Mario Burgos

Clear thinking and straight talk from the top of a mountain.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

They Went Ahead and Did It

It took three days of meetings behind closed doors for the Democratic leadership to make a monumental mistake and push through regressive tax increases on New Mexico's working and non-working families:
The tax hike legislation included an increase in the statewide gross receipts tax, or sales tax, as well as a partial reimposition of the sales tax on food.
        

Members of the Republican minority harshly criticized the omnibus bill (SB10,12,13), arguing that the largest tax increase in recent history had been hatched without their input and that the tax changes should be considered separately.
        

The proposal would impose "a serious tax burden on New Mexico working families," said Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Tucumcari.
        

House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, said the tax increases were needed to avoid deep cuts to public schools in the 2011 budget year, which begins July 1. 
Of course, the Speaker's excuse is total and complete nonsense. The tax increases pushed exclusively by the Democrats on everyday New Mexicans struggling to get through this economy that has left so many unemployed and struggling to pay for the basics, like FOOD, could not come at a worse time. More than half of the $200 million tax increases introduced are regressive in nature. Yet, we all know that almost an identical amount could have been easily cut from government:
The committee to improve government efficiency has delivered its final report to Gov. Bill Richardson, recommending cuts and consolidations that total $129 million.

The committee said there are too many state government employees. New Mexico has nearly 25 state employees for every 1,000 people. That ratio is higher than any state in the region and twice the national average.
So, please excuse us Mr. Speaker while we take umbrage with your attempt to pretend your putting our children first.  It is clear to everyone that patronage is the first priority of your caucus, and to heck with taxpaying New Mexicans.

Of course, you've got to love the irony of the fact that one Lujan expresses outrage at increases in healthcare premiums at the same time his father pushes tax increases on food for the same struggling families:
One New Mexico congressional representative expressed outrage at the increases in a statement.
“At a time when families throughout New Mexico are struggling to make ends meet, these rate increases are outrageous,” Rep. Ben Ray Luján, CD-3, said.
Maybe this family of politicians needs to caucus.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

What's That You Feel in Your Pocket

Near as I can tell that hand you feel in your back pocket belongs to the NM Senate:
The Senate-passed tax increase package would raise the statewide gross receipts tax rate — now 5 percent — by one-eighth percentage point, yielding almost $60 million a year.
        

The bill also would reimpose part of the gross receipts tax, or sales tax, on food. The rate would vary, depending on the local gross receipts tax rate of the city or county in which the food was bought, but average about 2 percent. The change would bring in an estimated $68 million.
        

Another $66 million would be gained from eliminating the deductions that some New Mexicans can now take on their state tax returns for the state and local taxes they've paid. That would increase their taxable income.
        

And the state would get $11.6 million from a newly imposed compensating tax on out-of-state companies that sell products to New Mexico businesses but have no physical presence in the state.

Oh, I know that some you will say that the legislature has no choice.  They have to raise taxes to get us out of this pickle. But, that's not true.  There are other options:

The numbers are big and the money bigger, but the bottom line is New Mexico could find $280 million to help fix its budget.  Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Tucumcari will try to bring an amendment to the state budget bill that will simply cut those state positions which are currently vacant.


Roch points to a report he requested from the Legislative Council Service (LCS) outlining the job vacancies in state government. The report says as of January 4th, there were 4369 vacancies in state government. The problem according to Roch is that the proposed budget lawmakers are trying to tackle would fund 3396 of those positions. Roch argues if the state can function now without those positions filled, then it can function by eliminating them altogether.
But hey, that makes too much sense, right? Cut non-existent jobs over increasing taxes on struggling families.

I've got to run, but you can catch me today at 3:00 pm on Jim Villannucci's show on 700 KKOB discussing this and other issues with Carter Bundy.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

New Mexico Democrats Have a Problem

Last week, I attended an event that had, among others, Lt. Governor Diane Denish as a speaker. To the delight of myself and the small business audience in attendance, the Lt Governor said, and I paraphrase, "Now is not the time to raise taxes. It is time for the government to do what the private sector has been forced to do and control spending."

Now considering that Lt. Governor Denish is usually considerably to the left of me, and that her campaign for Governor is well-funded, it can only be concluded that her internal polling is telling her that supporting tax increase, any tax increases, right now would be the equivalent to political suicide.

And, herein lies the problem...
More details on tax hikes and spending cuts in a new state budget plan emerged Sunday as New Mexico lawmakers prepared to return to the Capitol today for a special session on the budget.
        

The plan, hammered out behind closed doors by top-ranking House and Senate Democrats, would increase the state's gross receipts tax, raise the tax on cigarettes and have New Mexico cities reinstate a portion of the gross receipts tax on food items that was repealed six years ago. 
Yup, leave it to the Democrats to propose a slew of new taxes as families are struggling to survive. If these tax increases are passed, they are going to hurt campaign efforts of every Democrat running for office during this election cycle. Mind you, that's not something that's particularly upsetting to me, but for a strategic standpoint its interesting to watch how this is playing out. 

As a limited government guy, I wouldn't mind seeing some taxes cut for a variety of reasons I've outlined over the years.  But, in the current economy, I would be willing to settle for no new taxes. The Democrats seem to be operating as though it is business as usual (i.e. let's find another incremental tax to pass).  But, there is nothing usual about the situation in which we all find ourselves.


Right now, Lt. Governor Denish is trying to emerge from Governor Richardson's shadow and define herself as a leader in her own right. Of course, taking a stand against new taxes when her Democratic colleagues are pushing for them is setting her up to appear either:


a) Lacking in leadership and the ability to influence policy.


OR


b) Saying what the people want to hear in public and privately supporting the taxation of the masses.

Either way, New Mexico Democrats, from the Lt. Governor on down, have a big problem.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Elect Officials Fail New Mexico

When the Legislature meets during the 30 day session, the constitutional mandate is clear:
B. Every regular session of the legislature convening during an even-numbered year shall consider only the following:

  (1) budgets, appropriations and revenue bills;

  (2) bills drawn pursuant to special messages of the governor; and

  (3) bills of the last previous regular session vetoed by the governor.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Stitching a Budget Together With Disappearing Thread

They are feeling the pressure at the Roundhouse to get a budget approved before the strike of noon tomorrow.

"I'm hopeful we can come up with something (to avoid a special session)," said Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, who's participated in the budget talks.
        

The House approved cuts of about 1 percent for public schools and government services, while the Senate budget package calls for reducing spending levels by about 3 percent.
        

The shallower cuts in the House plan would be made possible by more than $300 million generated by tax hikes, primarily the gross receipts increase. The Senate plan relies on $180 million in new tax revenue.
        

However, Jennings said he's concerned revenue levels might end up being even lower than projected and said Richardson has criticized more tax ideas than he's offered. 
 I'd say that Senator Jennings concerns about lower revenue levels are well founded.  Consider for a moment the source of some of the revenue being expected to help plug the gap:
The Finance Committee approved the budget on Thursday and sent it to the Senate for consideration.
The committee proposed spending about $5.5 billion in the next fiscal year, which starts in July. That includes about $200 million in federal aid that's replacing state money for Medicaid, public schools and higher education.
 Of course, there's one obvious problem with this plan. It seems to fail to consider the reality of what is being said about the future of federal money coming to the states:

Payments to states and individuals will fall to $11 billion, from $14 billion, per month. Much of this spending -- such as Medicaid funding and additional unemployment benefits -- was meant to stabilize the economy during the recession.
 Yuppers, it looks like that faucet is starting to be turned in the opposite direction. So, here's my prediction. Assuming a state budget gets approved by noon tomorrow, we will most likely see a special session before the summer is over to deal with the "surprise" lower than expected revenues.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Explaining it Another Way

Some of you, actually just one person, likes to take me to task time and time again for standing up for small business and insisting that the proposed gross receipts tax and income tax increase negatively impact those most likely to actually help the economy rebound by creating new jobs. This individual argues that a couple of hundred dollars more in taxes really shouldn't be a big deal to a business making $200,000 in profit. But, nothing could be further from the truth.

First, let's consider the environment in which these tax increases are being pushed:
Please note that no efficiencies to government bills have been adopted and no true cuts to the budget have yet to be made, however tax increases on the private sector are being considered.  Unemployment in our state is at a 22 year high, and our focus must be on job retention and creation. 
That's the current reality spelled out in a recent communication from the Association of Commerce and Industry (ACI).  Mind you, no efficiencies or true cuts are being made even though we know at a bare minimum there are $129 million in cuts that could be easily made. We also know that the despite all of the hype, government stimulus money did not create new jobs.  At best, it may have saved some public sector jobs.

We also know that big business isn't adding to their employee roles. So, that leaves small business to come to the rescue. Only someone who has never run a business could argue, "What's $500 in additional taxes?" They'll smugly try to make the case that $500 is not enough to put someone on the payroll. But, that's because they think jobs are added in the private sector in the same manner as they are in the public sector.  They are not.

In the government arena, if you want to add a $40K a year employee, you have to raise $40,000 a year in addition taxes. In the small business sector, a $500 investment could very easily result in a $120,000 to $240,000 in new salaries.

Let's explore this a little further with a real life example.  Last week, I spent $500 in travel expenses to meet potential customers for a new and innovative technology.  The meeting went very well. If the deal is closed it will result in a contract that could easily be worth $1M or more.

New people will be added to the payroll to fulfill the contract. They will have paid benefits and won't need to be supported by the state. The $500 that was not collected in taxes will likely save the state (i.e. taxpayers), tens of thousands of dollars in the form of unemployment benefits that will not have to be paid.  In fact, these wage earners will pay state income and gross receipts tax far in excess of the $500 in additional taxes on my business. If they get to keep their house because they are once again gainfully employed, they will also pay property taxes.

Now, let's go back to the scenario being pushed in the legislature. They want to take another $500 (or more) away from small businesses. This is a zero sum game. My business has a budget. If you pull $500 from it in the form of additional taxes that money has to come from somewhere. Due to the tight credit market, it can't come from my retained earnings.  Nor, can it come from any line item that will keep me from fulfilling my current obligations.

So, that means it will come from marketing dollars. It might be one less trip I can take to market my business. Or, maybe ten or more marketing lunches that can never be scheduled. Or, a critical conference that has to be passed up.

Those are all possibilities. The one undeniable fact is that it it will be four, five or a dozen jobs that will never happen because elected officials refused to do the right thing and cut unnecessary spending.

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Monday, February 08, 2010

Complement Higher Taxes with Increased Energy Costs

Are you feeling the economic pinch? Well, when the dust settles from the current legislative session, that pinch is likely to feel more like a bone-shattering squeeze. We've got tax after tax after tax being proposed and pushed through, and that's only the beginning. 

There are other initiatives out there which will be equally successful at separating you from your hard earned dollars:

The greenhouse gas reduction sought by the advocacy group New Energy Economy would apply to oil and gas producers, refineries, manufacturers, coal-fired power plants and others in New Mexico that emit 10,000 tons or more a year of carbon dioxide.

Public Service Company of New Mexico estimates it would have to reduce current carbon emissions from its fleet of power plants by 36 percent to meet the proposed cap.

And the company says that would mean a big jump in electric bills.
In fact, if you follow the money trail, you'll see that big government lobbyists are behind all of the major wine and dining going on right now in Santa Fe:

However, the latest batch of lobbyist reports that trickled into the Secretary of State's Office last week showed that the lobbyists who were throwing the biggest parties for the senators and representatives were not from commercial interests. Instead, they represented state employees, community colleges and an environmentalist group. 
As legislators continue to take on the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham, they would be wise to take note of recent elections around the country. Continuously trying to take more from those making less inevitably has consequences.

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Wall Street Versus Main Street Continues

I've wondered aloud on more than one occasion why the vast majority of stimulus efforts on the federal level were given to Wall Street versus Main Street. Of course, we all know the reason.  Democrats are providing special favors to their favorite campaign donors and making sure that big inefficient businesses with powerful unions can keep their doors open regardless of the lack of demand for their product.

Well, as near as I can tell, the same thing is happening in the New Mexico legislature - the interests of large business at the expense of small business. Only instead of giveaways of taxpayer money, we're talking about who the Democrats in the legislature are opting to tax.  Mind you, I say Democrats because the Republicans have made it clear that reining in the size of government should happen before increasing taxes:
Republicans in both the House and Senate are expected to take a hard-line approach against tax hikes, although they bristle at suggestions they're merely trying to block the Democratic agenda.
    

"They've never asked us to be part of the solution," said Rep. Jimmie Hall, R-Albuquerque.
    

Hall said he thinks there are still ways to trim the budget — by targeting administrative and vacant positions — without hurting core services.
    

"I can't support any tax increases until we shrink state government down to a level that a populist can support," he said. 
So, back to the tax, tax, tax enamored House Democrats. Let's take a look at their proposed solution:
Gov. Bill Richardson said Wednesday he supports the House's budget approach, which includes temporarily raising the gross receipts tax rate and imposing a personal income surtax on high-earning New Mexicans. 
I've explained in a previous post that what is really being proposed is a tax increase on the profitable retained earnings of remaining small businesses.  In other words, the money they need to weather the storm and keep key employees at work is the target of the tax increase. Now, yes, I'm of the mind that significant spending cuts should be made before even considering any tax increase, but I can't help but wonder if the Democrats are so bent on raising taxes, why they are targeting small New Mexico businesses instead of large Wall Street firms.


Think about it.  The general consensus is that small, not large businesses are the key to a true economic recovery. The irresponsible stimulus spending may have helped keep the doors open of those who are "too big to fail," but it did nothing to keep your neighbors, family and friends employed:
Unemployment rates were higher in December than a year earlier in 371 of the 372 metropolitan areas and lower in 1 area, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. 
President Obama is finally awakening to the fact that America (and his popularity) is hurting because he has put the interests of Wall Street and unions before that of Main Street families:
Faced with a national 10 percent unemployment rate and a corresponding erosion in his popularity, President Obama delivered his first State of the Union address tonight and offered up a laundry list of proposals aimed directly at the small businesses who do 60 percent of the hiring in America.
So, you've got to wonder why House Democrats in the legislature have targeted small businesses and left big businesses alone. Sure some big business tax bills were introduced, but bills like HB 62, which would could raise taxes on large out of state corporations, got a pass in favor of taking more money away from job creating small New Mexico businesses.

Come Election Day 2010 the House Democrats, all of whom are up for re-election, are going to find that it is the Main Street business owners, employees and their families that are going to vote.  You know, the ones that actually live in the state.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

It's Called Permanent for a Reason

New Mexico has something called a Permanent Fund.  It is money socked away in recognition of the fact that one day the oil and gas resources that fill our state coffers will be no more. It might be worth visiting Merriam-Webster's definition of the word permanent:
Main Entry: 1per·ma·nent
Pronunciation: \-nənt\
Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French parmanant, from Latin permanent-, permanens, present participle of permanēre to endure, from per- throughout + manēre to remain — more at per-, mansion
Date: 15th century
: continuing or enduring without fundamental or marked change : stable
synonyms see lasting
per·ma·nent·ly adverb
per·ma·nent·ness noun

Now that we understand the word "permanent,"  I think we can all agree that there isn't any circumstance in which "Permanent Fund" could be misinterpreted to mean "Rainy Day Fund:"


A type of contingency fund in which money is set aside to be drawn upon in case of a future budget deficit. It is often referred to as a budget stabilization fund.

Yet, that is precisely the type of convenient rewriting of the English language one legislator is promoting:

A leading state Senate Democrat says it's time to borrow against New Mexico's rainy day funds for a $500 million loan — a gamble he says would make it unnecessary for lawmakers to approve major tax hikes and cut the salaries of state workers this year.
    

Under the terms of a bill introduced by Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, up to $500 million could be moved into the state's general fund by directing the state's Board of Finance to issue short-term revenue bonds.
    

The bonds would be paid off over five years via a special fund created for that purpose, Sanchez said, with the money coming from general fund appropriations and a portion of the state's gross receipts tax revenues.    
Sanchez acknowledged that the bill (SB184) hinges on a wager that the state's economy will improve in the next few years.


You might consider sending the good Senator from Belen an email letting him know that we, the taxpayers and our children and grandchildren, prefer that he keep his wagering to recreational pursuits done with his own money on his own time at any one of the fine tribally owned casinos found throughout the Land of Enchantment.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Only One Committee Referral

You can tell a lot about the future of a bill introduced in a legislative session by the number of committees it is referred to before it sees the light of day on the floor for a vote. If a bill has three committee referrals, you can expect it's got a long uphill battle that will see the session end before the bill makes it to the the floor. When it comes to tax raising legislation, that is what those of us prefer to spend our own money want to see.

On the other hand, if a bill has only one committee referral, then it's pretty clear that someone with power wants to see it passed.  Last week, we noted that HB 9 INCOME TAX SURTAX bill, had quickly collected a lot of signatures by those who believe in taxing more before spending less. Now, we observe that it has only one committee referral.  If you find yourself in the group that currently pays 59% of the state's income tax revenue, and you don't want to pay even more, you better start lighting up those phone lines and filling those inboxes.


 

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Friday, January 22, 2010

It Only Took Three Days

So, who wants to raise our taxes? If you're a legislator in Santa Fe eager to raise taxes on small businesses in New Mexico, raise your hand.  No, better yet, just scribble your name on top of the proposed new tax bill.


Oh, sure I understand how some readers might think that this is a tax on the rich, but that's because they don't understand how most small businesses are set up.  They are usually limited liability companies or sub chapter S corporations.  That means that the profit from their company ends up on their personal income tax filings.

Now with banks being tight on lending (despite bailouts from taxpayers), most profitable small businesses are keeping those retained earnings in their company to keep their doors open and hold onto their key employees. But, that last lifeline is about to be raided by legislators and the administration in Santa Fe because it's easier to force more layoffs in the private sector than to cut unnecessary spending in public sector.

After all, who is going to notice if one more small business is forced to close their doors? Well, the answer is I will, and I sure hope you feel the same.  If you find your legislator's signature on this additional tax on small business, I hope you'll give them a call and ask them to get their priorities straight. If you don't know what your legislator's signature looks like, no problem, you can download this PDF of the entire bill along with the document they signed to kick off the session.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Tax Increases Only Inevitable in Governor's Mind

Governor Bill Richardson is all about raising taxes in the upcoming 2010 legislative session. In his mind, a tax increase is inevitable. But, thankfully sounder minds may prevail:

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, the Finance Committee chairman, said many lawmakers from rural parts of the state — both Democratic and Republican — remain wary of raising taxes during tough economic times, despite the state's budget deficit.

"There's no guarantee there's going to be revenue enhancements," Smith said Thursday. "I just don't see an overwhelming vote."

Lawmakers already have reduced general fund spending by about $700 million, from $6 billion to about $5.3 billion, because of steady declines in state tax revenues. Some legislators say there's room for more cuts in the state budget, which grew by 50 percent during Richardson's first six years in office.

First, a word of advice to those that oppose tax increases. Let's call them what they are - tax increases. The presumably poll tested and less offensive positioning of tax increases as "revenue enhancements" isn't fooling anyone. The voting public in New Mexico is not as naive as some elected officials would like you to think. If you raise our taxes, we'll know it. And, we'll hold it against you. We get enough "enhancement" junk mail in our inboxes to know political spam when we hear it.

With that said, let's talk about the resistance to cutting the bloated budget - a budget that increased 50% since the current administration took control. Exactly what has this recurring explosion in spending bought us?

  • Is your life better today than it was in 2002?
  • Are schools performing better than they were in 2002?
  • Do you feel safer in your homes today than in 2002?
  • Do you feel more optimistic about your future today than you did in 2002?

My guess is that the vast majority of New Mexicans would answer all of these questions with a resounding, "No!" So, let's stop talking about tax increases and let's get back to a time when life was enhanced and government was smaller. It would be a small step back to make a huge step forward.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hidden Messages

If you haven't heard about the hidden note to legislators from California Governor Schwarzeneggar, you'll definitely want to check out Steve Terrell's recent post. Coincidence? Yeah, right.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Now That's Interesting

It's like the legislature just woke from a seven year slumber, and decided to, well, decided to start acting like a legislature. For seven years, those controlling the legislature have rubber stamped every ridiculously large, bank-breaking budget proposed by the Richardson/Denish Administration.

Now, the piper wants to be paid, and it is becoming increasingly clear that the Richardson/Denish Administration have created, long-term structural problems for New Mexico. But hey, don't take my word for it. Instead, read what Lt. Governor Diane Denish has to say about the failed policies of her administration:

We know temporary “band aids” applied to remedy our budget shortfalls are not the answer to long-term, structural problems with the state budget. We must craft solutions that work for future generations of New Mexicans.

In other words, what the Lt. Governor is trying to sell us is, "I got us into this mess, so I can get us out of this mess." Of course, we know that's not the way it works in the real world. In the real world, when people make bad decision after bad decision that results in the virtual collapse of their organization, they can expect to be fired.

Now in case you're wondering what type of bad decisions have been made by Rchardson/Denish Administration, you have to look no further than some of the proposals that are being put forth by their Democratic peers in the legislature to fix the "long-term, structural problems". For example, consider this press release received from Representative Cote:

Rep. Cote introduced HB24 on the floor of the House today. The proposed bill calls for the Governor to reduce the number of exempt employees in cabinet departments and state agencies with salaries over $50,000. According to the bill, cutting at least 180 of these positions would save $8.1 million for the rest of this year and $19 million in the next fiscal year.

“Under the current fiscal conditions, all state expenditures must be analyzed and none excluded. I’ve noticed significant growth in the number of exempt positions in the last several years and the incumbents of which could be placed into permanent classified positions. My bill is an attempt to reduce the size of the state’s payroll. I feel the state government has grown too large for the revenue available in the state of New Mexico,” Rep. Cote (D-Dona Ana, Otero-53) stated.

During the last regular session the Governor said he would trim salaries of 470 exempt employees but, in the past year alone, the number of Governor exempt employees has risen by 27 positions from 789 to 816, while the number of state classified employees has stayed the same. Over the past seven years the Governor’s exempt positions has risen by 281 positions.

That's right, Lt. Governor Denish has stood silently by as her partner in crime, Governor Bill Richardson, has created and handed out new government jobs as payback for political favors. This practice, among many others has led to the long term, structural problems with our state budget, that now threatens the financial viability of education, social and infrastructure programs.

Of course, Lt. Governor Denish would rather we not point fingers and blame (read: personal animosity):

Legislators should act quickly, she said–putting “personal animosity aside”–because the state doesn’t have “time or money to waste”

Of course, she's right. The state doesn't have time or money to waste... Diane Denish and Bill Richardson have spent seven years wasting our money and our time, and the proverbial cupboard is now bare.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Can't Miss the Parade

Our elected officials are struggling with how to fix an astronomical and ever-growing budget deficit without cutting expenditures or raising revenue. I'd really like to see the former versus the latter occur, and even those who want to empty our wallets, are struggling with the lack of financial restraint being shown by state government agencies in this time of economic crisis:

"Knowing that, the administration has not put the brakes on spending," said Ortiz y Pino, who is running for lieutenant governor. "There is no evidence in my mind that this administration in any way slowed down the spending in state government. Now, I've worked in administrations in the past, and as soon as there was any question that we were going to be in budget trouble, the word was out. Stop hiring, don't fill vacancies, no out-of-state travel, no contracts, no printing. Nothing, nothing, nothing, just make sure we get through this OK. Has this administration done anything remotely like that?

In related news...

New Mexico plans to sponsor a float in the 2010 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Calif.

New Mexico Tourism Secretary Michael Cerletti said the response from the southern Californian travel market to New Mexican floats in the 2006, 2008 and 2009 parades was tremendous, and a float is a good way to reach potential visitors.


Phew! It's a good thing we have our spending priorities straight.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Budget Cuts Shouldn't Hurt Kids

Governor Richardson's mantra going into the Special Session this weekend is a simple one: "Budget cuts shouldn't hurt kids." It's one that I wouldn't be surprised to learn had been voter tested and approved:

But most interesting was $38,353 paid for "research/polling" to a company called Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates in Santa Monica, Calif. Nearly all the money was paid in June, a much smaller chunk paid in September.

It's a simple message, and a nice diversion tactic. Governor Richardson gets to avoid taking ownership for spending New Mexico into a crisis. He gets to pretend to be the great savior of our children, while trying to turn the legislature into the big bad wolf:

Gov. Bill Richardson late Tuesday rejected legislative proposals to plug a state budget gap that's now expected to top $650 million, saying at least two of them would cut too much money for public schools.

Richardson called for lawmakers to try again before a special legislative session on the budget starts Saturday.

"Governor Richardson has studied the legislative proposals and finds the cuts to education unacceptable because of the severe impact to teachers and kids," Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said. "The governor wants one proposal from the Legislature, not three, that makes fiscally responsible cuts without hurting schools."

But, here's the thing. The Richardson Administration, and to a great extent the rubber-stamping majority in the legislature have done more to damage education in New Mexico over the last seven years, then anything some cost-cutting could ever do. They've herald one supposed "great" education reform after another without ever actually doing anything to improve education for our children. Worse yet, they've refused to ever take ownership of their repeated failures:

A new batch of testing results shows New Mexico students' math scores are among the nation's worst, with little change from previous years.

The data, released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress and often called the Nation's Report Card, shows New Mexico's fourth-graders with an average math score of 230 out of 500. The national average was 239.

The New Mexico average score for eighth-graders was 270, compared to a national average of 282.

The achievement gap between New Mexico's Anglo students and students of other ethnicities remained wide, without significant change from 2007.

Secretary of Education Veronica Garcia said the overall numbers may not provide a fair comparison because of the small sample of students tested. About 11 percent of New Mexico's fourth-graders and 10 percent of eighth-graders took the test.

Garcia also said students and teachers in New Mexico often do not take the test very seriously because scores are not broken down by district or school. She said other states use incentives to raise awareness about the test's importance.

Oh yeah, that's the problem with the test scores. We don't have a big enough media campaign to let our kids know that tests are important. They actually know all of the information, there just not taking the test seriously. GIVE ME A BREAK! Here's a novel idea... How about taking ownership for the education failures?

Look, year after year, we've thrown ever-increasing pots of money at education with ever-worsening results. How about we try something different? Go ahead and cut education spending. Let's stop pretending the children are going to get hurt. Based on the test results released year after year, it can't get much worse for them.

And, as long as we're making cuts, how about getting rid of the hundreds of governor created and appointed positions drawing down comfortable salaries for absolutely no work. In fact, let's fire everyone who can't seem to get their department to actually provide the services they are supposed to be providing.

Heck, why stop there? Let's just fire everyone who refuses to take responsibilities for seven years of failures and fiscal mismanagement. Start with Governor Richardson and don't stop until you find someone who says, "I've totally and completely messed up, and this is how I'm going to fix it." My guess is that before you find that person, the budget will actually be balanced.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Get Our Deposit Back

On October 17, the legislature will go into Special Session to deal with the escalating budget crisis that will likely get worse before it gets better. There are legislators that would like to cut expenses. There are legislators that would like to increase taxes. And, there is an executive who is offended that some legislators refuse to live in a fantasy world:

Gov. Bill Richardson might have a new nickname for two of his frequent adversaries in the New Mexico Legislature.

Speaking to reporters Monday after a news conference in Santa Fe, Richardson voiced frustration with Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming.

"I don't want this gloom and doom that is coming from certain quarters," Richardson said.

New Mexicans would be wise to listen to the prognostications of these two gentleman. They know of what they speak. One idea that might be worth exploring during this session comes from a 73 year old who bought into the space dream:

When a private spaceship soared over California to claim a $10 million prize, daredevil venture capitalist Alan Walton was 68 and thought he'd soon be on a rocket ride of his own.

Walton plunked down $200,000 to be among the first space tourists to make a suborbital thrill-ride high above the Earth aboard a Virgin Galactic spaceship.

Now he intends to ask for his deposit back if there's no fixed launch date by his 74th birthday next April.


New Mexicans have put more than a $100 million into Governor Richardson's space odyssey, and now that its time to pay our other bills. Maybe it's about time to ask for our deposit back. After all, it's not like this has come even close to delivering what was promised.

When Virgin officials and the state of New Mexico came together to announce a partnership to turn the commercial space industry into a reality, they estimated commercial flights beginning in 2007 in California and moving to Spaceport America as soon as the New Mexico facility was ready in 2008.

Reminder folks: we're two months away from 2010! Unlike federally backed NASA, the state of New Mexico can't actually print its own money to explore the final frontier. We have to live in reality.

Besides, think about it. Do you really want the state government of New Mexico to be directly involved in something as complicated as space launches. Remember, this is the entity that can't figure out how to do something as simple as answering the phone:

New Mexico has extended call-center hours, upgraded the phone system and added 15 workers. Even so, "We still are receiving reports of people's inability to get through," said Carrie Moritomo, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Workforce Solutions.

Of course, they could hire more people, but part of that budget is probably tied up in supporting the Space Authority. So before we start raising taxes, how about we revisit every last one of Governor Richardson's "great" initiatives of the last seven years, and start asking for our deposits back. And, while we're at it. Maybe we can eliminate some of those high-paying, low-performing jobs the Governor was so fond of creating:

Five years ago, just eight of Gov. Bill Richardson's political appointees made more than $100,000 a year. Today, more than 100 earn at least that much.

Hey, it's just a thought.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Balancing State Budget Without Taxes or Cuts

A special session of the New Mexico legislature will be called to address an expected budget shortfall. Governor Richardson had this to say:
Richardson blamed the shortfalls on the national recession, and he urged lawmakers to avoid layoffs, repealing tax cuts or "drastically cutting services."
Ok, we're going to balance the budget without increasing revenue, and without cutting spending. Hmmm... I guess that leaves... um... magic?

And, for Governor Richardson's next trick, he will attempt to hypnotize the entire state (or at least the voting population and media) into forgetting that a spending spree on steroids is what caused our financial budget crisis in New Mexico.

"Because our budget deficit is directly related to the national recession, I want to make sure that we don't take any action that might cost jobs or adversely affect the state economy," Richardson said in the release.
Wow. What an act!

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Monday, August 03, 2009

Democrats to Blame

Going into last year's legislative session all anyone could talk about was the budget shortfall. The spending party that has been the cornerstone of the Richardson Administration was over - sort of. What do I mean?

Well, during the 2009 legislative session the people in charge (read: Democrats) didn't really slice the budget the way it required in light of decrease oil and gas revenue and declining tax revenue. Instead, they just kind of froze spending - again, sort of.

Consider that the vast majority of New Mexicans are cutting our annual spending, and you'd think that state government would try and do the same. But no, they want to get creative:
State government spending has grown by about 40 percent during the past six years. Smith and other lawmakers might focus on alternatives to new revenues to pay for the state's nearly $5.5 billion annual budget, such as shifting money from stalled infrastructure projects, shortening the government's workweek or furloughing state employees, should a special legislative session be called this fall by Gov. Bill Richardson to address budget problems.
Here's an idea. Instead of looking at sources of new revenue (read: taxing struggling families) or looking at creative ways to shuffle funds and pretend we're not in a zero sum game, how about you just cut all the recently added programs and return them back to 2002 levels?

Think about it. We significantly increased our investment in education and have seen continued declines in student performance. We've increased our investment in economic development and seen increased job losses. We've funded pet projects like spaceports and trains to benefit a select few without any significant benefit for the majority of the population.

When are we going to finally acknowledge that the government is really good at making grand promises, but comes up awfully short on delivering on results? The spend, spend, spend experiment of the Richardson Administration and a rubber stamp legislature has been a horrible failure. But, here's the absurdity of New Mexico politics:
If taxes were to be raised, Democrats, who control the executive branch and both houses of the Legislature, could face the lion's share of the blame, Sanderoff said.
Really? The Democrats "
could face the lion's share of the blame." You think? Only in New Mexico could those in charge of everything only potentially face the blame. How about we stop the spin here? The Democrats should face the lion's share of the blame.
  • They should be held accountable for out of control spending with nothing to show for it.
  • They should be held accountable for every and any tax increase .
  • They should be held accountable for an education system that costs more and more and delivers less and less.
  • They should be held accountable for the institutionalization of corruption.
Unless we start holding them accountable, we will go from bad to worse.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Going After Teens is Senseless

A terrible tragedy happened a couple of weeks ago, when repeat drunk driver Scott Owens killed four Santa Fe area teens:
Teen driving is in the spotlight after a June 28 crash that left four teenagers dead. Law enforcement authorities say Scott Owens had a blood-alcohol content of .16 nearly four hours after he crashed into a car with five teens inside.

The only teen to survive the crash on Old Las Vegas Highway was driving on a provisional license. Holders of those licenses are barred from driving between midnight and 5 a.m., and from driving with more than one other person under 21 in the car who is not an immediate family member.

The driver, 16-year-old Avree Koffman, didn't have alcohol in her system, authorities said.
The problem here is not teen drivers. The problems is that we allow habitual drunks to get back on the road time and time again instead of locking them up. Case in point this guy with six DWI's on record:

48-year-old arrested Wednesday still hasn't been charged in July 4 accident.

Calvin Finch, 48, of Aztec, was arrested Wednesday for his sixth DWI, just 11 days after he was involved in a crash that killed 62-year-old Harry Irvin, whose motorcycle was struck by Finch's pickup truck at the intersection of U.S. 550 and San Juan County Road 2105, the Farmington Daily Times reported.
Yet, rather than tackle the tough problems head on, some lawmakers want to go after the vast majority of law abiding teens out there:
In the wake of the crash, some lawmakers are thinking about changes to state law that might help keep teen drivers off the streets during prohibited hours.

Rep. Brian Egolf, a Santa Fe Democrat, said he's considering a bill under which teen drivers with restricted licenses would have to display a marker on their car, such as a bright yellow triangle in the back window.
Give me a break. Studies referenced in the article have not come up with any concrete evidence that further restricting teen driving makes a difference. Keeping our kids from driving when they are not supposed to be driving is a parental responsibility, not a police responsibility.

Lawmakers, like Representative Egolf, should focus on passing legislation that puts habitual drunk drivers behinds bars, not taking away parental rights.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Passive-Aggressive Approach to Governing

The Santa Fe Reporter has a good article (ok, maybe I'm partial to articles that quote me) on Governor Richardson's attempt to avoid criticism by pocket vetoing several important bills.
Nevertheless, there are common threads among the pocket vetoed bills: oversight, transparency and executive branch autonomy, particularly regarding health care.

Sen. Steven Neville, R-San Juan, had no illusions about what would happen to SB 460, his bill to strip Richardson’s control of the State Investment Council and create more oversight.

“The day it was passed, I figured it would be vetoed,” Neville tells SFR. “Most of us who were involved with the bill pretty well felt that the governor would not want to lose that control over the Investment Council.”

In an April 22 press release, Neville demanded Richardson explain the pocket veto in light of allegations of “insiders” kickbacks from the SIC for steering contracts.

“I’ve had no official word at all from the governor’s office,” Neville says. “That’s the beauty of the pocket veto. They don’t have to comment either way.”
With all of the scandals hitting the media regarding state investments, you've got to wonder how Governor Richardson thinks he can get away with pocket vetoes?

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Remembering Robert Vigil and Michael Montoya

It seems like a long time ago, right? Every day and every night the news was filled with stories of former New Mexico Treasurers Robert Vigil and Michael Montoya, and their scandalous, kickback driven investments of taxpayer funds. Of course, it wasn't really that long ago. In fact, it's only been four years.

And, four years later, it looks like we've still have all of the EXACT SAME corruption problems. Sure it's different people taking money. But, the result is basically the same. New Mexico taxpayers are the big losers. Four years ago we had lost millions of dollars. Now we've lost billions of dollars.

So, who is to blame? Well, we can obviously start at the top. A little less than four years ago, our Governor Richardson made the following proclamation:

Governor Bill Richardson has ordered "a comprehensive review of state investments and investment contracts, and is proposing a number of strict new procedures regarding the state investment process," his office announced Tuesday. The announcement comes on the heels of State Treasurer Robert Vigil and former State Treasurer Michael Montoya being arrested and charged with extorting kickbacks from brokers handling state investment accounts.

Richardson said the state will conduct "a top to bottom review of all investment practices and a review of all investment contracts and has directed state agencies to conduct an internal assessment of all investment activities at all levels of state government."

Well, in light of the ongoing federal investigations, we have only two possible conclusions to draw:
  1. The Governor failed miserably in his promise to conduct a top to bottom review of all investment practices.

    OR

  2. The Governor and his administration conducted this full assessment and decided it was in their own self interest to keep pay to play schemes in place and continue the time honored practice of defrauding taxpayers.
It will be interesting to see if the current federal investigation turns up the results of the"internal assessment of all investment activities" that was required of each state agency. Actually, why wait fro the federal investigation to be complete. Maybe one of our state's remaining reporters will file a FOIA request to get a peak at those assessments.

But, is it only the Governor who is to blame? No. As mentioned above, there are appointees who obviously failed to do their jobs. There are also the legislators who acted as enablers:
Until 2005, the ERB was limited in what types of investments it could make, primarily stocks and bonds with a history of paying dividends.

The legislature changed that in 2005, but it took the ERB the better part of a year to get into a position to diversify its investments to include hedge funds, private equity funds that invest in companies that are not publicly traded and other specialty areas.
We've got another round of elections coming up. First, the Albuquerque City elections, and then before we know it, we'll have the statewide elections in 2010. If we vote the same people back into office time and time again, the cycle of corruption will continue. Isn't time to say enough is enough?

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Make the Call (505) 476-2200

Here's a fact. Anytime Democracy for New Mexico and I are in agreement that a bill should be signed into law, you can rest assured that it is a good idea:
Take Action: Please call Gov. Richardson ASAP at (505) 476-2200 and urge him to sign Rep. Cervantes' Open Conference Committees bill, HB 393, as he promised to do last week. The Governor has until April 10th to sign the bill. The legislation passed the House 66-0 vote and the Senate 33-8.
Governor Richardson is playing games here, and it stinks. First, he says no one cares about more transparency in government, which is a bunch of baloney. Now, he's claiming he can't sign the bill because he hasn't received it.

The governor thanked everyone for speaking [in favor of signing the bill]. He said he hadn’t received the open conference committees bill yet.

“Well, Step 1, I need to get it up here,” the governor said. “I physically couldn’t sign a bill that we don’t have.”

If you ask me, he's starting to set the stage for a pocket veto. So, here is the thing, I write day in day out and don't really ask for anything in return. But, today I'm asking.

I made the call, and I'm asking you to do the same. Call (505) 476-2200 and request that Governor Richardson sign HB 393 into law.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Here We Go Again

There is a right way and a wrong way to do things. When it comes to passing laws, that right way is to introduce a bill at the legislative level and let those for and against a particular bill make their case. Then, if the bill gets passed, it is up to the Governor to sign or veto it. Pretty simple to understand, right?

Then someone please explain to me why Governor Richardson and his appointees continue to struggle with this relatively easy concept?
In the absence of state legislation, New Mexico officials will continue to try to work with other Western Climate Initiative members to flesh out details of the cap-and-trade system they still hope to pursue, said Sarah Cottrell, Gov. Bill Richardson's energy and environment adviser.

The state will also look at other steps that can be taken administratively, without the need for legislation, Cottrell said.
This administration, more than any other, has repeatedly tried to undermine the legislative process when they have been unhappy with the outcome of a particular bill. The bill in question HB653: Mandates Green House Gas Reductions, was widely considered "a Governor's bill" which makes this maneuver even worse.

This is not the first time this administrative slight of hand has occurred, and I've given an example before of why this should give everyone pause regardless of whether you support or oppose the bill in question. That example is worth repeating again here:
Before the environmentalists among you leave comments that support the Governor's mandate over the constitutional process we still have for making laws. Let me put this in another context for you. Let's take an issue like abortion that pretty evenly divides the population. Should a pro-life Governor be able to appoint a regulatory body to regulate abortion?

How supportive would those who are pro-choice react if this body some evening at midnight decided to ban abortion throughout the state? Would you be okay with the pro-life Governor's edict that:
“The Ban Abortions Program is a key part of our state’s effort to reduce the murder of the unborn to avoid the worst effects of a misguided planet,” said Governor Conservative. “Today’s decision by the Life Improvement Board means New Mexico can implement the most stringent standards for protecting the sanctity of life in the country. New Mexico is again taking action, when Washington won’t.”
Like I said, it's a slippery slope.
It's still a slippery slope.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Governor's Rationale Stinks

Do you smell that? Near as I can tell, the strong offending odor seems to be coming from the Governor's office. I'm pretty sure it has something to do with Governor Richardson's last ditch effort to fight open meetings:
The first opening of the doors to the New Mexico Legislature's long-closed conference committee meetings might have provided a glimpse into the future — and some lawmakers say that's a good thing.

But whether Gov. Bill Richardson will sign a bill to routinely require the opening of those conference committees — where designated House and Senate members meet to hash out differences in legislation — is uncertain. A top Richardson aide said Tuesday the governor wants to carefully scrutinize several perceived "loopholes" in the bill.
Yup, this is definitely the source of the stench. Members of the legislature voted 99-8 to open the conference committee meetings to the public. That is pretty dang near close to unanimous. The loopholes giving the Governor pause:
One potential loophole identified by Gallegos was a provision in the bill that the Legislature could move to close conference committees by adopting a rule change — an action, unlike the pending legislation, that wouldn't require the executive branch's approval.

"It just seems like common sense that either you would open them or not," Gallegos said.
The rationale Mr. Gallegos puts forth is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Let's be real. The VAST majority of legislators voted to open the committee meetings. If they suddenly did an about face and opted a rule change to close the meetings, they would be crucified in the media and it would be easy to defeat them when they were up for re-election. The campaign materials practically write themselves.

On top of all this, the absurdity of proposing that the reasoning for not signing open meetings into law is that at some point someone might try and close the meetings is beyond understanding. Every law can be changed by a future law. It happens ALL THE TIME. If you bought into the Governor's rationale, well, then nothing would ever be signed into law because it might be reversed a future date.

This just stinks like nothing more than a rancid pile of political manure. Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a little more annoyed than usual.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Death Penalty Conversations in the Car

This is the time of year when Saturday's are dedicated to soccer games. With our ten year old playing in Bernalillo and our nine year old playing in Albuquerque that means a lot of drive time. This in turn can lead to some interesting conversations.

Take for instance this last Saturday. I don't remember how it started (maybe something was reported on the radio), but the conversation turned to the death penalty. The kids didn't really understand at first what the death penalty was all about. My wife dutifully explained then the conversation went something like this...
Nine year old: Well, I don't think we should have the death penalty, because I don't think Chris Brown should be put to death.

Wife: No, Chris Brown couldn't get the death penalty because he didn't kill anyone.

Nine year old: Oh.

Ten year old: Well, I think Radio Disney should stop playing Chris Brown songs.

Me: Sounds like a good idea.

Silence.

Nine year old: I don't think anyone should get the death penalty. They should just go to jail.

Me: Really?

Nine year old: Yeah, you shouldn't kill people.

Me: Well, what if someone killed your brother, would you want them to go to prison for life or get the death penalty?

Nine year old: Dead [not even a second of hesitation].

Me: I thought you didn't want the death penalty.

Nine year old: But, that's different.

Ten year old: No, it's the same thing.
Personally, I support the death penalty. If there is a petition to put the repeal of New Mexico's death penalty before the voters, I'll gladly sign it. And, if the referendum makes it to the ballot, I'd vote to bring it back. For me, it's not just about if a family member was murdered. If the bodies that were found on the West Mesa are the result of one killer, and that person is found alive, then I think they should get the death penalty.

With that said, I'm on record as saying that the death penalty is an issue were I don't believe there is a clear-cut right or wrong answer.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hemp Milk in the Senate

Finally got around to opening that streaming video coming from the Senate. I think I finally understand why so many folks were resistant to the idea of the streaming video. Today is the last day (wishful thinking) We're in the final days of the legislative session, and the great debate on the Senate floor is on Senator Cisco McSorley's Senate Memorial 30... a push to start growing hemp in New Mexico and a lot of talk about Happy Milk.

Well, it looks like another victory for Senator McSorley. SM 30 passed. The next bill they're debating is a Medical Marijuana Memorial.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Missing Votes at the Legislature... The Winner Is

The Rio Grande Foundation has a very cool project going, NewMexicoVotes.org, that you ought to check out. Basically, they realized that there wasn't any easy way for the general public (you know, the taxpayers that fund all of the goings on in the state) to look up how legislators were voting on the issues. So, the Rio Grande Foundation took it upon themselves to provide this service.

I hopped on last night, and looked up a few of my favorite legislators and was amazed at the ease of use of this site. As I started clicking around, I was surprised to learn that the vast majority of legislators only miss a handful of votes.

Well, before I knew it, I had clicked through every single legislator, and I was surprised to find that one legisaltor to date had missed SIGNIFICANTLY more votes than all of the others. And, the winner is... State Representative Eleanor Chavez from District 13.

Representative Chavez has MISSED A WHOPPING 64 VOTES so far this session. Overall, that looks to be somewhere between triple and quadruple the number of average missed votes by a legislator. Now, I don't know Representative Eleanor Chavez. I've never met her. I don't wish her any ill will, and I don't live in her district.

But, here is the thing. Representative Eleanor Chavez is a freshman legislator. This is her first session up in Santa Fe. She only sits on two committees, so committee conflicts can't explain the missed votes. So, I can't help but wonder if Representative Eleanor Chavez is not up their to vote on behalf of her constituents, then what is she doing up there?

Update: Ok, I have egg on my face. Just heard that Representative Eleanor Chavez spent about five days in the hospital with a major gall blader problem. My bad. Being hospitalized is about the best excuse I can think of. for missing all of those votes. I hope you're feeling better Representative Chavez.

Our new first place winner is State Representative Miguel Garcia from District 14 with an EQUALLY IMPRESSIVE 56 MISSED VOTES. Anyone know if Representative Garcia has been out sick this session?

Update to the Update: Hmm, now I've been informed the Representative Miguel Garcia was out at least three days due to food poisoning. Although, not hospitalized, it is, nonetheless, a good reason to miss some votes. My apologies to Representative Garcia. Feel free to contact me, and, as restitution, I'll take you out for a meal that won't give you food poisoning.

Well, at this point, I guess I ought to just leave the missed votes alone (I'm starting to feel a little like Jim Cramer). Instead, I recommend everyone use NewMexicoVotes.org as it was intended. Namely, to see how you're legislator voted on the issues.

I will now crawl back under the rock from which I came, and hope no one gives my number to Jon Stewart.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Thanks Representatives Taylor and Gardner

My two boys and a group of homes school friends headed up to Santa Fe early this snowy late March morning (how's that global warming thing working out?) to serve as pages. Special thanks to Representative Taylor and Representative Gardner.

So, you folks up in the Roundhouse today reading this, you know who you are, make sure to go over and say, "Hi" and a few nice things about me.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Only Thing Worse

The only thing worse than raising taxes on income during times of a severe recession - bordering on depression - would be raising taxes on taxes. That's right, you read that correctly. There is actually a bill being pushed through this legislative session that proposes raising taxes on taxes:
SB523: Federal Income Deductions as State Income (Tax on Tax) sponsored by Sen. Otiz y Pino. This bill will require individual income taxpayers who itemize deductions on their federal return to add back any state and local taxes included in their itemized deductions in determining taxable income for the state income tax. Basically requiring taxpayers to pay a tax on tax.
Good to see the nice folks up in Santa Fe looking out for us.

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Friday, March 06, 2009

Polling Half the Tax Increase

Wow, I'm amazed. Unemployment in New Mexico continues to rise and and the nation's unemployment numbers for February are the worse we've seen in 25 years:
The U.S. economy continued to hemorrhage jobs in February, bringing total job losses over the last six months to more than 3.3 million, and taking the unemployment rate to its highest level in 25 years.

The government reported Friday that employers slashed 651,000 jobs in February, down from a revised loss of 655,000 jobs in January. December's loss was also revised higher to a loss of 681,000 jobs, a 59-year high for losses in one month.

Yet, the Albuquerque Journal has an article on a poll with the headline, Poll Shows Support for School Tax. For the life of me, I can't imagine who in their right mind would want two tax increase under these circumstances:
Proponents of a proposed new public school funding formula hope that results from a new poll will breathe life back into legislation stalled in a House committee.

The poll, conducted this week, found that 59 percent of registered voters surveyed statewide support a gross-receipts tax increase to pay for the new formula. The formula would add about $360 million to school budgets.
Amazing, a majority of registered voters surveyed support two tax increases. Wait a minute. Let me look at that again. Hmm, something's not right. Oh, I see.
Voters weren't asked about a proposed increase in personal income taxes, which is another component of the house bill.
Nice. A poll that only asks about one part of the proposed tax increases. Isn't that convenient. Funny how they didn't think to poll whether folks would support increasing personal income taxes on everyone in the state of New Mexico earning under $8 an hour.

What's even more interesting is the actual breakdown of those strongly supporting this half truth:
Of those polled, 23 percent strongly oppose the measure while 13 percent somewhat oppose it. Strongly supporting it were 36 percent, and somewhat supporting it were 23 percent.
Now that's interesting... only 36% strongly support it. I wonder how many of those somewhat supporting would drop if you asked them how they felt about the tax increase if they knew it was only part of the equation? I wonder how many of those somewhat supporting the gross receipts tax increase would still support it if you helped them do the math, and pointed out that the tax increase proposed would increase the percentage they pay in taxes by more than 10%.

If I were legislator considering this bill, I wouldn't let this polling change my mind. When it come time for re-election, you can be sure that the facts around this tax release will be presented in a lot more factual light. The 36% that strongly support it may still vote for you, but last I checked, that wasn't even close to a majority.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Education Budget Doubled Over 12 Years

An interesting thing happened yesterday up at the legislature. HB346: Gross Receipts Surtax Bill received a do pass:
As a reminder, this bill proposes the gross receipt tax rate (GRT) be increased by .5%. In addition the bill also proposes an increase in the personal income tax rate (PIT). The PIT would increase in tax year 2010 from 4.9 percent to 6 percent for married persons filing jointly with taxable income of at least $24,000 and for single persons with taxable income of at least $16,000. The additional revenue would be earmarked for public education.
That's right this one bill raises not one, but two taxes - a double whammy. And, before you folks jump in and say it's about time rich people invest in education, please review just who is getting hit with higher taxes right now.

The PIT is being raised on folks making $16,000 per year or more. That comes out to an hourly rate of less than $7.75. Of course, these same people are going to be hit with higher gross receipts taxes if this bill goes through. Talk about hitting people when they're down.

But hey, it's for the children, right? Yeah, think again. Let's look at education spending over the last dozen years (subscription):
Among those speaking against the measures was Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.

Cole said the proposed funding formula doesn't contain enough accountability. She said the amount the state spends on public education has doubled over the past 12 years to $2.4 billion, yet the dropout rate remains high. She noted that the number of students has, for the most part, remained flat during that time.
Actually, Ms. Cole is being kind by only focusing on the dropout rate. Not only has dropout rate remained high during this period of huge infusions of capital, the actual performance of students overall has gotten worse:
More evidence was provided recently b the findings of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the limited government-oriented national legislative umbrella organization based in Washington, DC.

That organization's recent study, the 15th edition of their "Report Card on American Education," shows that New Mexico's K-12 government-run education system is not only behind other states, but is falling further behind as time passes. According to the New Mexico-specific pages of the study which can be found here, The Land of Enchantment has fallen from 43rd to 48th since 1998 in ALEC's overall ranking. This, despite a more rapid increase in per-pupil spending than was found in other states (42% to 36.6%).
Of course, I left the best part for last. The rationale for introducing these increased regressive taxes on the poorest amongst us is to fund a new public school funding formula to help make up for a supposed underfunding for schools. The thing is that the new funding formula bill got tabled. This has spurred speculation that the new INCREASE YOUR TAXES BILL will be amended to remove the language to use the revenue for education and instead be used as a revenue generator the budget.

Yeah, that's just what we need during a time of economic crisis - more taxes.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Don't Hide from Your Record

It seems like nearly every election cycle a political candidate is caught lying to one of the state's newspapers about criminal convictions in their past. Despite the embarrassment that occurs when they are inevitably caught in a lie, it is sad to say that many of those who have criminal convictions - and more importantly lie about them - in their past go on to win their elections [side note: I can think of at least two from this past election cycle].

Well, now it looks like two legislators, both defense attorneys, want to make it easier for convicted criminals to get elected to office without the burden of their past criminal convictions (subscription):
If two criminal defense lawyers serving in the Legislature get their way, a lot of New Mexico ex-cons wouldn't have to worry about their rap sheets following them around the rest of their lives.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, and Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas, D-Albuquerque, are pushing bills that would allow judges to wipe away court and police records of offenders who complete sentences for certain crimes and aren't charged with new crimes for a certain period of time.

The bills are not identical, but under one or the other offenses that could be expunged range from petty crimes like shoplifting, which could disappear after one year, to DWIs after ten years. Records of most violent felonies that don't involve death, sex crimes or weapons could also be expunged after ten years. Domestic violence arrests and convictions would be eligible for expungement.
This is an absurd bill. Yes, people do stupid things in their lives, and some might even result in a criminal record. This is especially true when people are young. However, the strength of a person's character comes not from hiding from their past mistakes, but from owning those mistakes and never making them again. Heck, if a man can get elected President of the United States without his DWI conviction being expunged, what possible rationale can we have for expunging public records.

In other news, federal investigations continue to move forward and ethics bills are still to be pushed through the legislature. Also, the "
brother of disgraced political heavyweight Manny Aragon to five years in prison for his part in a drug-smuggling operation. " But wait, it gets better:
In a sentencing memorandum, the U.S. Attorney's Office noted that Charles Aragon was sentenced to three years in prison after his 1978 conviction for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. In late 1990, five years after parole ended for the earlier conviction, he became part of the Mexican Mafia and operated a large-scale drug trafficking organization that moved more than 22,000 pounds of marijuana over several years through the U.S. In 1992, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in that conspiracy.
Just think... he twice managed to go ten years without getting caught. I guess some legislators would argue he should have had his record expunged because he was a changed man.




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