A warning for those who can't stand to hear anything bad about their favorite candidate in that race: don't pick up the book. Although the authors cover the candidates' strong points, all images come out tarnished.
What you see is not what you heard in public. This is a picture of all the candidates and spouses as real people with all their human frailties.
Many reviews of the book call it gossipy. That is true but the authors claim they tried to tell the stories as fairly and empathetically as possible, using quotes wherever they could.
Many of the sources were staff members or consultants for the various campaigns. In many cases, they provided emails, memos, contemporaneous notes, recordings, schedules and other forms of documentation.
Most of the interviews were conducted in the months following the election when former staff and consultants were willing to reveal information they never would have during the campaign. The interviews were conducted on a "deep background" basis, meaning the sources would not be identified.
It has now been three months since the release of the book and there doesn't seem to have been any clamor from the people discussed. No one has threatened to sue. So the unnamed sources proved to be trustworthy.
No doubt all the candidates and spouses would wish to not see some of their characterizations in print but none of them have publicly complained.
As mentioned previously, uncomplimentary reviews of the book do not contend that the characterizations were untrue but that it was information they already knew and that the mainstream media should have dug out at the time. Personally, I can't imagine how that could have happened.
This was a campaign for the ages, with an amazing number of game changes. It was the first presidential victory for a black candidate and a very inexperienced candidate at that. Obama bet everything on the first primary in Iowa, and won.
Rudy Giuliani bet everything on the Florida primary weeks later, and lost, ending his campaign on the spot. John McCain's campaign lost all momentum in the summer of 2007. A year later, he was the surprise victor.
We saw the first serious challenge by a woman. For several years, Hillary Clinton was the prohibitive favorite to win the Democratic nomination.
"Game Change" tells us how much her husband had to do with her loss. In a way, Bill Clinton was the main character in the book, from the time he caused the U.S. Senate leadership to quietly encourage Sen. Obama to run because they were afraid of what Bill would do to Hillary's chances to the time Obama convinced Hillary to join his administration despite knowing Bill could eventually become a problem.
MON, 4-26-10

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


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

42310 Financing One's Own Campaign

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- A new trend has emerged in political campaign financing. It's called doing it yourself. Digging into your own pocket. Needless to say, it helps if those pockets are deep.
A basic rule of politics is that if you can't raise money, you won't be any good at rounding up votes either. But in an era when the rich are getting richer, many candidates are finding it possible to dig deep enough to find sufficient money for a victory.
Former Gov. Gary Johnson started it in New Mexico. He turned a handyman business into lucrative construction contracts, mostly at Intel in Rio Rancho, and made millions. That got boring so he decided to use some of that money to run for governor.
Johnson wasn't a great campaigner. He didn't care for large crowds where he was expected to shake every hand and remember nearly everyone's name.
His opponent, Gov. Bruce King , was the master at that. King was one of the biggest landholder's in the state and could have personally financed his many campaigns, but I feel supremely confident guessing that he never spent a penny of his own money on a campaign.
Many factors entered that gubernatorial campaign of 1994 but it was in part a test of whether a guy who didn't like raising campaign funds and who didn't like retail campaigning, could buy enough television ads to beat a popular incumbent.
It worked. Of course, the ads had to hit the right issues, be well produced and part of a well conceived campaign strategy. Johnson's campaign manager Doug Turner took care of that
Sixteen years later that same Doug Turner is trying the strategy himself, loaning his campaign around $400,000 so far. But this time, he has company. Other GOP gubernatorial candidates are digging in their pockets too.
Candidate Allen Weh has laid out some $750,000 of money he pulled in from government defense contracts. He is currently leading the TV race. Candidates Pete Domenici, Jr. and Janice Arnold-Jones have made about $70,000 and $54,000 in loans to their campaigns.
The only GOP gubernatorial candidate depending solely on raising funds from others is Dona Ana County District Attorney Susana Martinez. She notes that if personal loans from her opponents are discounted, she is the top fundraiser among Republicans.
Will that make a difference? If old-style politics still has any validity, maybe it does. It means that Martinez has gotten out there and touched a lot more lives than her opponents.
In the GOP lieutenant governor race, roofer John Sanchez, the Republican gubernatorial nominee in 2002, has personally contributed $274,000 of his $279.000 war chest.
This is a guy who cultivated supporters throughout the state eight years ago and has chosen not to use those contacts for fund raising purposes this time.
Candidates who have to rely on raising all their own campaign funds complain about the amount of time fund raising takes away from making other campaign contacts. Sanchez doesn't have to worry about that.
Early in the campaign GOP lieutenant governor candidate Brian Moore, of Clayton, put $100,000 into his campaign, thereby serving notice that he is in the race to win. Moore is a former state representative and is expected to do well in rural New Mexico.
On the Democratic side of the ledger, Lawrence Rael is reported to have put $105,000 into his campaign. He is considered to be the principal challenger to former state Democratic Chairman Brian Colon, who has raised the most money so far.
Colon's lead in money raising is somewhat to be expected since he is the former state Democratic chairman and hit up the big money donors for contributions to the state party during those years.
Rael made his name by getting the Rail Runner commuter train up and going in record time.
The champions at self financing campaigns are U.S. Rep. Harry Teague and former Rep. Steve Pearce. Both wealthy from the oil business, they are capable of contributing whatever is necessary to win.
FRI, 4-23-10

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


Thursday, April 15, 2010

4-21 Tsunamis and Earthquakes

WED, 4-21-10

SANTA FE - Will this winter weather never end? Jeanette and I have been traveling even more than usual this spring to escape the cold and pollen. We've visited much of the desert southwest plus our most southwestern state of Hawaii.
And it has been cold everywhere. There's no escaping it. The global cooling fans are ecstatic; claiming this proves global warming is a bunch of hooey. It really doesn't prove anything other than we had a cold, wet winter.
Climate change doesn't occur that quickly. In fact, there is increasing evidence that our planet goes through warm and cool cycles about every 500 years. As I understand, our current warm period started in 1850 so no one who is arguing about it now will still be around when it ends.
The Utah House of Representatives recently passed a resolution by a wide margin declaring no confidence in global warming predictions. The resolution has no legal effect. It may be intended to send a message saying not to mess with pollution regulations on their oil and coal industries.
Are people doing anything to add to the natural global warming on our earth? It may still be debatable but clean water and air is worthy goals whether they reduce global warming or not. Just don't worry too much about whether we are facing the end of life as we know it.
Speaking of life-ending catastrophes, we have boldly faced two this spring and come away without a scratch. I've written before about being evacuated from our beachfront cottage at 5 a.m. on our first night in Hawaii. A major earthquake off Chile created fears of a tsunami, which turned out to be barely discernable.
We were told that tsunamis aren't just big waves. They are similar to the flash floods we have in the mountainous desert - a huge wall of water.
A month later, during our first night in Palm Springs, CA, which sits directly atop the San Andreas Fault, we were awakened at 2 a.m. by an earthquake. The magnitude-4.5 quake was too minor to be mentioned on the news but novices, such as we were, worried about what was coming next when the shaking and rumbling started.
We learned from friends later that quakes that small aren't worth talking about but that the 7.2 magnitude quake a month earlier did create a lot of buzz.
Traveling the roads of southern Arizona and California, we had an opportunity to experience those states' budget-trimming moves. California roads were in terrible shape. Many Arizona rest stops were closed and vans with speeding cameras were everywhere.
California has only red light cameras at this point but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger now is pushing speeding cameras with heavy fines going to the state. We also were warned that five-mile-an-hour cushions on speeding are disappearing.
Grass and weeds are no longer being mowed on the roadsides and medians. They are growing faster with the wet winter and spring. The wild flowers are beautiful and the sides of normally dry hills now are green almost everywhere.
Late winter and spring are our usual time to travel. We often have noted the impact of college spring breaks on southern beaches but evidently we haven't done much traveling during the Easter period. Highways and hotels were very crowded the week before and week after Easter.
On the Monday after Easter, traffic going north over Hoover Dam inched at a snail's pace. It took an hour to get across because of the heavy traffic. The last two spans on the impressive bypass both have only two more sections to be completed. At the rate work has progressed so far, it should only take another two or three years to complete it.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

4-19 A Very Unusual Election Year

MON, 4-19-10

SANTA FE - Get ready for a wild 2010 election. Indications at this point are that it will be another throw-the-incumbents-out race, much like 1994 and 2006. A recent Gallup Poll tells us that a majority of Americans don't like either of the major parties.
Republicans and Democrats have approval ratings in the low 40-percent range. The Tea Party showed up at 37 percent popularity. It is difficult to divine exactly what the Tea Party showing will mean but it's likely bad news for both major parties.
Tea partiers' major complaints seem to be with government, in general. They dislike Democrats more than Republicans but they can cause trouble in Republican primaries since they aren't particularly GOP loyalists.
A Rasmussen poll shows 47 percent of Americans agreeing with the Tea Party compared with 26 percent agreeing with Congress.
The Gallup Poll also shows that for only the second time since the polling began, Americans even disapprove of their own members of Congress. The usual pattern is for congressional popularity to be somewhere in the 20-percent range but for respondents to rate their own representatives highly. It's human nature -- usually.
The major protests these days are coming from right-leaning groups. The last time we had large scale protests was in the '60s when it was college students and other left-leaning groups. Does that mean the left has taken over?
It could. Democrats took away both houses of Congress in 2006 and the presidency in 2008. A commonly heard phrase at protests these days is that we are losing our country. The protesters appear to be white, middle-class, middle-aged males, with a generous number of females too.
So protests from the right may be good news for the GOP. It can be a mixed blessing however. When a powerful group organizes outside a party structure, the effect doesn't appear to be as great. In 2004, billionaire George Soros and others formed America Coming Together and spent huge amounts of money on liberal causes.
But it didn't elect John Kerry to the presidency or elect Democratic majorities in either House of Congress. Political observers felt the Democratic Party could have utilized the money more effectively.
This year, the major manpower and money is forming on the conservative side, but as with the Democrats in 2004, some of the big donors are funding other conservative organizations rather than funneling it into the Republican Party.
National GOP Chairman Michael Steele is having trouble keeping his party together. Charges that Steele is spending party money lavishly and unwisely are causing new conservative political action committees to form and attract big money.
In New Mexico, state GOP Chairman Harvey Yates, Jr. is tending to business in a much more effective manner. He has recruited more legislative challengers to Democratic incumbents than any leader in years.
Yates has a tremendous deficit to overcome. Democrats have built up a 45-25 margin in the House, where all the races are this year. Senators don't run until 2012. But he is very likely to start whittling away at that margin.
The timing is unfortunate for Yates. Next year's governor and Legislature will redesign legislative and congressional districts for the next decade. If Democrats retain their legislative majorities and the governor's office, they have the opportunity to change legislative boundaries to benefit Democratic candidates.
For the last several decades, redistricting hasn't altered New Mexico districts to the extent it has in some other states, such as Texas. Republican Gary Johnson was governor 10 years ago and he wasn't about to let Democrats get away with much.
In 1971, 1981 and 1991 Democrat Bruce King was governor. King was a good Democrat but was very much for "keeping it between the fence posts," as he always put it. That disappointed some Democratic leaders but it seemed to be a good way for Old Bruce to keep winning elections.


4-16 More Sunshine Needed

FRI, 4-16-10

SANTA FE - There was much rejoicing among fans of open government about passage of the "Sunshine Portal" bill, which will provide New Mexicans with computer access to the state's financial documents.
Previously it was necessary to file an Inspection of Public Records request and often necessary to travel to Santa Fe to view documents. That information will become available online beginning in July of next year.
Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, who signed the legislation in the absence of Gov. Bill Richardson, said, "This is information the public should have had all along."
She's right. Legislation should not be necessary to require the government to reveal what it is doing. The public foots the bill for every operation of state government. We should be able to freely discover what is being done with our money.
Without congressional prodding, President Barack Obama recently announced a major open government initiative requiring executive agencies to create their own open government plans.
Obama promised more government transparency during his presidential campaign and quickly moved to encourage his top governmental appointees to make frequently requested information available to everyone on a new Web site The result has been a decrease in Freedom of Information Act requests.
The same thing could be happening at the state level if the governor and all other statewide elected officials were to direct everyone under them to make data available as easily and quickly as possible.
If Lt. Gov. Denish becomes governor, she pledges more openness. On the GOP side of the gubernatorial contest, Rep. Janice Arnold Jones already has proven her dedication to legislative transparency by defying the wishes of House leaders that she not Webcast meetings of the committees on which she serves.
The resulting publicity caused a reluctant House and Senate to grudgingly allow limited telecasting and audio feeds of floor sessions. Some open government advocates are now referring to Arnold-Jones as the Sunshine Queen.
If we are to see more openness in state government, several actions will be necessary. All employees with any responsibility for providing information to the public need to be trained. The Attorney General's Office provides such training around the state but numerous reports indicate that the message is not getting through.
Some people are being asked for identification and for the reason they want information. Requests are being denied because they are not asked exactly in the manner desired or they are incorrectly told the information does not exist.
And responses are delayed an unreasonable amount of time. I am fond of claiming a world record in that category. Early in my journalistic career I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. Treasury Department for any material they had on the effort to hunt treasure inside Victorio Peak in southern New Mexico.
The treasure hunt had been mentioned in testimony by John Dean during the Watergate hearings. Subsequent news reports had mentioned involvement by the Treasury Department but I was told by a Treasury official that the department had no file on the subject.
A few years ago, I received a call from that Treasury official saying that he was cleaning out files prior to retirement and found my request in the department's Victorio Peak file. He apologized for the delay of some 20 years and asked if I would like him to copy the file and send it to me.
As expected, I didn't learn anything new from the information and I doubt I received the entire file. Maybe I'll make another request and see if Obama's transparency initiative produces any more results.



Saturday, April 10, 2010

4-14 Who Gets the Tax Breaks?

WED, 3-14-10

SANTA FE - The most dreaded time of year is here again. Income taxes are due tomorrow. Millions of Americans have pulled out the shoebox and are sorting through receipts and bills. If you haven't started yet, you may be too late.
On average, Americans filling out the long form spend 21.4 hours wading through the 172 pages of explanations for the federal form. Some 86 million more already have taken their records to a professional.
Every year the federal tax code gets longer. That's because thousands of industries and special interest groups across the country are constantly beseeching Congress for more deductions, exemptions, credits and exclusions.
And they are ever increasing because the rewards are generous for members of Congress who help those who can afford to return the favor with hefty campaign contributions.
These special benefits are estimated to reduce federal income taxes by $1 trillion a year. New Mexico is not a bit better. Our giveaways are estimated at $1 billion a year. Get rid of them and we've more than solved our deficit problem.
How do we solve this raid on the treasury? We don't. And likely never will. It's the American Way. Some call it free enterprise. Some call it capitalism. Some call it graft. Whatever you call it, there's no way to stop it.
Some force would have to come along that is stronger than all the special interest lobbyists in Washington - and Santa Fe. It would have to be a force stronger than the almighty dollar.
The current "Tea Party" movement has grabbed the stage as our savior. It's members say we are "Taxed Enough Already." Actually tax rates have gone down at the state and national levels for quite a few years so they can't be talking about that.
So it must be all the favored tax treatment these powerful groups are receiving that requires the rest of us pay a larger share of our governments' revenue. If that is the tea partiers' focus, they've come up with no concrete proposals. So far their image is one of anger and brandishing loaded weapons at public protests.
It would be truly awesome to see tea partiers channel all their pent up energy into something as positive as reforming our tax code.
Wouldn't it be great if members of Congress and the New Mexico Legislature felt their most important duty was to abolish all favored tax treatment or else lose their jobs?
One way to make that happen might be to legislate that no one employed or contracted by a favored industry could make contributions to any political candidate. We're already trying that with investment companies in New Mexico to stem the suspected securities fraud.
But it's not going to happen. Members of Congress and the Legislature can cite legitimate interests in promoting economic growth and helping struggling local industries. But in the long run, tax breaks are not the way to produce economic growth. It is the ability to provide services to industries that make a location attractive to them.
Or how about this? Wouldn't it be fun to see a list of every industry receiving an income tax break? Let's have a state list and a federal list. Of course we could wade through the instruction booklets but won't somebody make us some lists? We may need to know why ceiling fan importers need a tax break, for instance.
We sometimes hear members of Congress advocating income tax reform. It is a great issue for them. Voters love it. But the bills never go anywhere and the sponsors know they won't.
Lately we've been hearing that state legislators should take the same cuts as everyone else or Social Security and Medicare should cover that Congress.
Here's another idea. Make them all fill out their own tax forms. I'll bet you anything that none of them do. I've even read that the head of the Internal Revenue Service doesn't fill out his own form.


Monday, April 05, 2010

4-9 The Bataan Death March

FRI, 4-09-10

Today we honor the 1,800 New Mexicans who endured the Bataan Death March that began April 9, 1942 on the island of Luzon in the Philippines.
The weeklong, 65-mile march, in tropical heat, without food, water, or rest resulted in the deaths of some 11,000 Americans and Filipinos.
Ceremonies will be held throughout the state today and tomorrow. The annual Bataan Memorial Death March was held Sunday March 21 at White Sands Missile Range. The 26.2-mile event attracted 5,700 participants this year.
On Friday, prior to the Sunday event, Alamogordo kicked off a Speaker Series with Death March survivors and New Mexico authors of books about Bataan.
Bataan is dear to the hearts of many New Mexicans. National Guard units from throughout the state were sent to help defend the Philippines from Japan's advance aimed at taking control of the Pacific all the way to Australia.
Unfortunately the U.S. military wasn't able to mobilize in time to stop Japan's rapid march down the Pacific. Supplies and reinforcements promised to Gen. Douglass Mac Arthur never arrived. American troops were left to fight with antiquated World War I weapons, ammunition and supplies.
New Mexico's troops made up the 200th Coast Artillery. During the four months they held off the Japanese advance, they downed 86 enemy aircraft with equipment that constantly fell apart.
Fortunately nearly all these men were from rural areas of New Mexico They had grown up figuring out how to repair machines and anything else that broke down.
They endured lack of supplies, malnutrition, malaria and starvation to foil the Japanese timetable for reaching Australia before we and our allies could complete our mobilization effort.
The Japanese effort finally was stopped just short of Australia at New Guinea and Guadalcanal but not before the Philippines were overrun.
In the final months of their holdout, the 200th, which was undermanned as a regiment, was split in two and the 515th Coast Artillery regiment was created to help defend Manila. The 200th remained on the Bataan Peninsula.
As the Japanese continued their advance, all American troops were consolidated onto the Bataan peninsula, with the New Mexico Guard forming the line of defense through which they passed.
The squeeze was on as Japanese troops pushed deeper into the peninsula. Eventually U.S. commanders saw that no resources were left to continue the fight and no reinforcements would arrive. On April 9, 1942 the troops were surrendered. The men of the New Mexico Guard let their displeasure with the decision be known. They wanted to fight to the death.
For those who survived the march, the prison camps were another tortuous ordeal. That wasn't the end, however as things went from bad to worse. Prisoner "hell ships" then took the captives to Japan where they worked as forced labor in factories and mines owned by companies such as Mitsubishi and Kawasaki.
The New Mexico National Guard had a proud history in World War II. It was the first to fire on the December 8, 1941 Japanese attack. It was named the best anti-aircraft regiment in the U.S. Army. And it lost more men per capita than any other state in World War II.
In 2008, the New Mexico Hispanic Cultural Preservation League initiated an effort to recognize Bataan veterans with a Congressional Gold Medal. The league is dedicated to correcting omissions of valor and honor in historical records, which have seemed to overlook the role of Hispanics in American history. The 200th and 515th Coast Artillery regiments were largely composed of Hispanic soldiers.
The league was successful in getting then-Rep. Tom Udall introduced the legislation to award a Gold Medal to Bataan veterans. The bill received much support from many organizations but its momentum was stalled when other veterans groups said they deserved Congressional Gold Medals for the battles they fought.

No column on Mon, 4-12.

4-7 It's Gonna Get Worse

WED, 4-07-10

SANTA FE - New Mexico and most other states were able to avoid including the public schools in their first rounds of budget cutting. Since education is a state responsibility, nearly all states make it their primary responsibility. Some states pass much of that responsibility down to the local level.
But beginning with this year's legislative sessions, public schools are now part of the budget balancing. Federal stimulus funds have been the savior thus far in helping states avoid cutting into public school budgets. But those funds appear to be ending soon.
The first round of major cuts around the country this year have resulted in furloughs, smaller paychecks, fewer extracurricular activities and decimated summer school programs.
Now get ready for the big cuts. In New Mexico and much of the nation will start seeing layoffs and swelling class sizes as states grapple with budget shortfalls that have shown no sign of subsiding. Wall street may be recovering but that's as far as it goes.
The next round of cuts get even scarier. Full day kindergartens are being reduced to half day in many communities. And now the top grades are being targeted. Utah is seriously considering eliminating the senior year of high school.
Legislation has been introduced in Arizona creating a Grand Canyon diploma for students who want to leave at the end of 10th grade. It won't get them into a four-year college but they can go to a junior college or vocational school. Or they could enter the already bleak job market.
This year, New Mexico's Senate Finance Committee talked about eliminating funds for the senior year of high school. And there will be serious study at the state level of consolidating small school districts into bigger neighboring districts.
Some of those small districts are leftovers from the massive consolidations of the 1950s that trimmed the number of districts from over 600 to under 100.. Thos small districts were able to escape because they had powerful state senators to protect them. In those days, every county, regardless of size, had its own state senator. For some of them, it was a lifetime position.
In the late '70s, a one-person, one vote decision by the U.S. Supreme Court put an end to the rural domination of legislatures. A few efforts were made to legislate further consolidations but the sponsors of such legislation soon discovered the hornets' nests they stirred up weren't worth the effort.
The biggest target, however, for the government consolidators may not be a tiny, rural school district. Las Vegas has two school districts sitting side by side. Las Vegas always has had a fracture between its east and west sides.
The two municipalities managed to smooth their feelings enough to consolidate several decades ago. But the two districts never joined - and never will unless forced by the state Legislature.
Elsewhere, an interesting situation I've run into in Scottsdale, Arizona with our grandchildren is that parents are sent a supply list for the elementary teachers. Parents receive a supply list at the beginning of school. They purchase the items, amounting to over $100 apiece, and teachers put them in their personal supply closets.
If they run low during the year, they tell the room mother who notifies every parent of a new round of purchases. If a family can't afford to pay, it doesn't participate but no one knows other than the teacher and/or room mother.
Besides funding classroom supplies, this district also recently conducted a tax override election to continue funding full-day kindergarten and other school programs. It passed easily.
Next fall Arizona will vote on a temporary one-cent sales tax increase. Temporary taxes are another nationwide phenomenon being used to help get through the current recession.
Gov. Bill Richardson suggested a quarter cent temporary increase in New Mexico this year. Republicans and conservative Democrats killed the idea, saying there is no such thing as a temporary tax. Arizona's governor and both houses of the Legislature are Republican.