Saturday, March 27, 2010

Notes from a PVA Meeting

I went to a PVA (Progressive Voter's Alliance) meeting on Thursday night. PVA has been around since a handful of Kerry supporters (2004) decided to continue meeting on behalf of liberal candidates and causes. The group has had success in recruiting candidates, especially for city council. I've heard a good deal of gossip about them, and some sectors of the community are afraid of their potential influence--sure markers of success. I've noticed that knowledgeable persons distinguish between liberals and progressives in Dona Ana county mainly by the relative newcomer status of the "progressives." Many people pause slightly before and after uttering the word as though to put quotation marks around it, suggesting they aren't quite sure what the word stands for. As near as I can tell it stands for someone who has the beliefs of a modern liberal, but wants to avoid the taint now associated with the word "liberal" in many sectors of the population, after the effective demonization of the term by Fox News and other cultural warriors.

Anyway, there were about 120 people at the meeting at Munson Center, gathered in an oval-shape due to placing several rows of chairs facing each other across the length of the room. The gathering had the feel of a relatively mature group, already institutionalized with customs and rituals, insiders feeling at ease rapping with old acquaintances, candidates pleased to have a venue to meet with people: a perfectly healthy civic gathering, far more energetic than the typical Democratic Party function.

Thursday night was reserved for legislators to talk about the session. Five showed up: Steinborn, Cote, Joni Gutierrez, Mary Jane Garcia, and Fischmann. Out of these Fischmann, the only freshman, was by far the most articulate, talking about the big issues, bottom lines, instead of the usual anecdote or two legislators provide at such gatherings about how a bill got killed or passed at the last minute in committee, or the typical comment on how difficult and busy the session was and how hard it was to kill the bad legislation and get the good stuff passed, "but in the end we did a pretty good job"--the usual formula designed to make voters feel positive about the legislator if not the legislature without holding themselves accountable about the outcome and knowing virtually no one really follows what happens in the legislature.

Fischmann talked about the need to cut costs: 49 out of 89 school districts (I hope I repeat accurately) with less than 1000 students, each with a superintendent earning $100,000 or more. Good: means he's been asking serious questions. He talked about the need to revise our tax codes: yes, we rely far too much on volatile items like the price of oil and gas, and the system has become highly regressive. He suggested we need more study of the $92 million giveaway to Hollywood, saying the cost-benefit analyses that have been done so far are contradictory, suggesting we need another study.

This was the one false note in his presentation: either he has not done his homework, or else he may be playing footsie with the powers behind this subsidy. The studies he cites are not equal in merit. The NMSU study, done by two highly competent scholars (Peach and Popp) without an axe to grind, suggests a rate of return of 14.4 cents on the dollar: in other words a total waste of money. The Ernst and Young study, hired by the New Mexico film agency of the state specifically to refute the NMSU study, has been torn apart by the LFC very effectively, among other reasons because they include the movie star's income into the return to New Mexico (they "calculate" $1.50 rate of return), assuming the actors will spend all their income in New Mexico: an absurdity. And a group out of New England, contemplating a similar subsidy, concluded New Mexico gets around 39 cents on the dollar after adjusting the data of the Ernst and Young study to more realistic levels. These studies have been widely reported in the New Mexico media. Click here and here and here and here for copies of the studies. Rep. Dennis Kintigh posted these on his web, which you can see here, and which has more studies than the ones I list here.

We also know Governor Richardson would not allow anyone to touch this giveaway last year or this year, and of course, now we know why: Richardson is being considered for a film industry lobby job that pays $1.4 million. So, with the $92 million the state will spend this year on the subsidy, plus the $82 million paid out last year, New Mexico taxpayers have shelled out $174 million to beef up the governor's resume, and we have maybe $25 million to $68 million to show for it, during the worst fiscal decline the state has experienced since at least the Great Depression. The $92 million taxpayers will shell out this year is far more than the $68 million the legislature approved (and the governor vetoed) in food taxes. Spending more taxpayer money on a new study will not change these facts.

New Mexico has been a liberal state in some ways since the Great Depression, although conservative bastions exist in many corners, including agriculture and mining, and business. The PVA is openly liberal about many issues and they have every right to recruit candidates to reflect their views. If somebody doesn't like it, let them organize their own group instead of wringing their hands over PVA.


Stephen Fischmann said...

This is State Senator Steve Fischman,

To clarify my views on the film incentives.

Between taxpayer funded rebates of 25%of a film production companies New Mexico Expenses, $259 million in zero interest loans to the industry, and various subsidies to start up studios New Mexico is being far too generous to this industry. I don't need a study to tell me that taxpayer funding of 25% of production costs will never result in a payback. Common sense tells us that if we gave a similar rebate to all businesses there wouldn't be a cent left to spend on education, health, or public safety in this state.

Instead of acting star struck by Hollywood, the legislature should significantly trim these subsidies, and add a yearly cap to the total dollars invested in them.

Anonymous said...

I would love to hear Sen. Fischman's comments on the $300 million dollars Spaceport mess. Its amazing how this project is being funded in these poor economic times.