Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Legislature At Mid-Point: A Report Card from the South Mesilla Valley

Bottom Line: special interests still rule the House. In the middle of the worst fiscal crisis in the state's history, House leaders stubbornly refuse to touch the fat in state government, opting instead to raise taxes to protect the accumulated pork of seven years of drunken-sailor spending. They will cut some programs for the neediest citizens, and they appear to be putting unwarranted trust in the federal government to come through with a state bailout. The Senate, far more responsible with our taxpayer money, is hoping to hold the line, but you can still expect modest tax increases and only a light trim on spending. There will still be plenty of special interest fat in the budget, and our taxes will go up.

House leaders have already killed a bill to cut out the $82 million giveaway to the Hollywood movie industry, even though we know this "incentive" to make films in New Mexico produces a return of 14.4 cents on the dollar. But this is one of the governor's pet projects, so, of course, taxpayers interests don't count. Instead, the House on Friday passed a bill raising gross receipts taxes by one half of one percent, to raise $300 million. More than one quarter of this amount will go just for the welfare check to Hollywood. Teachers unions are lobbying hard to keep salaries of teachers untouched by fiscal hardship, as though somehow they were more needy than, say, veterans or the disabled, or the mentally ill, who will all face cuts. After lavishing the governor last year with the "Best Education Governor of the Year Award," hey, aren't they entitled to more than their fair share? University professors will take a cut in salary. But who cares? They didn't do anything to make the governor feel better last year, so there!

Speaking of universities, a full year after the scandals of the unbelievably high salaries for the newly bloated top bureaucracy at UNM, nothing has happened to change this, not even the seriousness of the fiscal crisis. And after years of increasing politicization of that university, and a year after the faculty gave an unprecedented vote of no confidence for both the president and board of regents member Jamie Koch, and in the middle of other scandals at UNM, the Senate voted with only five dissenting votes to confirm Jamie Koch, the governor's buddy, to another term as regent. Rewarding failure? Yes, but only for the top levels, just like they do on Wall Street.

The Senate is likely to pass a bill (SB182) recapturing about $150 million from capital outlay funds encumbered but not used. This sounds like a sensible way of avoiding further cuts. About $11 million of this will come from Dona Ana County. Sen. Michael Sanchez has a bizarre plan to raise several hundred million through bonds that dig into the state's permanent fund, as I understand it. Knowing some of the Senate Finance Committee members, I doubt this will get very far. The governor already raided the permanent fund several years ago to raise the cost of education, and with zero accountability: we still have no idea what happened to that money, but we do know student performance did not improve one bit and that the NEA gave him a national award. Expect the Senate to raise gross receipts taxes selectively, raising maybe $75 million compared to the $300 million in the House version.

All in all expect the Senate to come up with an appropriation budgeted at about $5.2 billion, compared with a House appropriation of $5.6 billion. Let's see if the Senate has the guts to treat public education like everything else, with modest cuts. And let's see if they have the guts to cut the governor's $10 million equestrian center for Albuquerque, which was slipped in again this year.

Reps. Andy Nunez and Joseph Cervantes are sponsoring a bill to create a permanent revenue stream for colonias infrastructure. Sen. Papen will sponsor the bill in the Senate. Native Americans are asking for the same thing for their communities. A few weeks ago I posted a note about a meeting various legislators had with community leaders in Mesquite to discuss the upcoming legislative session. Basic infrastructure in the neediest areas of the county--not equestrian centers, or higher paychecks for teachers, or welfare checks to Hollywood--were uppermost on their minds, very different priorities. It's good to know somebody in Santa Fe is fighting to do right for the South Mesilla Valley.

Grades: to the House: These are not normal times. We have a fiscal crisis on our hands. For failing to cut the fat, for demanding that taxpayers dig into their pockets to keep funding fat, and for failure to spread the pain evenly: D- so far this session. I know you can do much better than this.

To the Senate: Solid B so far, in spite of the vote on Koch. Could end up with an A if leadership is willing to keep fighting the battle of the fat and hold the line on spending.


Anonymous said...

welfare checks to Hollywood that is so true. Even more of a waste is the high paid double dipper state employees. Here in the valley in Vado our roads have never been improved since Richardson has been in charge.

Paul said...

The infrastructure bill for the colonias...good bill, question?

Annette Morales and Karen Perez and their companies stand to benefit from such a fund, but neither is registered as a lobbyist,but they both push hard for the bill. They have made their wishes known to Dona Ana Delegation and the Gov. Come clean.

Jose Z. Garcia said...

Ms. Morales makes a living by participating in projects--grants and contracts--geared toward colonias, and she appears to be well connected, so, yes, she might stand to gain from the bill. I don't know enough about her work to evaluate it, but whatever the case, her advocacy doesn't mean this is a bad bill. The same would apply to Perez's firm.

If you believe there is something wrong with the bill itself, you should state it here and I will publish it as long as it isn't libelous. I'd love to have a discussion about it. I might learn something.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Morales is a contractor with the state of NM and she is lobbying, is that not a conflict of interest?

Paul said...

I do think the bill is good. It is similiar the Tribal Infrastructure Bill sponsored by the Speaker.

The needs of the Colonias are well documented and those needs should be advocated for...Ms. Morales and Perez just need to make known that their companies will benefit along with the Colonias. Transparanency should also be a advocate for the Colonias.

Jose Z. Garcia said...

I agree with you Paul.

Karen Perez said...

It is Annette Morales' job as a Colonias advocate for the Governor's office to "lobby" for this bill. It was a suggestion that the Governor threw out on Colonias Day and she ran with it - good for her!

It is my job, as a County Commissioner, to advocate for the colonias as well. I do not "lobby" during the legislative session unless there is a specific bill that affects the County, such as the right-o-way access fees, and that is only as supported by a County Resolution to that effect. I am following the Colonias bill closely, but have not made a single call to a legislator to support or not support the Colonias bill because the County Commission has not taken a formal position through Legislation. We rely on our paid lobbyist to "lobby" for the County interests during the Legislative session.

As for whether or not the company that employs me (and please note that I do not have ownership interest) may or may not benefit at some point from expanded funding to the Colonias, that is completely irrelevant. Yes, I develop water and wastewater infrastructure for a living and yes, some of the projects are funded through Colonias funding. I certainly support any additional funding source for our communities, particularly for projects that affect the health of the communities, whether or not my employer or another consultant may ultimately benefit from a design contract.

I hope this mitigates some of your concerns. As you will notice, I have signed my name:

Karen Perez, P.E.
County Commissioner
District 3

Jose Z. Garcia said...

I am delighted by your clarification.

Anonymous said...

Annette Morale's company is Medius, Inc., and she is under contract with NM Department of Finance & Administration to provide technical assistance to the colonias. I would be astonished if there is anyone in the Legislature she has talked with about this bill who is not well aware of who she is and what she does. It looks to me like she is doing and excellent job of doing her job. The way the bill is written, the Colonias Iniative funding would be administered by the New Mexico Finance Authority, NOT NM-DFA.

Dona Ana County Commissioner Karen Perez does not own a business, but she is employed by CE&M as an engineer. She can speak for herself as far as whether or not she has advocated for this bill, but I will say that I have never seen her fail to recuse herself from discussion and decision-making at commission meetings whenever the agenda item is in any way related to her employment.

As a resident of the Anthony/Berino area, I personally support this bill. And yes, it could benefit my employer, a mutual domestic water association, and its members & customers, residents of the Las Palmeras and Montana Vista Colonias.

Of course, those who make anonymous allegations and insinuations rarely ever let a FACT stand in the way of their negative and nasty opinions.

Karen Nichols

Anonymous said...

Karen Perez your days are numbers because of your self serving tactics you use. All I can say Curry will be serving as my county comm soon enough.