Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

10-4 Few Ways Left to Balance Budget

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- If traumatic was the proper description for the past two years of budget-balancing legislative sessions and special sessions, dreadful might be the term for what will happen next January.
The one-time fixes are all used up. Departing employees have not been replaced for two years, salaries have been frozen, benefits have been cut and many programs have been reduced or eliminated.
Both gubernatorial candidates first pledged not to increase taxes next year. Now they have upped the ante to no increases for their entire four-year term.
Economists say fiscal recovery in states lags about three years behind national recovery. Odd as it may seem, they have declared the national economy to be recovered. That leaves three more years for New Mexico to keep digging itself out of its hole.
All the cuts the state has made during the past two years have resulted in reducing the budget from $6 billion to $5.2 billion. Projections right now indicate a budget deficit next June 30 of about $450 million. Figure that amount increasing to around $500 million by the time the next budget estimates are made.
If the state was able to cut its budget $800 million in two years with much kicking and screaming and some tax increases, what is it going to take to cut it maybe $500 million a year for the next three years with no tax increases?
The only item left to cut is employees. Reducing them through attrition the past two years hasn't been enough to make a dent the size we will need.
Employees comprise most of a state's budget. Yes, we spend large amounts building roads but that money comes from state and federal gasoline taxes that aren't part of the general fund budget we are talking about.
The easiest employees to cut are the political appointees. They are at-will employees anyway, with no job security other than being on the governor's good side.
At one time, there reportedly were over 500 such people working for state government. That has reportedly been reduced down to somewhere in the 300s during the budget tightening. Exact numbers, much less names, are difficult to obtain since the payrollers aren't part of the personnel system.
It would be easy to cut this number much more and save quite a bit of money. Everyone will be gone at the end of the year anyway and the next governor isn't required to hire anyone to fill those positions.
No one will complain about the governor hiring her own people for her office staff and to head cabinet level departments and agencies. But that could easily be kept under 100.
When I arrived in Santa Fe in the mid-1960s, governors had very small staffs, maybe 10 people in a small suite of offices. That number has grown to fill almost half of the fourth floor of the Capitol Building.
The governor's cabinet has more than doubled from 12 at the end of Gov. Jerry Apodaca's administration in 1978. If the top posts in each department were filled by advancing present classified employees, it would further reduce the number of political appointees and would mean the executives already would know their jobs.
Even with these cuts, the really big bucks still have to be found. Layoffs are a very distinct possibility. Middle management is a good place to start. They mostly attend meetings. Travel expenses to those meetings are a big item, which could be eliminated and the state car pool reduced.
A return to $4 a gallon gasoline would solve the state's budget problems but wouldn't do anything good for the driving public.
Blogger Joe Monahan reports talk of a more concerted effort this year to use the state's permanent fund income to help plug the gap. Using any of the fund, itself, requires a constitutional amendment but current royalty money can be diverted by the Legislature from going into the fund.
Lawmakers already do that with severance taxes going into our other permanent fund.
MON, 10-04-10

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


10-1 attachment

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Arizona appears to be handling the fallout from its new immigration law much better than it dealt with the boycott about refusing to recognize Martin Luther King Day 20 years ago.
In 1990, the state lost many tourism and convention dollars in addition to the National Football League relocating the 1993 Super Bowl from Phoenix to Pasadena, California. In all, boycott costs were estimated at $300 million.
In August, the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association estimated the state already had lost over 40 conventions and $15 million as a result of its immigration law.
Arizona officials quickly found $1 million to hire a public relations firm to improve its image. In addition, a team was organized to travel the country with hopes of convincing organizers of upcoming large conventions that they still should come to Arizona.
Convention bureaus, however, are most worried about convention organizers who are close to signing agreements for Arizona conventions in the next two or three years. Their decisions could extend the boycott's effects for some time.
The biggest impact would be from Major League Baseball deciding to move its 2011 All-Star game from Phoenix next July. St. Louis reported $60 million from hosting last year's All-Star game.
The Players Association already has called for a boycott of the All-Star game and of spring training in Arizona. Over the years, Arizona's Cactus League has gradually attracted 15 teams away from Florida's Grapefruit League, which now stands at 15 teams also.
But baseball owners have indicated no interest in any boycott so no changes are likely. Over 25 percent of major league players are immigrants and the number is even greater in the minor leagues.. Owners get them into the country through a federal provision granted to "internationally known entertainers and athletes."
Whether an 18-year-old Venezuelan would meet that criteria unless he has all his papers with him is unclear So some in baseball are suggesting that major league owners issue an identification card to all major and minor league players who might ever get close to Arizona.
That would be all of professional baseball because besides having a major league team and half the spring training teams, Arizona also has summer and fall developmental leagues.
Despite Arizona's financial losses, lawmakers in numerous other states are looking at copying its new law. Some even say they want to make theirs tougher. What about lawsuits? The answer given is that nothing important ever happens without lawsuits.
So far, Republican legislators from Utah, Colorado and Tennessee have journeyed to Arizona to learn how it is done. Democratic lawmakers from those states say the big talk will end after the November elections.
They contend that no state in these economic times can afford losses due to boycotts, court costs, increased enforcement measures, detention costs and business lost to contractors bidding in other states.
Others concerned about illegal immigration suggest cracking down harder on employers and electing members of Congress who are interested in more than just building a fence.
One thing passage of Arizona's immigration law has done is to insure the re-elections of Gov. Jan Brewer and Sen. John McCain. At one time both were considered moderates but their support for the immigration law has squared them away with the state's Republican Party.
Brewer was thought to be in trouble because of her advocacy of a temporary sales tax increase. But Arizona voters have now approved that tax and Brewer's election appears assured despite some missteps.
In June Brewer announced that bodies have been found in the Arizona desert that have been beheaded by Mexican drug cartels. Later it was reported that beheadings have occurred in Mexico but no southern Arizona coroner has handled any "headless" cases.
In a subsequent debate, Brewer went completely blank when asked for evidence about the Arizona beheadings. But poll numbers indicate that Arizonans still think she's the governor they want.
FRI, 10-01-10

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


10-1 Arizona Dealing With Immigration Boycott


Thursday, September 23, 2010

out of office

I'll be out through Monday. You can contact me by email or cell: 505-699-9982.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

9-27 Unlimited Conspiracy Theories

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Today is the anniversary of the 1964 release of the Warren Commission Report on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
It isn't an occasion we observe but it is momentous in that it spawned scores of books and studies questioning the findings of that commission.
The Warren Report initially met with acceptance by the American public but subsequent investigations disputing the commission's findings have resulted in surveys showing as much as 80 percent of Americans having misgivings about the report.
Kennedy's assassination, for some reason, was accompanied by numerous other political assassinations or attempted assassinations both here and abroad.
The other assassinations included Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jack Ruby, Medgar Evers and Malcolm X. Gov. George Wallace was wounded for life and shots were fired at President Gerald Ford.
This rash of assassinations and attempts resulted in the creation of a U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1976. It held hearings for three years and in 1979 concluded that the assassinations primarily were by lone gunmen and not part of a conspiracy.
In the murder of President Kennedy, however, the House committee found both the original FBI investigation and the Warren Commission Report to be seriously flawed. It concluded that there was a "high probability" that two gunmen fired at the President and it was probable that a conspiracy existed.
It is unlikely we will learn much more about President Kennedy's death in future years unless we hear some deathbed confessions. We haven't heard any of those in the past 47 years so it's getting less and less likely.
Conspiracies are difficult to cover up. That is why the simplest explanation is usually the best. In this case, the simplest explanation is the lone gunman theory. Of course, that requires a two lone gunmen theory since one also has to conclude that Jack Ruby, who killed Lee Harvey Oswald, also acted out of completely personal motivations.
It is the hurried and botched investigations by the FBI and Warren Commission that leave so many questions unanswered.
American leaders were anxious to get the country back to normal as quickly as possible in order to allay any fears that more attacks were coming. So a quick investigation leading to a conclusion that there was no conspiracy was thought to be the answer.
But too many questions were left open. It also hurt the commission's credibility that the public does not want to believe that our nation's leader can be picked off by a two-bit malcontent.
That had been the case with previous presidential assassinations and attempted assassinations except for the first one. Several people were convicted and executed for involvement in the killing of President Abraham Lincoln. And that is remembered.
The Kennedy assassination wasn't the only time the government has made matters worse with an investigation appearing to reveal less than the truth.
The famous 1947 crash at Roswell produced an Army news release saying a flying saucer had been captured. That was followed the next day by an explanation that it was only a weather balloon.
That explanation was accepted by the American public for more than 30 years until people who had been involved began coming forward with information that the material recovered didn't look like a flying saucer or a weather balloon.
The current government story now is that it was a secret spy balloon being tested. Then, on the 50th anniversary of the crash, the military announced that the bodies were test dummies being dropped from airplanes. Bodies? Who said anything about bodies?
The probability is zero that whatever fell near Roswell was from another planet. It was probably something being tested by the German scientists who were shooting off rockets at what then was called White Sands Proving Grounds.
This was a test that didn't prove out and the Pentagon was so anxious to cover it up that any explanation would suffice. And it would produce unlimited conspiracy theories.
MON, 9-27-10

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


9-24 Budget Cutting Can Be Fun

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Now the fun part begins. Former state Rep. John Mershon of Alamogordo isn't with us anymore but that's what the conservative finance chairman would be saying right now as state lawmakers begin to wrestle with devastating budget cuts.
Two years ago lawmakers implemented the easy cuts, raiding our hefty reserves, removing unused money from capital outlay projects and searching out hidden slush funds throughout state government.
Last year, it got more serious. A hiring freeze began reducing the number of state employees. Unpaid furlough days brought millions more into state coffers. And then across-the-board cuts were made to all agencies.
Now it is time for the truly painful decisions about which programs are expendable and how to get the most out of each taxpayer dollar. Legislative leaders, even the most conservative, call the decisions painful.
But I'll bet in their private thoughts, these leaders are echoing Rep. Mershon's sentiments that now the quest for government efficiency can really begin.
And it has begun, no more so than in the newly created Government Restructuring Task Force. This group, composed of legislative leaders and retired state budget experts, has a grueling schedule that began in April and ends on December 31.
The panel will look at every function of state government, including public schools and higher education, with an eye on cost savings, government efficiency and government effectiveness.
The task force spent its early meetings studying the report of Gov. Bill Richardson's Committee on Government Efficiency, which he appointed late last year for some quickie recommendations on "trimming low hanging fruit."
But even that low hanging fruit was too controversial for this year's Legislature to do much with other than to refer it for further study. The task force also has looked at efforts in five other states that already had taken on the same task.
The law creating the task force directs the agencies of state government to cooperate in the work of the task force. But that cooperation has only gone so far. Nobody seems to like much of anything the task force is considering.
Several proposals to restructure state government have been endorsed at the last two meetings and task force members are expressing frustration that virtually all of them are running into heated opposition from agencies that are affected.
But legislative finance leaders Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, and Rep. Lucky Varela, D-Santa Fe, are adamant that cost savings will be recommended to the Legislature beginning in January.
By early December, task force members will have looked at every part of state government, every program, every board and commission, plus public schools and higher education. There will be much unhappiness.
As far-reaching as the task force's mission may sound, it can be done. It has been done. When former Gov. Jerry Apodaca was elected in 1974, he began efforts to streamline state government even before he took office.
At the time, there were over 100 independent state agencies, all reporting to the governor. In a four-year period, Apodaca succeeded in consolidating them down to 12 departments, headed by cabinet secretaries.
Other states currently involved in consolidation efforts report that doing so in a time of financial crisis has its problems because of a tendency to rush to save money.
In the mid-1970s, Apodaca had the help of a booming economy to allow a full four years for implementation. But he had a lot further to go. Currently, the number of departments has approximately doubled since Apodaca's time so the streamlining won't be as severe.
But the process will be even more traumatic. Cabinet secretaries really won't be affected. They are on their way out anyway. But from the top levels of career employees on down, feelings are white hot.
FRI, 9-24-10

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


Sunday, September 19, 2010

9-22 Martinez Raising Money Fast

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Lt. Gov. Diane Denish spent seven years building a $2 million war chest. It scared all Democratic candidates and the two major Republican possibilities out of the race, giving her what appeared to be an insurmountable lead.
Then along came Susana Martinez who raised $2 million in the past 10 weeks to basically wipe out her fundraising disadvantage.
How did she do it? Close to half of it was out-of-state money, mostly from four big donors. Even Bill Richardson would have trouble raising that much that quickly from within the state.
It demonstrates how heavily targeted the New Mexico gubernatorial race is. This year sees a large number of gubernatorial races nationally but New Mexico is especially important because it offers an opportunity for the GOP to prevent Democrats from having their way on congressional and legislative redistricting next year.
Martinez also is very capable of winning. The Republican Party has been hurt in some primary elections by independent candidacies and by Tea Party candidates whose views will make it difficult to win a general election.
So Martinez is going to get all the national assistance she needs. In early July, I wrote about Denish's 7-1 advantage over Martinez in their campaign accounts.
Denish was pouring it on from her $2.2 million bankroll, filling the airwaves with television ads that Martinez couldn't match with her $300,000 of leftovers from a bruising primary battle.
But Martinez found the money to keep pace and she's sure to keep it up for the final six weeks. And most of that money will come from out of state.
Not only is Martinez running ahead in the polls but she will give the GOP a big boost with women and minorities nationally she can become a female Hispanic governor and John Sanchez a Hispanic lieutenant governor.
Martinez is clicking with Northern New Mexico Hispanics. She's not one of them but to many in that part of the state she feels like she is one of them. That is dangerous for the Democratic Party, which has to score big majorities in the North Central counties.
To rally the troops in those counties, Democratic leaders are pounding Martinez hard for being from out of state. Maybe it will work but the truth is that many New Mexico governors and members of Congress have been from out of state.
Bill Richardson had been in New Mexico for only four years when he was elected to Congress from the newly-created Northern District. And he not only grew up out of state but also out of the country.
Gov. Gary Johnson was born in North Dakota. Gov. Dave Cargo was born in Michigan and Gov. Jack Campbell was born in Kansas. Of course none of them were born in Texas. And that makes a difference.
Longtime Northern New Mexicans have some bad feeling about Texas. Texans invaded us twice. They stole a half million acres from our joint border when we became a state. And they've managed to get more water than they deserve from the Rio Grande and Pecos, according to Nortenos.
The water rights issue is especially upsetting to many Northern New Mexicans because they feel a governor from El Paso or Las Cruces might possibly take advantage of the North on water rights issues.
Of course, New Mexico has had two governors from Las Cruces in the past 40 years and neither Jerry Apodaca nor Garrey Carruthers were ever accused of such favoritism.
The Martinez camp is itching to get on with the voting. Denish is a fighter and she can claw her way back from her current deficit. The GOP always has been good at turning out a big absentee vote and they have started an early voting campaign again.
But Democrats are ahead in that game. They started a door-to-door absentee voting campaign in early summer.
WED, 9-22-10

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


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

9-13 Gov. Hopefuls Can't Keep Promise

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- It's nice to see our battling gubernatorial candidates agree on something, especially something as big as no tax increases next year and no cuts to schools or Medicaid.
The only problem is that it's not going to happen. It can't. We have a deficit of about $230 million to make up for the current fiscal year ending next June.
Education and Medicaid make up about 56 percent of the state budget. Cutting $230 million out of 44 percent of the state budget that already has been severely cut just can't be done.
I hope the loser in the gubernatorial contest curbs her temptation next spring to criticize the winner for signing a budget that likely will have some tax hikes and some cuts to schools and Medicaid.
It's going to get worse. Public safety is seven percent of the budget and that has always been pretty sacred. Colleges and universities aren't included in what we've talked about so far.
They get 15 percent of the state budget. Add those two in and we're up to 78 percent of the state budget. And we really don't want to short the Corrections Department, do we? Also, next year we are told we won't receive the federal stimulus funds we have received the past two years.
This next legislative session may be one in which the targeting of cuts gets much more precise. So far most cuts have been mainly across-the-board. Gov. Bill Richardson did come through with $1.4 million in stimulus funds to help some executive and judicial branch agencies.
The federal stimulus funds allocated to governors for their discretionary use have been a real goodie bag. Some governors have opposed stimulus funds but none have turned them down. Although some are pretty quiet about where those funds are coming from when they are handing them out.
In states suffering even more than New Mexico, one of the last refuges before enacting tax increases is creative fund raising projects. A few bake sales have been reported.
California has one of the world's biggest garage sales of surplus government equipment. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger offers to autograph the items for an add-on fee.
Advertising has become popular. Gov. Schwarzenegger has proposed selling ads on highway signs and license plates. The Mississippi House has passed a bill to put ads on school busses.
A number of states are trying out corporate sponsorships. Some states offer advertising space on state park signs or on park promotional materials.
Some states are selling state airplanes, as New Mexico may do. The Albuquerque Journal's Thom Cole suggests we might sell ad space on the state jet if we decide to keep it. Several states are now looking at Arizona's idea of selling their state office buildings and leasing them back.
The New Mexico Department of Health wants to raise the application fee for prospective medical marijuana growers from $100 to $1,000.
It also wants to impose a seven percent gross receipts tax to help the program become self sufficient.. The department estimates each of its 11 growers generates $300,000 to $400,000 in revenues and more growers will be certified.
It seems to work well in Colorado, which has created quite a slush fund from medical marijuana growers. The state currently is looking at a second $9 million raid on the fund.
Perhaps surprisingly, New Mexico's counties have not been hit as hard by economic problems as state or municipal governments have been. That is because counties are more dependent on property tax instead of sales tax or income tax.
When incomes go down or when people lose their jobs, the effect is felt quickly, especially in sales tax receipts, which are paid monthly. But when property values decrease, property assessments don't immediately fall, so property tax receipts remain steady.
Some counties have even been able to give modest salary increases.
MON, 9-13-10

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


Sunday, September 05, 2010

9-10 Did 9-11 Change Your Life?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- How did 9-11 change your life? Very soon after the event, President George W. Bush told us not to let it affect our lives -- or else the terrorists have won.
It was sage advice. The terrorists wanted to change our lives in retaliation for us changing their lives politically and culturally. So capturing and punishing those responsible while moving on with our personal lives was the best way to foil their plot.
Most of us did move on, not letting it affect our everyday lives. But the same government that told us not to sweat it started changing our lives in many ways. It created a Homeland Security Department in the president's cabinet.
And that new department has a new agency called the Transportation Security Administration, seemingly dedicated to making one's flying experience as unpleasant as possible.
The department can brag that no airplane has been brought down by a terrorist act since its inception but it also must admit that it has never caught a terrorist in its screening process.
Airport screenings originally were justified by former Vice President Dick Cheney's one-percent doctrine, which stated that if there is a one percent chance of a terrorist act, we must respond as if there is a 100 percent chance.
Actually the chance of dying aboard an airplane as the result of a terrorist act is far less than one percent. You would have to add several more zeroes after the decimal point.
In an article shortly after the attempted Christmas day bombing over Detroit last year, the Wall Street Journal stated the odds at one in 25 million. It added that the odds of being killed by lightening are 50 times more likely.
The article concluded that for all practical purposes, the odds of being subjected to a terrorist attack can be calculated as zero. I can report, however, that my exhaustive research has revealed a celebrated event that is even more unlikely than a terrorist attack.
You are about 40 times less likely to win the Powerball lottery. My advice is to quit playing the lottery and quit worrying about airline safety. Make the most out of life every day.
While we have tightened security on American travelers both here and abroad, we have been letting goods shipped from foreign countries pass under our noses daily throughout the nation.
And while we check airline passengers down to their underwear, we are basically ignoring airport employees who are free to get in all sorts of mischief.
We also got the Patriot Act which has caused many Americans privacy and civil liberty concerns with its greatly increased monitoring provisions. Possibly the most noticeable change is the presence of surveillance cameras in public places -- except for a certain Arizona prison.
Everyone has been affected by the two wars we started in the name of combating terrorism. We'll be paying for those in terms of lives lost for many years and in terms of taxpayer costs for even longer.
Much of the public was afraid to fly after 9/11. My wife and I saw it as an opportunity to see the world for less than half price. On a cruise tour of Scandinavian capitals, we took a shortcut to the Baltic through Germany's Kiel Canal.
Knowing that most of the ship's passengers were Americans, German farmers turned out for picnics along the canal with large American flags and signs saying, "We Are All Americans."
When we visited the capital cities, every U.S. embassy had a shrine of flowers and signs at the front gate expressing sorrow for what America had endured. We visited again two years later with friends and saw the shrines had been replaced by armed guards protecting against demonstrations.
We blew our worldwide goodwill pretty quickly. But the world still would join us, I'm sure, in expressing sympathy for the families who lost loved ones in this horrible tragedy.
FRI, 9-10-10

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