Friday, October 30, 2009

Jose Campos, This Morning at Roberto's

After the Gulf War began and the recession hit Santa Rosa I lost 40% of my restaurant clients. I ended up being chef, waiter, dishwasher. That loneliness, that fear--I know what people are going through. We've got to get them out of it. Jose Campos, candidate for Lt. Governor, October 30, 2009

Except for Edgar Lopez’s absence, this morning at Roberto’s was like the old days, when Richardson was still popular when he came to town, before the Gran Traicion (Great Betrayal), as someone there described the spaceport tax project: politicos, candidates, and plebe, mingling with the coffee regulars, gossiping about everything worthless under the sun. Oscar Butler, Chano Merino, Willie Garcia, Bill McCamley (PRC hopeful), Ralph Misquez, were among the regulars this morning. Sen. Mary Jane Garcia, National Committee Woman Mary Gail Gwaltney, PRC Commissioner (and candidate for Land Commissioner) Sandy Jones, candidate for PRC Kent Evans, Arturo Uribe, Jesus Carrasco, Robert Nava, Ray Ibarra, and Manny Garcia: a solid but not complete sampling of Who’s Who on the pecking order in county politics today. All in all I counted about 30 persons listening in both rooms to the campaign talk of candidate Jose Campos, from Santa Rosa, running for Lt. Governor.

Stressing his electability, Campos pointed out his district’s Democratic performance is only 51%, but he won it by 60-40 while being outspent 3-1 by his opponent, Matt Rush. His district includes Roosevelt County and parts of Curry County, strong Conservative enclaves, and the district’s Hispanic population is only about 36-38%. He’s been a state representative since 2003, Mayor of Santa Rosa for 12 years, and before that a county commissioner. But he describes himself, sincerely, as a businessman.

He also spoke earnestly about the possibilities of using renewable energy as an investment in high-paying jobs for New Mexico, something he apparently knows fairly well. This is one of his major campaign themes. He was interrupted at various times by applause. After the talk he mingled for about an hour with people and then sat down with me and his campaign manager, Michelle Mares, at an empty table in the back.

For the current fiscal crisis, as a state representative Campos has staked out a position. He will vote in January for a restoration of the state personal income tax back to ’02 levels for persons earning $200,000 or more. This, he asserts, will generate $250 million out of the 2010 shortfall of $390 million. Taking (“sweeping”) $150 million in capital outlay funds the legislature did not touch during the special session in addition to the PIT tax will, he claims, take care of the 2010 budget. He is against proposals to cut more than superficially into education and he wants nothing to do with the proposal to restore and increase the gross receipts tax on food. Campos is unusually fluent and clear when he talks numbers and the relationships between numbers, a reflection of the B.A. he earned at UNM in economics and the multi-faceted perspectives he has gleaned from running a business, running a town, and working in the legislature. He attended NMMI before going to UNM, and he spent some time in Guadalajara, improving his ability in Spanish, which is highly functional but not flawless.

Asked what he might do for Dona Ana County and the South Valley as Lt. Governor, he suggested he could help local communities with realistic assessments of how to get local projects moving through the maze of multiple levels of government. He said he didn’t need anything new for this role in the way of staffing or legislation: he would get on the road and travel to many communities, listening to their priorities, advising and helping where he could. So whereas Lawrence Rael envisions himself as actually helping manage selective large projects in the state, Campos sees himself as more of an unpaid consultant and advocate for communities, using his access and practical knowledge to help things along. He asserted flatly that there is no region in the state with as high a level of what he called “surplus labor” than the South Mesilla Valley and suggested that Sunland Park is an ideal place for manufacturing, perhaps building generators, windmill blades, assembling things, etc.—getting back to the renewable energy theme he struck in his talk. But he also stressed he wanted to learn about local priorities before jumping to conclusions.

Campos is fortunate to have two seasoned professionals working for him. His campaign manager is Michelle Mares, formerly a campaign field coordinator for Sen. Jeff Bingaman and political director for over two years with Lt. Governor Diane Denish: this gives him credibility in organizing for the preprimary process next spring. The other is Santiago Juarez, former director of the Progressive Alliance for Community Empowerment, an attorney with decades of experience in community organization, and a passionate and persuasive advocate. Expect some creative networking and unusual bases of support.

Bottom Line: my sense of Campos is that he approaches politics less from an ideological position as from a practical one: staying within the cone of what is achievable under the circumstances, using his extensive knowledge of how to get things done as mayor, as legislator, as county commissioner; and uncomfortable with symbolic politics or lost causes, no matter how meritorious.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Troops Will Stay in Juarez At Least Through This Year

The City Council of Cd. Juarez this morning unanimously approved extending the agreement creating Joint Operation Chihuahua, until December 31 of this year. That means the troops will remain until that time.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Grading the Special Session: C-

In a crisis, effective leadership is crucial. Think of John Kennedy drawing the line in the Cuban Missile Crisis; Rudy Giuliani on the streets of New York on September 11; Ronald Reagan staring down striking air traffic controllers. But if leadership is poor in a crisis, things tend to go badly.

The disjointed, acrimonious, and ultimately inadequate special session of the legislature was symptomatic of a leadership vise, if not quite vacuum, that surfaced when the governor was forced to withdraw from a cabinet nomination earlier this year. This humiliation, followed by continuing FBI probes and newspaper scandals, left him with legal, but virtually no moral, authority. His absence from day-to-day government during his presidential run, his obvious desire to leave New Mexico last year, and his growing reputation for boorishness only discredited him further. The strong alliance between the governor and the Speaker of the House, which has sometimes weakened the checks and balances of executive and legislative powers, compromised legislative autonomy beyond recognition during the special session. Under normal times this would not matter. The state has lived with ineffective leadership before. Problem is this leadership crisis emerged just as a serious fiscal crisis was brewing, with revenues plummeting a billion dollars below expenditures, the worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression.

Thus, the governor’s denial (almost certainly a tactical posture) of the severity of the fiscal deficit, his lavish favoritism toward public education (which embarrassed many responsible school superintendents willing to suffer with everyone else), and his intransigence about leaving tax increases off the table until January—backed up by the considerable powers of the Speaker of the House—left the moderate forces in each chamber fighting defensive skirmishes against Left and Right, unable to obtain traction. The results are just about what one would expect: (a) a barely acceptable (I give them a C-) set of fiscal policies; (b) a dispirited set of legislators frustrated by their inability to serve the public well, facing an upcoming session with the heavy lifting still ahead and who knows what tricks the governor might have up his sleeves.

Needing to fix a $650 million budget shortfall for 2010, the legislature succeeded in fixing only $525 million, and, with reserves down to 3.8%, putting bond ratings in potential peril. Adding insult to injury, the governor publicly criticized the onerous 7.6% burden the legislature imposed on some of his agencies, the product of a light 0.8% cut in the 43% of the budget spent on education. In truth, the legislature, refusing to rebel against the inadequate tools the governor offered them in his proclamation at the last minute, tried hard to solve the fiscal crisis within the governor’s constraints. Their failure to do so was not a failure of effort. It was their willingness to play by the crippling rules of the game the governor offered on a matter of grave fiscal policy.

One casualty in this crisis of leadership, then, is good fiscal policy. Another, perhaps even more important, is our trust in the ability of this legislature to take charge when the executive branch falters. Particularly frustrating is the knowledge that the fiscal fate of the state in January is likely to be determined by a discredited governor, whose engagement with the current fiscal reality in New Mexico is tenuous at best, and who will not be held accountable for his actions in the elections of November 2010.

There were efforts in the special session to develop legislative autonomy, but they were amateurish and ideologically motivated toward outcomes, more than unleashing shackles. Liberals in the House proposed tax increases as a means of holding down cuts, ignoring the governor’s explicit veto threat. Attractive as a means of restoring autonomy, however, this alienated Republicans and conservative Democrats, the very coalition that elected Tim Jennings President of the Senate. Senate moderates and Conservatives, now complicit in staying in the box the governor had placed them in, ruled tax increase proposals not germane, voting them down. As if to prove they were more interested in outcomes than in principle, Liberals then launched verbal attacks on Jennings and Finance Chair John A. Smith, but accepted defeat, showing no stomach for confronting the governor to change his proclamation, which at least would have driven home their unhappiness with the rules. By this time the NEA and AFT had been mobilized and the ensuing cacophony drowned out all concerns about the rules of the game.

Proposals were also floated for the legislature to call itself into extraordinary session, which would have freed them from the governor’s proclamation, and, later, when the poor outcome was clear, to extend the session through a short recess that would allow a firmer response to surface. But in the end fear of the governor’s wrath stopped these in their tracks. If the governor has lost his moral authority to lead, he can still impose, as long as the Speaker continues to protect him and the rank and file refuse to rebel.

Legislators: the constitution holds you responsible for the state’s purse strings. If you delegate these to a governor, you are still responsible for the outcome. Under the circumstance voters are likely to forgive your inadequacies. The governor dealt you a sorry hand. But don’t try to blame the outcome of the 2010 session on the governor. He won’t be on the ballot, but you will be.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Good News in Juarez For a Change: Electrolux to Expand Operations

Yesterday Electrolux, a Swedish company, announced it would shut down two plants in Iowa a year from now, cutting out 850 out of 880 jobs in Webster City and Jefferson, transferring production of front-loading washing machines to Cd. Juárez. Electrolux has a large complex of three buildings in Juárez, producing front-loading washing machines, dryers, refrigerators, and those little round, self-guided vacuum cleaners. It now employs 600 persons in a washing machine assembly plant that began operations in Juárez in June 2008. Electrolux has a 19% share of the market in front-loading washing machines in Europe. It expects to double sales of air conditioners in Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Phillippines.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Auditor Balderas to LFC: Help Me With Sen./Superintendent Nava's GISD, Still Not in Compliance

More than a year after it was disclosed Gadsden Independent School District was $3.9 million in the hole, and after failing for four years in a row to fulfill the mandatory annual audit reports required of school districts, GISD still has not caught up with its books. In a sharply worded letter to Rep. Luciano (“Lucky”) Varela, Chairman of the LFC, and to Veronica Garcia, Secretary of Public Education, dated August 28, 2009, state auditor Hector Balderas wrote that reports for 2007 and 2008 are still not submitted. “…We have been working for months with GISD and Gibson (the GISD auditor) for this information and have been unsuccessful. Therefore I would respectfully request that the Legislative Finance Committee and the Public Education Department strongly consider all available options to assist the OSA (Office of the State Auditor) in compelling completion of GISD’s financial audits.”

In reply, Steven Suggs, Associate Superintendent for Finance, wrote to Auditor Balderas on September 8, 2009, indicating that the 2008-2009 audit will be completed “by the end of January 2010.” References to the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 years were blacked out in the copy of the letter provided by the state auditor’s office, but the GISD finance department indicates the 2006-2007 audit is complete, and the 2007-2008 audit should be finished in the next three weeks.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Beat Goes On: 2000th Homicide Victim: 2014 This Afternoon, 201 So Far This Month, 13 So Far Today

The 2000th homicide victim in Cd. Juarez this year was about 35 years old. He was killed at about 11:30 yesterday morning at the intersection of Jose Maria Arteaga and Gardenia in Bellavista, in front of a kindergarden and primary school. He was wearing denim shorts and a black polo shirt and his body fell onto the sidewalk under a public telephone in front of the schools.

As of this afternoon about 201 persons have been murdered this month in Juarez.

Just before noon yesterday Enrique Duran Ruacho, 37, was murdered inside his home at Bambu and Castaneda in Col. Heroes de la Revolucion.

At about 1:30 yesterday four more men, ages 50, 22, 21, and 55, were killed by gunfire in col. Hermila.

At about 5 p.m. yesterday two men, ages 40 and 42, were killed by gunfire at a store in col. San Antonio.

Early this morning (Wednesday) four men were murdered in separate incidences. One man was shot by armed men as he was arriving by car at his home. He was about 50 years old. Three men were murdered this morning at a nightclub (Arriba Chihuahua) in the Pronaf, in front of dozens of onlookers. Several men walked into the nightclub, found the victims, and shot them at close range.

Then at about 11 am this morning a man was killed on the street at Begonias and Plata in Col. Bellavista.

Another man was killed in Col. Infonavit Frontera Nueva, with one person hospitalized by gunfire wounds he suffered during the attack.

Another man was killed in the village of San Isidro on the Juarez-Porvenir highway and in Col Manuel Clouthier a man was assassinated while driving his car.

Then a man was killed near the airport, and a few minutes later two more homicides were reported in Col Chapultepec in separate incidences.

Then Mario Zapata Reyes, 32, was shot and killed in Col Chavena.

Finally another homicide was reported at the intersection of Fco. Villarreal and Cuatro Siglos.

Total for Wednesday up to about 5 p.m.: 13

Compiled from stories in Diario and Norte (by Herica Martinez and Carlos Huerta)

Sign of the Times: Juarez Runs Out of Crime-Scene Tape

Municipal officials in Cd. Juarez yesterday admitted they had run out of yellow crime-scene tape, due to the recent spike in homicides. The Delicias sector, in particular (the highest crime-rate area in the city) has been without tape for some time. Some police have resorted to using tape of other colors, including (yes!) red tape, to secure their crime scenes. Homicides and drug-related crimes are the jurisdiction of state and federal police, respectively, but it is the responsibility of the municipal police to secure crime scenes within the city. Officials say new supplies of tape have been ordered.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Nava, Garcia, Support Tax Increases in Senate Committee Yesterday

Senators Cynthia Nava and Mary Jane Garcia voted in favor of all proposals to allow tax increases to be considered as part of the fiscal crisis affecting the state, joining a coalition that included themselves, Sen. Carlos Cisneros, and Sen. Timothy Keller. These votes were cast in the Committee's Committee of the Senate yesterday (Sunday)afternoon. These four senators were part of a coalition largely of norteños who tried unsuccessfully to unseat Sen. Timothy Jennings as President Pro Tem of the Senate early this year as the January session began. Jennings was able to retain his position with eight votes from Democrats plus the votes of Republican senators, and the power of the south in the senate was preserved.

None of the votes to consider tax increases held up, as a stronger coalition of seven senators won the day on each vote, denying all motions to permit tax increases to be part of the legislative agenda. The governor's call clearly stipulated that increased taxes were not on the agenda and the winning faction spoke out against motions to consider tax increases on the grounds the governor had not included this possibility in his call for a special session. The winning faction was composed of several powerful senators from the south, including Sen. John Arthur Smith, from Deming, Sen. Tim Jennings, from Roswell, and Senator Stuart Ingle, from the Southeast corner.

Contacted this morning, Sen. Mary Kay Papen, whose district is adjacent to Sen. Nava's, indicated she attended the Committee's Committee meeting yesterday afternoon and agreed with the majority vote. She also said she was not necessarily opposed to tax increases as part of the overall solution to the current fiscal crisis as long as they are proposed within an appropriate constitutional framework. Should the governor revise his call to include tax increases as a potential solution, she indicated she might well support certain tax increases as a means of raising recurring revenues.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Budget Debate Continued

Facing the largest budget crisis since the Great Depression, the New Mexico legislature opened up a special session Saturday. At this point the outcome is unclear, although the lines of debate have been clarified.

The Governor's Plan: More Smoke and Mirrors: Are You Really Surprised?

The governor's proposal is to balance the budget without increasing taxes, to cut the budget, and to fund shortfalls mainly using one-time-only, non-recurring funds originally intended for other purposes. Among these are $93.2 million in federal stimulus funds, to be spent next year, leaving none for the following year, in spite of more projected shortfalls. The governor also proposes to use so-called "sponge-bond funds," that is, revenues left over from bonds used to service the debt. These have not been used previously to cover recurring costs and, indeed, some have argued it may be unconstitutional to use them for this purpose. The governor proposes to de-authorize or swap (against severance bonds) $290 million in capital outlay funds, which are one-time only funds. He wants to raid a fund used for college loans, removing $44 million from a fund of $70 million.

The problem with using non-recurring funds for operational expenses, as explained repeatedly by Senate Finance Chair John Arthur Smith, is that they merely postpone the day of reckoning. You can pawn a watch and sell a car to get through this month’s expenses, but if your job doesn’t bring in as much as you spend each month, when those funds are gone you still face the same problem.

While the governor’s tactics might help reduce cuts this year, most of them involve questionable, unwise measures. Sure enough, at best they merely postpone the budget crisis for two months, when the 2011 budget needs to be designed, still in the face of a major fiscal crisis. In fact they are so unwise speculation among many legislators broke out this weekend to the effect that the governor is planning to leave office before the end of the year and won't have to face the consequences of his own actions during the next regular session. Whatever his motivations, smoke and mirrors financing is nothing new to his administration, which, among many other slippery moves, raided the Permanent Fund a few years ago, taking principal from it for his pet projects, with barely a peep of dissent from the legislature.

Conflict in the House

The House is internally divided about the crisis. At the root of the conflict is the Speaker's cozy relationship with the Governor. The Speaker has acted for years as chief enabler for the governor's programs, rather than as the arbiter of conflicting interests among House members and the architect of compromise. This has reduced the Speakers' flexibility in dealing with internal conflict and now, with painful budget cuts looming, his role as chief Richardsonista is alienating many House members. It should be remembered that the Speaker was unable on the last day of the session to deliver a number of key bills he had on his agenda, including the Sun Cal TIDDS. This crisis will clarify the limits of his power.

One issue causing alienation is tax policy. Liberals would like to roll back the tax cuts Richardson delivered in previous years, including the gross receipts tax on food, which would generate about $200 million. Rolling back this and other tax cuts would make it possible to reduce budget-cutting by a hefty amount, and not just for one year. But by backing Richardson in his current stance against the rollbacks, Lujan and his dwindling band of loyalists stand in the way of serious airing of tax policy alternatives.

Connected to this issue is education policy. Once Richardson decided, Saturday, that cutting education modestly was an option after all, Lujan went to work trying to sell it. Problem is many Democratic legislators, particularly the Liberals, are beholden to education unions who feel they have the clout to prevent education from being cut. For a moment Saturday there was the sad spectacle of Majority Whip Sheryl Williams Stapleton, a teacher, screaming back at the Speaker, who had suggested she wanted to protect education only in order to protect her own salary.

The Speaker’s response to these policy conflicts is highly revealing of the corner he’s backed himself into by allying himself to Richardson while ignoring the views of the Democratic caucus and dissident factions. Rather than taking charge and banging heads together to forge a compromise acceptable to all in a moment of crisis, the Speaker has resorted to forming broad subcommittees to deal with discrepancies between the governor’s agenda and that of the House. Delegating compromise at the very last minute strongly suggests the Speaker has no strategy to distance himself from Richardson (allowing himself more flexibility to deal with factional conflict) or to deal with the financial crisis itself. The result is a House that is rudderless, incapable of dealing effectively with internal conflict, and unable to act independently (that is, effectively reflecting the interests of the body of elected representatives) in the face of a major fiscal crisis.

The Senate

This situation is cleaner in the Senate, where leadership has maintained a healthy distance from the governor. Win or lose on the specifics of dealing with the budget crisis, there will be no blood on the floor after the special session concludes since there is no doubt about the legitimacy of the internal workings of leadership. The Senate acted decisively yesterday to accept the governor’s premise that tax increases are not on the table for discussion this session. Proposals to the Committee’s Committee to consider raising taxes all failed. Now the fight begins about the governor’s proposals to finance the deficit and to decide what to cut. I suspect the Senate will assert it’s authority in pointing out flaws in the governor’s proposals and will fight for its own, internally generated view on what parts of the budget to cut.

Diario de Juarez Criticises Joint Operation Chihuahua

Diario has a strongly worded editorial this morning, translated by me, which offers a serious criticism of Joint Operation Chihuahua. One of Diario's reporters was murdered last November 13, and in an incident on July 1 military personnel surprised a detachment of state police officers assigned to provide protection to the newspaper. While these incidents may have motivated some of the writing in this editorial, the critique is much broader than a local grievance.

The editorial is in the form of an open letter to Secretary of Public Security (Gobernacion) Fernando Francisco Gomez Mont Urueta, in Mexico City. Some parts were omitted to save space.

"We would like to convey to you, as head of the security agency that supervises Joint Operation Chihuahua, the outcry raised among the general population of juarenses, expressed in multiple ways, against the failure of the strategy to fight organized crime as applied here and throughout the border.

Just one sign of the Operation’s failure is the fact that from January 2008 until this week more than 3500 murders have been recorded, the vast majority of which occurred after the strategy began; rather than slowing down, as border residents hoped for, the violence has multiplied.

This brutality, which has taken the lives of many innocent persons, and which keeps the city under constant attack, when coupled with the sharp increase in other crimes, has aggrieved this community with its worst crisis since the Revolution, causing a decline in most economic activity and the exile of thousands of residents who have the means to flee this daily intimidation.

While it is true that the kidnapping, extortion, and a great proportion of the thefts perpetrated here are not federal crimes, we know, from declarations the governor has made many times, that they are committed by the same persons involved in organized crime as an extension of their criminal activities.

For that reason we hoped that Joint Operation Chihuahua, assisted by 10,000 soldiers and federal agents patrolling our streets, would deal with this complex situation. Nevertheless, the deplorable reality that we juarenses suffer shows us that the approach shared by the army, and the state, local, and federal governments has not been effective as of now, in spite of this massive military presence.

….It is evident that the strategy has failed because local commanders have rendered meaningless the original intentions of President Calderon, generating a strong lack of trust within the population which has led, due to the lack of support from authorities, to self-protection measures that have met with controversial results, such as those in the community of Lebaron, which left one soldier dead and various arrests. (Note: in July Benjamin Lebaron was found beaten and shot to death in Galeana, a mormon community; after his brother’s kidnapping and subsequent release in May, Benjamin returned to Galeana to take a stand in favor of self-protection measures)

The lack of support for from authorities is causing citizens to take extreme measures, while at the same time the armed forces feel impelled to increase their excesses against the population.

It appears that the top authorities are more interested in the public relations with certains sectors, such as happened with General Felipe de Jesus Espitia, coordinator of the Operation, who sent ambivalent signals to the city because in a closed door meeting in the private home of the De la Vaga family he offered all his support to the richest businessman in the region, but has remained deaf to the demands of the society that deplores the daily massacres and the continual deterioration of their community.

In other words, the work of the military commander is selective.

Last July 1, as you must surely have been informed, a squadron of soldiers beat and disarmed two agents of the State Public Security secretariat, assigned to protect personnel of Diario, in spite of their identification as state security agents and presentation of their permission to bear arms, as well as other official documentation recognized by the ministry of defense.

This incident caused General Espitia to open up a disciplinary action against our state Security Secretary, Victor Valencia—who represents the state as a member of Joint Operation Chihuahua—including a fine, and he threatened to cancel the permission given by the federal government to the state to bear arms for state personnel, if he continued to allow personnel of the state police to provide armed security to private parties.

This affair illustrates the arrogant attitude of the military commander toward an official who supposedly is one of his closest collaborators in Joint Operation Chihuahua; he treated him virtually like a criminal for providing security to private parties, security given because the authorities of local, state, and federal governments have not been able to provide adequate security….This incident revealed a deep lack of coordination and lack of trust that exists within a strategy that clearly should be the product of joint cooperation.

The worst part of this incident is that the authorities still have not defined whether state agents who carry arms do so legally or not. Hundreds of armed state police continue to operate as escorts. Were only those who were assigned to protect our newspaper acting illegally? The Ninth Judicial District exonerated one of the guards, while the Fourth Judicial District ordered the other one to resume his duties. This episode is only one of the unfortunate conflicts occurring at the top levels of Joint Operation Chihuahua, and when added to the situation in Cd. Juarez that we described above demonstrated ho poorly the operation is working.

….With all due respect we call on you to put things in order in Joint Operation Chihuahua. An urgent rethinking is needed to achieve an effective coordination between the governments and the security agencies, and with new strategies that not only can weaken organized crime, but which can return to this aggrieved community its lost peace.

Signed: Osvaldo Rodriguez Borunda, President of the Board and General Director of Diario.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Budget Debate: Where Things Are As the Special Session Begins

The Special Session of the Legislature is scheduled to begin in just a few minutes, today, Saturday, to deal with the budget shortfall. Here is where we stand so far, as I understand it.

First, the budget shortfall is serious. At an estimate $680 million, this represents about 12-13 percent of the budget passed during the 2009 session. There has never been a budget shortfall of this magnitude in New Mexico since the Great Depression. This is no joke and the state will be feeling this, almost certainly, until 2013, when revenues are projected to equal those of 2008. But purchasing power by then will have been eroded by five years of inflation, so it may take another two or three years after that for revenues in purchasing power to equal those of 2008.

Second, the institutions that must deal with the crisis--the legislature and the governor--are gravely weak. Deciding what must be cut, rather than expanded, is difficult, and neither the legislature nor the governor are likely to resolve the budget crisis in a way that highlights the largely petty reasons things end up as they do in the legislature. The effort will be to accommodate interests, rather than allow factions to walk away angry.

On the one hand the governor, already discredited by strong and believable allegations of "pay to play" politics, is partly responsible for the mess getting to the stage it is now. Governor Richardson was simply not minding the store responsibly as evidence mounted month after month for at least the past 15 months that a full-fledged fiscal crisis was brewing. Last year when Sen. John A. Smith tried to warn him and the public that the state's revenues were in sharp decline, the governor mocked his warnings, calling him "Dr. No," and insisting on a tax rebate that the best budget people in the state warned was untenable. This summer, as evidence continued to mount the shortfalls were still mounting, the governor continued to ignore the warning signs, while still playing politics with the budget. The recipient of the "Best Governor of the Year" award early this summer from the National Education Association, the governor boldly declared public education could not be cut no matter what, even as news media were full of reports to the effect that the educational outputs in New Mexico, after record amounts of funding increases for education, were still dismal, in virtually all categories.

The Governor's credibility in deciding what to cut, under all of these circumstances, is pretty low. Is there anybody in New Mexico who really believes the governor will make his decisions based on what he thinks is best for the state as opposed to what is best for what is left of his political career?

On the other hand, the legislature, especially the House, has shown very little leadership or courage in the face of a dysfunctional governorship coupled with a fiscal crisis of the first magnitude. Top leaders in the House are still behaving as though power relations in New Mexico are still as they were five years ago when Richardson still enjoyed the trust of the public, the legislature, and virtually all segments of society. Then it didn't matter if a few legislators acted more like cheerleaders for Richardson than responsible legislators. Today, with elections coming up and the state in crisis it looks more like a testimony to cowardice and lack of imagination, rather than the cold calculation of realpolitik. The ability of Republican legislators to articulate anything approaching a coherent message about the crisis of the governorship or the crisis of the budget appears to have gone AWOL. There is no lack of talent in the New Mexico legislature, either among Democrats or Republicans. That none is willing to step up to the plate, consistently, and tell it like it is, is a sorry commentary on the state of democratic practice in New Mexico today. That should be a source of serious concern for each of us, regardless of party or ideological orientation.

Third, look for face-saving compromises during the Special Session. The governor has already backed off of his foolish promise not to cut education. If you don't cut the budget for education, and you leave Medicaid and other 3-1 federal dollar matches alone, you must then cut something like 16% of everything else. That means jobs, and lost jobs means angry voters. Only those legislators tied completely to the apron strings of the education unions will end up putting up much of a fuss about this. Cutting jobs would be particularly troubling for legislators in the North, where state government jobs are a major force in the economies of many counties.

Tax increases? The governor was lavish in slashing taxes at the beginning. Remember how he removed food from the gross receipts tax? Restoring that would add about $200 million, I am told by a good source, making a good start at resolving the crisis. After all, New Mexican lived for nearly a century of statehood paying gross receipts taxes on food. During a crisis it might not be too burdensome to go back to it, to generate revenue. But will legislators have the stomach to do this, in the face of the governor's opposition, with elections just a year away? I doubt it, although it would probably be good public policy. Then there is the film tax credit, which I am told by a good source would generate $82 million, and for which New Mexicans get in return, according to serious studies, between 14 cents and 50 cents on the dollar, a net drain. Moreover, the accountability for this give away to the movie industry has been the source of major scandal in recent months. But will legislators have the courage to do away with a favorite pet project of the governor? I doubt it. Watch this proposal die a silent death behind closed doors.

Drug Use in Mexico Vs. U.S.A

Mexican Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova released a report in Mexico City yesterday, indicating that cocaine usage doubled in Mexico during the past two years, from 1.2% to 2.4%. That is, as of last year 2.4% of the population between the ages of 12 and 65 had at some point consumed cocaine. This compares with the U.S. rate of 16.2%, calculated last year by a World Health Organization study. The states with the highest consumption rate in Mexico are, in order, Baja California, Baja California Sur, and Chihuahua, followed by Mexico City and Durango.

Marijuana continues to be the drug of choice in Mexico.

During the past three years Mexico has quietly moved toward decriminalizing drug use. Mariujuana, cocaine, LSD, and heroin will be tolerated for personal and limited use--about four joints, or half a gram of cocaine, or 50 milligrams of heroin. Bigger quantities, sales, and public consumption are still strictly forbidden.

The US rate of consumption of cocaine is by far the highest in the world, followed by New Zealand, at only 4.3%. Marijuana consumption in the US is calculated at 42.4%, the highest in the world, followed again by New Zealand, with a rate of 41.9%