"Capitol Report New Mexico" Latest Blog Postings

Five and counting: Rep. Anna Crook to retire from the Roundhouse

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Sun, 2014-02-23 13:42

“TIME TO HANG IT UP:” Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, will retire at the end of her term this year after 20 years in the Roundhouse.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – Another day, another retirement from the Roundhouse.

Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, became the fifth member of the 70-member state House of Representatives to announce retirement from political life, telling New Mexico Watchdog, “After 20 years, it is time to hang it up.”

Crook has represented District 64 in Curry County since 1995 and has been a reliable Republican vote throughout her tenure.

“I’ve got a birthday coming up in December and I just felt it’s time to step down before they threw me out,” Crook said with a laugh.

Actually, the 79-year-old Crook has run unopposed for the last two election cycles and is serving her 10th term.

District 64 is considered a solid Republican seat so Crook’s retirement does not figure to alter the party composition of the House, which currently has 37 Democrats and 33 Republicans.

Possible replacements for Crook include Wade Lopez and Randy Crowder. Crook says she’ll support Crowder, who sits on the Clovis city commission, as her replacement in the November election.

“I’ve always said if someone shares my philosophy, I’d support them and Randy fits that bill,” Crook said.

Crook joins four other House members who are stepping aside at the end of this current legislative term: Reps. Henry “Kiki” Saavedra, D-Albuquerque, Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque, Nate Cote, D-Organ, and Tom Taylor, R-Farmington.

There could be more, considering that Reps. Phillip Archuleta, D-Las Cruces, and Ernest Chavez, D-Albuquerque, each missed the entire 30-day legislative session that wrapped up last Thursday with medical issues.

“I have mixed emotions,” Crook said about her announcement. “With my age and all, none of us have tomorrow guaranteed. My health is good … What I liked the most is my wonderful constituents. They were always courteous to me and if they had questions about a policy here and there, they never chewed me out.”

In 2012, Crook drew attention for writing a column in the Quay County Sun, making a not-so-veiled criticism of Gov. Susana Martinez and her campaign for getting involved in the Republican primary for a state Senate seat between Angie Spears and Pat Woods.

“Over the last several weeks, the nastiness, misinformation, innuendo, slanderous mailings, robo calls and, in some cases, flat-out lies have created a toxic political environment the likes of which I have never seen before,” Crook wrote. “Even worse, it appears this kind of politics is being driven by outsiders — people who do not live here, don’t work here and don’t raise their children here.”

Woods went on to win the election.

Crook, whose husband, Jerry, passed away three years ago, says she plans to spend more time with her two grown sons and their four grandchildren.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Editorial: Gimme a break on what’s bad

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Sun, 2014-02-23 12:14

Rob Nikolewski. Photo courtesy of Santa Fe New Mexican/Clyde Mueller.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

So let me get this straight:

An award-winning television show featuring a fictitious chemistry teacher-turned methamphetamine kingpin gets hailed by practically everybody as the greatest thing to come out of New Mexico since green chile but another TV show about real-life police officers fighting crime supposedly makes Albuquerque look so toxic that city officials want the producers of the show to hit the road?

Yes, it appears some elected officials in the state’s largest city have gone from Breaking Bad to Skating Schizophrenic.

Throughout the show’s five-year run, politicos fell over themselves to praise Breaking Bad and cozy up its stars but now, at least two county commissioners and the mayor of Albuquerque say a reality crime drama — Cops – is not welcome in the Duke City.

That brings up a couple of questions, the first of which is, uh, Cops is still on the air?

And second, why is one show — that brilliantly yet graphically depicted the violence and tragedy of the meth epidemic — embraced while another is repudiated?

“I don’t see how [Cops] brings anything positive to the county,” said commissioner Debbie O’Malley.

Right. And Walter White strangling a guy in the basement with a bicycle lock in Season 1 was a fine example of the New Mexico pledge of “perfect friendship among united cultures.

Last week, Mayor Richard Berry told city attorneys to send a letter to the producers of Cops instructing them that the Albuquerque Police Department shall not be videotaped in the making of the show that will focus on Bernalillo County Sheriff’s officers — even when sheriff’s officers work in joint operations with APD.

“We understand (the show’s producers) have a First Amendment right to do what they want,” Berry told the Albuquerque Journal last week.

Well, thanks, Mr. Mayor, for not trampling on that little first amendment thingy just because Cops may make life in the 505 look a bit rough around the edges.

But Berry is just following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Marty Chavez, who loved Breaking Bad and was endorsed by the show’s star, Bryan Cranston, in a run for Congress but banished Cops from APD back in 2004 because Chavez thought the show made Albuquerque look bad.

Now I was a fan of Breaking Bad, which tackled the effects of the old-fashioned theme of the wages of sin with such pitch-perfect storytelling that it almost seemed as if Fyodor Dostoevsky was transplanted from the Russian taiga of the late 19th century to the American Southwest in the early 21st century.

But while the story was gripping, I never bought into the idea that the show’s success corresponded with an equal elevation of Albuquerque in particular and New Mexico in general.

Given the serious drug abuse problem afflicting our state, it was jarring to see the almost giddy reception given to a candy-maker in Albuquerque who created a line of rock sugar that imitated the blue crystal meth the show’s characters were cooking.

The same sort of disconnect occurred when, after the airing of the final episode of Breaking Bad, a couple hundred people showed up for the faux-funeral for Walter White at a cemetery in Old Town and cheered and applauded during the pseudo-service.

So why is Cops getting dissed?

After all, according to the New Mexico Film Office, the show figures to be eligible for New Mexico’s 25 percent film subsidy rate.

We’ve been told that any and all TV and film production in the state is always a good thing — so good that the Legislature passed the “Breaking Bad bill” in the final moments of the 2013 session.

If you want to adopt — as so many states have — a beggar-thy-neighbor policy when it comes to luring Hollywood producers, it’s cheesy to be choosy.

This editorial originally ran in the Feb. 23, 2014 edition of the Santa Fe New Mexican. You can contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

New Mexico passes bill to crack down on horse racing cheaters

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Fri, 2014-02-21 11:52

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – After developing a reputation as a haven for cheaters, New Mexico is trying to clean up its act when it comes to horse racing.

In the just-completed 30-day legislative session, lawmakers in Santa Fe, lawmakers passed a bill aimed at cracking down on trainers and owners who dope their horses with performance-enhancing drugs.

“I say that horse racing is the sport of kings and we don’t want it to be the sport of cheaters,” said Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, of Senate Bill 116, which passed both chambers of the New Mexico legislature unanimously. Gov. Susana Martinez has indicated she will sign the bill into law in the within the next three weeks.

CLEANING UP THE SPORT OF KINGS: The New Mexico Legislature just passed a bill that will eject horse trainers and owners suspected of doping race horses from the state’s race tracks.

Under the bill, race track owners can eject anyone whose license has been suspended or revoked for drugging horses from the grounds of their facilities.

Furthermore, in cases where doping has been suspected, a hearing officer will be assigned within 90 days, with the final decision made by the New Mexico Racing Commission. Those accused can appeal by putting up a $500 fee but if they lose their case, they forfeit the $500.

“I think it makes all the sense in the world,” said Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, who sponsored her own bill that mirrored Papen’s. “We need to be a leader in the nation and not have everybody looking at New Mexico and saying, ‘If you want to cheat, go the Land of Enchantment.’ ”

Under the current system, those suspected of drugging their horses could remain at racetracks, as long as their cases were being appealed.

As a result, a backlog has developed. The longest-running case involves trainer Jose R. Gonzalez Jr., accused of injecting a horse with a drug that’s a byproduct of cocaine, which hasn’t been resolved for nearly five years.

Among some of the other drugs listed in the appeals is Clenbuterol — which increases oxygen into the lungs of a horse and was banned by the racing commission in 2012 – and Dermorphin – a painkiller considered 40 times more powerful than morphine that’s known around race tracks as “frog juice.”

The reasoning behind injecting horses with pain killers is that if the horse has a nagging injury, the drugs will numb it so that the horse will run through the pain. But by doing so, the horses are liable to worsen their injuries or even break down, which often leads to their being killed.

The just-passed bill is one of a number of efforts to clean up horse racing in New Mexico.

Last year, two state laws were passed to improve testing procedures and dramatically increase fines for those caught injecting their horses with illegal substances and the racing commission has passed a series of regulations to improve the safety of jockeys and horses at New Mexico’s five licensed tracks.

“Everybody should play by the rules,” Ezzell told New Mexico Watchdog. “It’s time cheaters understand we aren’t going to allow this to continue in the state of New Mexico.”

Here’s a list of appeals and reviews on file across the state, courtesy of KRQE-TV:

Racing Commission Appeals

  • Jose R. Gonzalez, Jr.: D-202-CV-2010-03580 (2009 race) – Benzoylecgonine and Cocaine
  • Joyce D. Salisbury: D-202-CV-2012-04935 (2011 race)- Lidocaine
  • Gerardo Cano: D-202-CV-2012-06639 (2011 race)- Contraband
  • Juan Torres: D-202-CV-2011-11866 (2011 race)- Clenbuterol
  • Cal E. Martin: D-202-CV-2012-05499 (2011 race)- Valerenic Acid
  • Homero Gutierrez: D-202-CV-2013-02117 (2011 race)- Clenbuterol
  • Freda McSwane: CV-10-145 (12th Judicial District) 2nd place challenge

Record on Reviews Filed

  • Fred Ike Danley: D-202-CV-2012-09669 (2012 race)- Clenbuterol
  • Abraham Jaquez: D-202-CV-2013-05590 (2012 race)- Clenbuterol D-202-CV-2013-06078 (2013 race)- Zipaterol
  • Roberto Sanchez: D-202-CV-2013-05251 (2012 race)- Clenbuterol
  • Alonso Orozco: D-202-CV-2013-10621 (2012 race)- Clenbuterol
  • Chris A. Hartman: D-202-CV-2012-05018 (2012 race)-Clenbuterol
  • Paul C. Jones : D-202-CV-2013-06237 (2011 race)- Zipaterol
  • Judy Bachicha : D-202-CV-2013-01487 (2012 race)- Phenylbutazone and Oxyphenylbutazone
  • Damian S. Onsurez : D-202-CV-2013-06781- 2013 Possession of syringe
  • Henry Dominguez : D-202-CV-2013-03118 (2013 race)-
  • Eduardo A. Gonzalez: D-202-CV-2013-03844 (2013 race)- Clenbuterol

Record on Reviews to be Filed in February 2014

  • Carlos Sedillo : D-202-CV-2012-09672 (2012 race)- Demorphin *Due Feb 17, 2014
  • Juan Gonzalez: D-202-CV-2013-02648 (2012 race)- Clenbuterol * Due Feb 17, 2014
  • John D. Martinez : D-202-CV-2013-02648 (2012 race)- Zipaterol & Zylazine *Due Feb 27, 2014

Cases in Court of Appeals

  • John Stinebaugh : D-202-CV-2012-01864 (2011 race)- Clenbuterol Court of Appeals No. 32,840
  • Chris A. Hartman: D-202-CV-2012-06186 Contraband (Ventipulmin) Appealed to Court of Appeals
  • Cal E. Martin: D-202-CV-2012-05499 (2011 race)- Valerenic Acid Appealed to Court of Appeals

And here’s a recent story the station aired:

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Last-minute SIC legislation could mean big bucks for NM taxpayers

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Thu, 2014-02-20 21:32

LITERALLY AT THE LAST MINUTE: A resolution that State Investment Council officials say could mean millions of dollars for taxpayers passed through the state Senate one minute before the noon deadline.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – A bill that salvaged a fix for the New Mexico Lottery Scholarship may have passed three minutes before the noon deadline at the end of the 30-day legislation session Thursday but it was not the final bill that made it through the process.

That distinction goes to a resolution that allows the State Investment Council to put more money into foreign accounts — something SIC officials say could lead to millions of more dollars going into the taxpayer-funded Land Grant Permanent Fund.

At precisely 11:59 a.m., the state Senate passed House Joint Resolution 16, on a 37-5 vote.

“It turns out to be a very big deal at the end of the day, literally in this case,” said one of the resolution’s sponsors, Sen. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque.

It will require a change in the state’s constitution for the resolution to go into effect. That means HJR16 will be on the ballot in November and voters across the state will have the final say on its adoption.

Currently, under a cap instituted back in 1970s, the state constitution restricts the SIC from investing more than 15 percent of the value in the Land Grant Permanent Fund into investments outside the United States. SIC officials say they know of no other permanent funds in country with such a restriction and say the cap ties its hands.

“The current law requires the Investment Council operate under a 20th century restriction in a 21st century global economy,” SIC communications director Charles Wollmann said in an email to New Mexico Watchdog.

The money earned on investments in the Land Grant Permanent Fund help pay for public education in the state and since the fund is worth more $13.1 billion, even small gains in performance can mean big returns to taxpayers.

“The investment council has estimated that we miss out on at least 1 percent of returns on the entire fund by not being able to invest in some of these (foreign) companies,” Keller said, “and that’s roughly worth about $100 million.”

“Bottom line, that will mean better returns and a big plus for New Mexico school kids and taxpayers,” Wollmann said, adding that the resolution has stop-gap measures in place that make sure that if the permanent fund dips below $10 billion, the distribution is suspended.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

More last-minute Roundhouse drama: A lottery scholarship fix gets passed

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Thu, 2014-02-20 17:32

WITH THREE MINUTES TO SPARE: Racing against a noon deadline, the New Mexico Legislature passed a last-minute bill aimed at fixing the financially ailing New Mexico Lottery Scholarship program on Thursday.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – Just another final day of the New Mexico legislative session.

Once again, Roundhouse legislators passed a crucial bill moments before the noon deadline struck.

Last year, it was a complex measure that included corporate tax reductions and film industry incentives. This time, it was a bill that intends to shore up the state’s lottery scholarship program.

“It was a foot race,” said Speaker of the House W. Ken Martinez, D-Grants.

Under the provisions of Senate Bill 347, scholarship rewards will be uniform for all eligible students (the original legislation would have given freshmen and sophomores 100 percent funding but would have given juniors and seniors less).

The bill also will be funded through excise taxes on liquor but the bill was amended so that the tax will come to an end after two years.

So if you’re a New Mexico college student who’s eligible — or the parent of one — the bill that passed Thursday means:

*scholarship money will be reduced from eight semesters to seven

*rewards require that students enroll for at least 12 credit hours at community colleges and 15 hours at four-year and research institutions

*keeps the minimum grade point average at 2.5, and

*and institutes a “legacy” provision so that incoming students this year still receive rewards that last for eight semesters

Backers of the bill say it represents a long-term fix for the program, which has been running at a deficit in recent years because revenue coming into the lottery — from people buying Lotto and Scratchers tickets, for example — has been flat while tuition costs at New Mexico’s schools of higher education have increased.

Gov. Susana Martinez indicated in a brief post-session news conference that she will sign the bill.

“It’s a solution that protects the core of the fund and is fair to all students,” Martinez said.

Now for the drama and political intrigue:

It appeared as if the final day of the 30-day session would be a rather uneventful one.

But at 10:30 a.m. — just 90 minutes from the noon deadline — SB347 was brought to the floor. A relative novice, second-year Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, introduced an amendment to the bill, which was originally sponsored by one of the most powerful members of the Roundhouse, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, who has taken a keen interest in the lottery scholarship since it was instituted in 1995.

Harper urged Democrats and Republicans to vote for the amended bill, even if it meant potentially going against Sanchez.

“I’ll say that by standing up here I’ll probably never get another vote out of the Senate,” Harper said. Harper later mentioned Sanchez by name and concluded by saying, “I implore you to vote for what is right. Or we can all worry about our individual bills because we’re worried we’re going to tick off the Senate floor leader. Put politics aside.”

A motion to table Harper’s amendment failed on 36-29 vote, with five Democrats joining Republicans. The amendment was then adopted on a 41-25 vote (with nine Democrats joining Republicans) and then the entire bill was passed, 66-1 with only Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, R-Kirtland, voting against. It was just before 11 a.m.

The bill moved over to the Senate, where Sanchez had promised a hearing on the bill and at 11:52 a.m. Sanchez brought it up. Despite his concerns with the legislation, Sanchez requested the Senate concur with the amended version of the bill.

Sens. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, and John Sapien, D-Corrales, said they would vote in favor of the bill but complained about Harper bringing up Sanchez’s name on the House floor.

“We shouldn’t make decisions because we want to punish someone or because we want to send a message,” Candelaria said.

“We have to be very careful about making this personal,” Sapien said.

The voice vote was taken and it passed unanimously. It was 11:57 a.m. and a lottery scholarship fix was done.

Talking to reporters afterwards, Sanchez said he was irritated by Harper’s remarks.

“If you want to send a message, representative, send it up to the governor,” said Sanchez, who has openly feuded with Gov. Martinez. “You don’t have to send a message to me. I’m pretty fair about everything I do on our floor. And I’ll continue to be fair regardless of what he says or not.”

House Minority Leader Rep. Don Bratton, R-Hobbs, said Harper mentioning Sanchez by name on the floor was “maybe a freshman mistake” but “I think what was said was said in a respectful manner.”

“I wanted to be completely honest,” Harper said. “I knew that most of my colleagues completely agreed with the amendment. They were scared for retribution. And, honestly, we’re here for our constituents and do what’s right for the state and I know if I never get another bill out of the Senate, I know I’ve done the right thing.”

Here’s New Mexico Watchdog video with the principals involved in the last-minute deal:

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Minimum wage resolution falls short in NM legislature UPDATE: Jeff says she DID speak to Biden

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Wed, 2014-02-19 20:48

COMING UP SHORT: A resolution that would have raised the minimum wage in New Mexico failed by three votes in the state House of Representatives.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – It took three hours of debate and even a phone call from Vice President Joe Biden to one Democratic member with an iffy record of voting with her colleagues but in the end, it wasn’t enough.

A resolution that called for changing the New Mexico constitution in order to take the minimum wage in the state to about $8.40 an hour and have it tied to cost of living adjustments met its legislative demise Wednesday when it didn’t get the required 36 votes in the House of Representatives.

The vote was 33-29 in favor but it needed 36 “yes” votes in the 70-member House to move forward.

Democrats placed a tactical bet at the start of the session by trying to raise the wage through constitutional amendment, which would have bypassed Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and gone to voters across the state on the November ballot if it passed both chambers of the Legislature.

Senate Joint Resolution 13 passed the Senate without much trouble but fell short in the House.

Rep. Sandra Jeff, D-Crownpoint, was even the target of a phone call by Vice President Biden, urging the maverick Democrat to vote for the resolution.

A White House official told Steve Terrell of the Santa Fe New Mexican that Biden spoke to Jeff but the representative told New Mexico Watchdog she did not speak to Biden.

“I would have loved to hear from him but I didn’t get his phone call,” Jeff said, because she said she was working on a gaming compact agreement with the Navajo Nation that failed in the Senate Wednesday. Jeff was absent for the minimum wage vote.

Update 10:32 p.m.: In a text message to New Mexico Watchdog, Jeff said did indeed speak to Biden on Wednesday. “I did receive a call from Vice President Joe Biden urging me to support the minimum wage increase/Constitutional amendment,” Jeff wrote, “but I did not wish to disclose that call out of respect for the Vice President. However, since the White House disclosed the call, I will confirm it. I explained to him that I support raising the minimum wage and I have voted do so in the past, but believe it should be done in a bill, not as a constitutional amendment. Gov. Martinez expressed a willingness to support a minimum wage increase compromise and I wish we would have taken advantage of that opportunity instead of letting partisan politics overtake the issue.”

The Obama administration has called for raising the national minimum wage to $10.10 and has made raising the wage on a state-by-state basis a political priority. The minimum wage in New Mexico is currently at $7.50 an hour.

New Mexico House Democrats also lost the vote of Rep. Dona Irwin, D-Deming, who sided with Republicans in voting “no.” Irwin said she supported raising the minimum wage but opposed doing it by constitutional amendment.

Even if Jeff and Irwin voted “yes,” it would have left Democrats one vote short.

But backers of the resolution had another regret to ponder.

That’s because Democrats lost two presumably reliable “yes” votes because Reps. Phillip Archuleta, D-Las Cruces, and Ernest Chavez, D-Albuquerque have missed the entire 30-day session with medical issues.

The debate on the House floor featured a parade of speakers from both sides of the aisle.

“Raising the minimum wage is about reducing income inequality,” resolution co-sponsor Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, said from the floor.

“We’re seeing a massive gap between people who make all the money and the folks at the other end,” said Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park.

Last year, Gov. Martinez said she was open to signing a bill that would raise the minimum wage in the state from the current rate of $7.50 an hour to $7.80 – matching the rate in the neighboring state of Arizona and exceeding the $7.25 rate in Texas and Utah — and vetoed a bill that would have raised the rate to $8.50 an hour.

“We could have a bill at $8 an hour (tied to the Consumer Price Index), heading to the governor and I suspect that most of my Republican colleagues would support it,” said Rep. Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque. “This is about politics, this is about increasing (Democratic) November turnout because we don’t have that bill before us.”

In the Senate, a bill introduced by Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, that called for raising the minimum wage to $8 an hour was defeated in committee.

A report from the Congressional Budget Office released Tuesday estimated that raising the minimum wage $10.10 nationally could lift 900,000 Americans out of poverty but would cost the country as much as 500,000 jobs.

“Do we want that to take that chance in New Mexico?” asked Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque. “I think it should go through statute and not by constitutional amendment.”

Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said putting the resolution before the constitution “is the best place to put it, by taking it out of the hands of politicians. Let the people decide.”

Update 8:23 p.m.: In an email to KOAT-TV, spokesman for the governor, Enrique Knell, said: “Gov. Martinez has been clear both last session and this session that she supports raising the minimum wage, as long as it keeps us competitive in the region and is sustainable for small businesses. Unfortunately, the Democrats today rejected a compromise to raise the minimum wage to $8 per hour, choosing instead to play politics by attempting to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot for the upcoming election. It’s understandable they are embarrassed that their tactic backfired today, but they have no one to blame for failing to raise the minimum wage but themselves.”

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Budget deal reached in NM legislature, heads to governor

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Wed, 2014-02-19 17:13

HEADING TO THE GOVERNOR: A $6.2 billion budget was passed by the New Mexico House of Representatives on Wednesday.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – After nearly a week of concern that a budget deal was in jeopardy, the New Mexico Legislature passed a compromise measure on the day before the 30-day legislative session ended.

On a 58-8 vote on Wednesday afternoon, the House of Representatives passed a budget about 16 hours after the state Senate unanimously passed a $6.2 billion set of appropriations that will now head to the desk of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

“There is something in this budget for everyone,” said Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe.

“This is what you call compromise,” said Rep. Sandra Jeff, D-Crownpoint, who last week voted against the original House version of the budget, which ended up getting blocked in a 34-34 tie and led to the compromise plan to come out of the Senate instead.

The budget bill sets aside $17.5 million in educational programs favored by Gov. Martinez. There is nearly $7.3 million for initiatives — such as merit pay for teachers — although there is question about the language in the bill that would allow local school districts to opt out of those programs.

Martinez has the right to line-item veto portions of the budget bill and has 20 days to review the legislation sent to her desk.

New Mexico Watchdog sent an email to the governor’s office for its reaction to Wednesday’s vote. As soon as we hear back from them, we’ll post their response. Update 6:01 p.m.: Enrique Knell, spokesman for Martinez, emailed New Mexico Watchdog: “The Governor has met regularly with legislators from both parties since the beginning of the session to discuss budget priorities and details and she appreciates the willingness of legislators to find middle ground and believes this budget represents a good compromise. This budget properly prioritizes the importance of investing in education reforms and key job creation efforts, as well as efforts to expand New Mexico’s healthcare workforce in rural areas. Of course, as noted yesterday, the Governor remains concerned about the overall spending growth in this budget and its adverse impact on the state’s reserves and will evaluate the budget line-by-line, as New Mexicans expect.”

All eight votes against the budget on Wednesday came from Republicans.

House Minority Leader Don Bratton, R-Hobbs, was concerned about the amount of spending in the bill and Rep. Jimmie Hall, R-Albuquerque, was worried there are “not adequate monies for emergency supplementals” to help rural school districts. Hall eventually voted yes, though.

While he voted in favor of the budget, Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, said he didn’t like trend showing a reduction in the percentage of the state’s cash reserves.

“We gotta get an overload permit because this truck is weighted down,” Larrañaga said. “I hope we’re more careful next year and in coming years.”

Under the budget passed Wednesday, state employees — including public school teachers — will receive a 3 percent in pay.

Among other features:

*$28 million for early childhood initiatives

*$11.5 million to shore up the ailing New Mexico Lottery Scholarship program

*$2.7 million for a tourism department marketing program

*$1.5 million for job training and recruitment

*$5.9 million for expanding nursing education, and $9 million for county Medicaid programs.

Overall funding for education increased 6.6 percent for public schools and 5.8 percent for higher education and leaves a reserve in the general fund of more than 8 percent.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

VIDEO: Tom Taylor calls it a career

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Wed, 2014-02-19 14:37

CALLING IT A CAREER: New Mexico state Rep. Tom Taylor, R-Farmington, announced his retirement from politics on Wednesday.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – In a move that surprised many in the Roundhouse, long-time Republican state Rep. Tom Taylor, R-Farmington, announced Wednesday that he’s retiring from political life.

“It’s been a great run,” Taylor told New Mexico Watchdog, adding, “I don’t anticipate running for office again.”

The 65-year-old has served constituents in northwest New Mexico for eight terms, spent six years as House minority leader and was mayor of Farmington from 1986 to 1998 before getting elected to the Roundhouse.

“It’s time,” Taylor said. “I’ve been in elected office for 32 years,” dating back to his time as a member of the Farmington city council. “I’ve put so much on hold for so long … The longer you’re in (office) the more and more time it takes.”

A real estate investor, Taylor says he’ll look after rental properties in Farmington and Denver as well as spend more time with his wife of 45 years, Bev, and four grown children and his five grandchildren.

What will he miss about the Roundhouse?

“I’ll miss the learning. You know, the finger on the pulse, knowing what’s going on. You get involved in so many different subjects down here.”

Known for his easy-going style, Taylor received warm regards from Democrats as well as Republicans during the Wednesday morning floor session. Speaker of the House W. Ken Martinez, D-Grants, said from the speaker’s chair that he considered Taylor ”a great friend” and Rep. Sandra Jeff, D-Crownpoint, said she appreciated that Taylor, whose district includes a large Native American population, spoke Navajo.

“In my career, I’ve learned a lot of things, some of them the hard way, and the main one is to always respect people for what they believe,” Taylor said. “Never, ever dislike someone for that reason and if you use that, you can get along with the most liberal liberals and the most conservative conservatives.”

Asked if he had a hand-picked successor, Taylor smiled and said, “No, I’m not a hand-picker.”

Here’s New Mexico Watchdog’s interview with Taylor:

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

A compromise budget deal heads to back to the NM House of Reps

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Tue, 2014-02-18 21:22

GOOD ENOUGH TO GO?: The New Mexico Senate unanimously passed a budget deal Tuesday night that now heads over the to House of Representatives.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – With just a day and a half left in the 30-day session, a compromise budget bill is heading back to the New Mexico House of Representatives.

On Tuesday evening, Senate Bill 313 passed the Senate floor on a 42-0 vote. The $6.2 billion budget legislation now moves over to the House of Representatives, where it will land in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee and be compared to the appropriations bills that stalled in the House a less than a week ago.

“I was surprised to get a 42-0 vote,” Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, the sponsor of the bill told New Mexico Watchdog. “That’s pretty overwhelming whether you talk about the (Republican) side or the (Democratic) side. Usually the law of averages on these things tells you you’ll lose six or seven.”

The deal is reported to include 3 percent pay raises across the board for state employees, including public school teachers.

The trick for the Legislature is to craft a bill that will avoid a veto from Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who wants to include money for education reform efforts.

The Martinez administration wants to make sure the Public Education Department has oversight (what’s called “below the line” funding) while Democrats want local school boards to have control (“above the line” funding).

The budget has “a pretty good head of steam,” Smith said. “It has some of what she wants and, of course, she has the right to line-item veto … I had meetings on the fourth floor (where the governor’s office is located) and they weren’t antagonistic. I take that as a good sign.”

“We’re still looking at things,” Martinez chief of staff Keith Gardner told New Mexico Watchdog before the Senate vote on Tuesday. The Martinez administration expressed concern over the weekend about overall spending dipping too deeply into the state’s cash reserves.

The Senate bill sets aside $17.5 million in educational programs pushed by Martinez — such as merit pay for teachers — but there’s been debate over about the language. Senate Democrats said Sunday that $7.3 million in funding for programs the governor wants have no dollar amounts specifically allocated.

“There’s some language there that is broad-based,” Smith said, “which opponents say can prevent (the reforms) and supporters can say it does allow.”

But will that lead to a collapse before the session ends at noon on Thursday?

“It is a $2.74 billion education budget and there’s more than $7.2 million to that category (education reforms backed by Martinez),” Smith said. “The question is, how much do we want to go to war over that?”

If a budget deal isn’t reached by the end of the session or if Martinez vetoes the entire package, the Legislature is looking at returning to the Roundhouse for a special session.

According to a news release from Senate Democrats, items in the budget include:

*$28 million for early childhood initiatives

*$11.5 million to shore up the ailing New Mexico Lottery Scholarship program

*$2.7 million for a tourism department marketing program

*$1.5 million for job training and recruitment

*$5.9 million for expanding nursing education, and $9 million for county Medicaid programs.

Overall funding for education increased 6.6 percent for public schools and 5.8 percent for higher education and leaves a reserve in the general fund of more than 8 percent.

Update 9:31 pm.: “I think we’ll get a bill out of here by Thursday at noon and we can all go home,” said Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales. “I think it’ll be something the governor can sign.”

Here’s Ingle on video, courtesy of the Senate Republican office:

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

VIDEO: Flynn confirmed as NM environmental secretary

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Tue, 2014-02-18 17:07

CONFIRMED: Despite opposition from some environmental groups, Ryan Flynn was confirmed by the state Senate as the secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department. Photo courtesy: Kirtland AFB

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – Praised by some as an even-handed administrator and criticized by others for his handling of environmental regulations, Ryan Flynn was confirmed as secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department Tuesday afternoon.

The vote on the Senate floor was 30-11, with Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, leading the opposition and confirmation sponsor Sen. Phil Griego, D-San Jose, leading the support.

“This (position) is the most heated debate, besides the Secretary of Education, in the state,” Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, who voted in favor of Flynn’s confirmation. “We’re not going to satisfy everyone.”

Some environmental groups wanted the Senate to turn down Flynn’s confirmation, complaining that the environment department has been too cozy with mining and business interests.

Specifically, there were complaints that Flynn OK’d a rule benefitting copper mines owned by Freeport-McMoRan that endangers ground water — something Flynn denied.

“Do I think (the rule is) protective of ground water? Absolutely,” Flynn said at his confirmation hearing Tuesday morning in the Senate Rules Committee. “This rule is the most protective in the entire country.”

Earlier in the hearing, Flynn said, “My job is not to protect business or help economic development … My job is to protect the environment.”

Candelaria accused the department of acting as a “revolving door between big mining business and regulators and a very fuzzy line when it comes to who is influencing the positions and regulations that are put forward by the state.”

Specifically, Candelaria said briefs submitted at a meeting of the Water Quality Control Commission had been “shadow-written” by the industry.

“We would absolutely never allow that to occur,” Flynn told reporters, “and I don’t think there’s any evidence that suggests that the environment department was not actively involved in the brief-writing … We represent the state and that’s our job so I think that’s unfair and it’s simply not accurate.”

The 35-year-old Flynn has served as acting secretary since last April, succeeding David Martin, who took over as secretary of the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

Earlier in the day, Flynn’s confirmation received a “do-pass” from the rules committee on a 7-3 vote.

Sens. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, Candelaria and Michael Sanchez, D-Belen voted against Flynn, with Sanchez complaining that the law firm that Flynn used to work for denied “someone an interview,” although Sanchez would say give specifics.

“Because of what happened at the law firm, that will affect my vote,” Sanchez said.

Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, voted for Flynn in the rules committee even though he said he’d received “about 500 messages” urging him to vote against Flynn.

“I think you made a blunder on the copper rule,” Ortiz y Pino said but added, “I don’t think we’d get from this governor a more promising candidate” than Flynn.

Here’s New Mexico Watchdog video of Candelaria and Flynn, after the Senate Rules Committee hearing:

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Resolution dipping into NM permanent fund for childhood programs gets tabled

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Mon, 2014-02-17 21:55

REBUFFING THE RESOLUTION: The Senate Finance Committee on Monday night tabled a resolution that called for dipping into the Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood programs in New Mexico.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – A resolution that would dip into the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood programs in New Mexico got its long-awaited hearing in the Senate Finance Committee on Monday night but was tabled in an 8-2 vote, with four Democrats on the committee siding with all the Republicans.

“Boy, am I in trouble when I get home,” state Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, said after casting one of the votes to “temporarily table without prejudice” Senate Joint Resolution 12.

The resolution is supported vociferously by liberals across the state as a way to improve education and health outcomes but criticized by fiscal conservatives as a threat to the financial well-being of the $13.1 billion permanent fund.

The resolution was estimated to take about $160 million from the fund.

In previous legislative sessions, Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, and the chairman of the committee, has not had the resolution heard in Senate Finance and said he did so to spare Democrats on the committee from attacks from the most strident supporters of the resolution.

But on Monday night, the resolution was heard and the debate was joined.

“We need to do something different,” the resolution’s sponsor, Sen. Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said. “I’m not afraid of failure … In 10 years from now, I can guarantee you if the good Lord still has me around that if we can enact this legislation, we will see a tremendous impact.”

“I want to fund (the resolution) in a responsible fashion … rather than throw money at it,” Smith said. “I respect you, senator, but we just have an honest disagreement. I think we’ll probably disagree when we’re both buried.”

The resolution called for making the changes by amending the New Mexico constitution. It would have had to pass the Senate and the House — bypassing Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who is opposed to it — and would have ultimately gone on the November ballot for voters to pass or reject it.

Technically, the resolution is not dead but with the 30-day legislative session ending on Thursday at noon and with a potentially daunting battle House of Representatives in the offing even if it passed the Senate floor, the measure seems done for this session.

“I’m in favor of early childhood (programs),” said Sen. Bill Burt, R-Alamogordo, “but I don’t think this the proper funding source for this.”

“I think the entire Senate needs to vote on this,” said Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, who joined Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, in voting against tabling the resolution.

Earlier in the committee hearing, an amendment from Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants – who does not sit on the finance committee –stalled on a 5-5 vote. The amendment called for additional triggers to protect the financial health of the permanent fund.

“I would have supported this if it had the amendment from Sen. Clemente Sanchez,” Muñoz said.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

VIDEO: Hanna Skandera remains education secretary-designate

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Mon, 2014-02-17 12:43

STILL THE SAME: Hanna Skandera appears before the Senate Rules Committee, which was unable to send a recommendation on her confirmation as secretary of education to the New Mexico Senate on Monday morning. Photo courtesy: KRQE-TV

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – After all the drama, all the scalding criticism from opponents and impassioned praise from supporters, Hanna Skandera‘s official title remains the same.

She’s still the secretary-designate of the New Mexico Public Education Department – neither confirmed nor rejected by the state Senate.

Instead, the Senate Rules Committee, where confirmation hearings are held, failed on Monday to give Skandera a “do-pass” recommendation as all six Democrats on the committee voted no and all four Republicans voted yes.

A subsequent “do not confirm” motion from Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, failed to be seconded by anyone on the committee and then, in a third and final option, a “do pass” with no recommendation deadlocked in a 5-5 tie with Sanchez joining Republicans in voting yes.

“We’ve exhausted our options,” rules committee chairwoman Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, said.

So, in sum, instead of having the full Senate vote up or down on Skandera’s confirmation, the process remains stuck in legislative limbo. Skandera will remain secretary-designate overseeing the day-to-day operations of PED and trying to implement Gov. Susana Martinez ‘s reform measures.

“I think I’ve demonstrated from start to finish that I’m dedicated to delivering for our kids and nothing has changed,” Skandera told reporters after the committee meeting.

Asked if not being confirmed may undermine her credibility in office, Skandera said, Not all,” adding, “I can focus on a vote today or focus on the commitment to this state and this governor and that’s what I’ll do. I’ve done it for three years and I’ll do it again.”

Skandera’s confirmation has been one of the hottest political topics in the state and in the legislature ever since she was appointed at the start of Martinez’s tenure as governor in January of 2011.

In the 2013 session, Lopez held hearings that brought Skandera before the rules committee three separate times but a confirmation vote was never held.

Teachers unions and many educators across the state have denounced Skandera on a number of fronts, including her backing of a statewide A-through-F grading system (that passed the 2011 legislature), holding back third-graders who cannot read at a minimal level (which has not passed) and implementing a teacher evaluation system by department order.

Detractors also point to the New Mexico Constitution that says the PED must be a “qualified, experienced educator.” Skandera has never been a classroom teacher.

Supporters say she meets the qualifications since Skandera worked as a senior policy adviser to U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and was a deputy commissioner for Florida’s Department of Education under then-Gov. Jeb Bush.

They also credit Skandera for making changes aimed at improving the state’s long history of lackluster results in public education.

“We have to make education work better in the state of New Mexico,” said Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, sitting next to Skandera as the sponsor of her confirmation at Monday’s hearing. “It’s worth it to try new things. That is the only way to know if it will work.”

“We need to move on,” Sanchez said during the hearing. “I agree with some of your initiatives but disagree with others, like the teacher evaluation system … I think it’s unfair to teachers.”

No other Democrats on the committee asked questions at Monday’s hearing — which lasted only about 20 minutes — but Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, said in a Twitter message after the hearing, “I will not endorse the political/ideological policies of this administration that put politcs over kids.”

After the hearing, Skandera said she never thought of stepping down.

“When I’m out on the national level, this, and the circus that it’s been, comes up,” the 40-year-old said. “I’d rather be talking about our kids and not a circus in our legislature.”

If Martinez is re-elected in November, a Skandera hearing may come up in next year’s session.

Here’s New Mexico Watchdog video of Skandera talking to reporters after the hearing:

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Possible budget deal heads to Senate floor

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Sun, 2014-02-16 20:41

LET’S MAKE A DEAL: A compromise budget has come out of the New Mexico Senate Finance Committee that could break an impasse in the legislature.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – A compromise bill that could dislodge the biggest issue facing the New Mexico Legislature in this 30-day session is on its way to the floor of the state Senate.

Now two big questions remains: 1) Can this most recent iteration of a $6.2 billion budget deal receive enough support from rank and file Democrats and Republicans to send the bill to Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, and 2) will the governor like the compromise bill enough to sign it?

Late Sunday afternoon, the Senate Finance Committee under the leadership of committee chairman Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, sent Senate Bill 313 to the Senate floor that allows for many of the educational reforms Martinez has insisted upon, although with some restrictions.

Martinez has called for $20 million in reforms — something Democrats in the House of Representatives balked at.

Under the Senate bill, $17.5 million in educational programs pushed by the governor are part of the package, including nearly $7.3 million for merit pay programs for teachers.

However,  under the Senate plan, local school districts can decide whether they want to take part in the program or not and talk over the details of the language could reduce the $7.3 million price tag.

The compromise bill passed through Senate Finance on a 9-0 vote.

“We’ve been trying to get something that all of us can live with. That’s the whole idea of compromise,” Sen. Steven Neville, R-Aztec, told Associated Press.

Now SB313 heads to the Senate floor, where it remains to be seen if it can receive a majority of the votes in the chamber, which has eight more Democrats than Republicans (25-17). A vote on the bill could happen Monday.

Should it pass the Senate, the bill is expected to move over to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, where it will be compared to the House budget bill that was blocked last week.

Officials in the governor’s office spent Sunday evening going over the details of SB313 and expressed initial concerns that the compromise bill may dip too deeply into state reserves.

“There is, of course, a long way left to go in the process,” Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell told AP.

There may be a long way to go in the process but there’s not much time to get there. The 30-day session ends at noon on Thursday.

If an agreement on a budget is not reached, a special legislative session will be in the offing.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Food stamp fraud bill passes NM House of Representatives

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Sat, 2014-02-15 18:05

GETTING TOUGH: A bill aimed at cracking down on food stamp and EBT fraud zoomed through the New Mexico House of Representatives Saturday.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – A bill that toughens penalties for those who try to trade food stamps and EBT cards for cash passed 65-0 in the New Mexico House of Representatives on Saturday and the bill’s sponsor thinks the chances are good that the measure can get through the Legislature before the 30-day legislative session ends Thursday.

“You have instances where people were continually committing fraud and we couldn’t really aggregate those into a felony,” said Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque of House Bill 229. “That’s what this bill will do.”

Across the country, there have been reports of people going on Craigslist and offering to sell food stamps, Women, Infants and Children (WIC) checks or electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards for cash.

Here in New Mexico, a gas station attendant in Albuquerque was caught on tape by KOB-TV trading $200 in food stamps for $100 in cash.

Last May, a couple from Farmington was arrested and charged with entering false transactions for food purchases using food stamps and then giving half the money they were reimbursed to the holder of the food stamps.

“It’s really easy to sell (food stamps and EBT cards),” Youngblood said. “People stand outside grocery stores and actually offer them for half their value. I hear from teachers that kids are coming to school hungry and that shouldn’t be the case in our state, especially with the amount of public assistance we have.”

HB229 would add gradations of severity, so that convictions for cashing in on more than $500 in assistance programs would amount to a fourth-degree felony; more than $2,500 would equal a third-degree felony and more than $20,000 would be a second-degree felony.

Youngblood’s bill sailed through two committees and the House floor without a dissenting vote. It now heads to the Senate.

“I’m hoping to get it fast-tracked through the Senate,” Youngblood said.

Here’s an excerpt of our New Mexico Watchdog interview with Youngblood:

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Republican state rep out sick

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Sat, 2014-02-15 15:36

OUT SICK: Rep. Dianne Hamilton, R-Silver City, has missed recent legislative hearings and floor sessions due to reported respiratory problems.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – Democrats in the New Mexico House of Representatives have been without two members throughout the 30-day legislative session due to medical issues. Now, Republicans are without one of their own as well.

Rep. Dianne Hamilton, R-Silver City, has missed most of this week’s proceedings with what House Minority Leader Don Bratton, R-Hobbs says is a respiratory condition.

“We’re monitoring her condition on a day-to-day basis,” Bratton told New Mexico Watchdog on Saturday morning. “The Speaker (of the House W. Ken Martinez) and I have always told our members to put family and health issues first.”

Bratton said Hamilton is on oxygen but has doctors are checking on her condition in Santa Fe. Rep. Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell, who shares an office with Hamilton, said the 80-year-old “had a little bit of cold” about two weeks ago and started feeling worse after receiving some antibiotics.

“She’s confident she can get back (to the session),” Espinoza said. “I don’t know by when though.” The legislative session wraps at noon Thursday.

Hamilton, who served in the House since 1999, was absent on Wednesday when Democrats were able to send a blocked budget bill back to committee over Republican objections by one vote.

Democrats have been short-handed by two throughout the current session. Rep. Phillip Archuleta, D-Las Cruces, has been out while recovering from a broken hip and femur and 77-year-old Rep. Ernest Chavez, D-Albuquerque, has not appeared at the Roundhouse while reportedly recovering from a recluse spider bite.

As the session enters its final days, missing representatives may have major implications as crucial votes are placed on the House floor.

Without Archuleta, Chavez and Hamilton, the party breakdown in the House goes from 37 Democrats and 33 Republicans to 35 Democrats and 32 Republicans.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Numbers game may kill minimum wage resolution

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Fri, 2014-02-14 21:20

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – One of New Mexico Democrats’ top legislative priorities — raising the minimum wage via constitutional amendment — cleared a major hurdle on Friday by passing through the state Senate.

But the measure may not make it through the House of Representatives.

DEMOCRATS MAY REALLY NEED THEM: The absence of state Reps. Phillip Archuleta (left) and Ernest Chavez may hurt the chances of passing legislation backed by Democrats as the session winds down.

That’s because Senate Joint Resolution 13, which would raise the minimum wage in New Mexico from $7.50 an hour to about $8.30 an hour plus cost of living adjustments each year, is not a bill but a resolution.

Since it’s a resolution, it calls for changing the state’s constitution.

The advantage for Democrats is, should a resolution pass the Senate and the House of Representatives, it bypasses Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who would almost certainly veto it, and would proceed to the November ballot when state voters would have the final say on the matter.

But while SJR13 had little problem passing through the Democratic-controlled Senate on a 24-18 vote Friday, the Democrats’ edge in the House of Representatives is decidedly slimmer.

Democrats came into the session with a 37-33 edge but Rep. Phillip Archuleta, D-Las Cruces, and Rep. Ernest Chavez, D-Albuquerque, have each missed the entire 30-day session due to medical issues.

That trims the Democrats’ advantage in the House to 35-33 and that means it would take just one Democrat to defect to the Republican side (provided all 33 Republicans vote as a block) to block the resolution.

And there’s another wrinkle:

As Steve Terrell of the Santa Fe New Mexican pointed out Friday, a technicality may trip up Democrats’ hopes.

“According to the state constitution, to get on the ballot, a proposed amendment must get a majority of elected members of both chambers,” Terrell wrote on his blog. “In the House, that would be 36 votes.”

In other words, even if all 35 of the Democrats currently attending the session voted in favor of passing the minimum wage resolution, it would not reach the constitutionally-mandated requirement of at least 36 votes — unless a Republican switched sides, which is unlikely.

And the same scenario could play out when and if the resolution calling for dipping into the Land Grant Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood programs should make it through the Senate and onto the House floor.

Earlier this week, there were rumors in the Roundhouse that Chavez or Archuleta might be wheeled in to take their seats but one House Democrat who preferred not to be named told New Mexico Watchdog that it came up in the Democrats’ caucus on Wednesday and members were told, “It’s not going to happen.”

But given the urgency that is building, we’ll keep scanning the House to see if Archuleta or Chavez show up between now and next Thursday, when the session ends.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Community college nepotism story discussed on ‘NM In Focus’

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Fri, 2014-02-14 15:30

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – New Mexico Watchdog‘s coverage of the recent decision by trustees at the Luna Community College to carve out an exemption for themselves when it comes to the school’s anti-nepotism policy was discussed on the public affairs program “New Mexico In Focus.”

In a web-extra segment, the panel hosted by moderator Gene Grant gave its take on the story posted on New Mexico Watchdog earlier this week. (Click here to read the story.) To give credit where it’s due, it should be pointed out that the story was broken by the good folks at the Las Vegas Optic newspaper.

The trustees say the policy of not hiring relatives was too restrictive.  “There are generations of families that have lived (in the area),” board chairman Abelino Montoya told New Mexico Watchdog. “Heck, we’re almost all related one way or another.

The panel consisted of Rob Nikolewski of New Mexico Watchdog, Julie Ann Grimm, editor of the Santa Fe Reporter; Laura Sanchez, CEO of the New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce and former state representative Dan Foley.

Here’s the segment:

“New Mexico In Focus” is broadcast throughout most of the state on Fridays at 7 p.m. on KNME-TV, Channel 5, the PBS affiliate in Albuquerque. It’s re-broadcast on Sundays at 7 a.m. on Channel 5.1, and Saturdays at 5 p.m. on Channel 9.1.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Obamacare numbers in NM slip 41.8 percent in January

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Fri, 2014-02-14 12:34

A ROUGH MONTH: Officials at the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange hope a marketing campaign can help boost enrollment numbers after a drop of 41.8 percent in January.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – Monthly enrollment figures for individual policies under the Affordable Care Act in New Mexico dropped 41.8 percent between Jan. 1 and Feb. 1.

Despite the fall-off, officials at the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange hope a series of marketing strategies can help the exchange reach its goal of signing up 50,000 New Mexicans by March 31.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department released its numbers through Feb. 1 for all 50 states.

After signing up 6,754 people in New Mexico to individual policies in December, the number for January dropped to 3,932.

“I think that’s the national trend,” Debra Hammer, chief communications officer for NMHIX, told New Mexico Watchdog, pointing to the fact that enrollees faced a Dec. 31 deadline to sign up for their policies to go into effect by the start of 2014.

The next important deadline is March 31, which marks the end of the open-enrollment period.

“The next two months will be really telling,” Hammer said.

Thus far, 11,620 New Mexicans have signed up for individual Obamacare policies. Originally, NMHIX officials hoped to sign up more than 80,000 by March 31. But after the botched online rollout, which frustrated millions of Americans, the New Mexico goal was adjusted down to 50,000.

To reach that goal, more than 38,000 New Mexicans would have to sign up in the next two months. Is that realistic?

“We’re going to do our best,” Mike Nuñez, the NHMIX interim CEO, said Friday. “Those are still our goals.”

Another goal — not only in New Mexico but across the country — is to lure people in the age 18-34 demographic to buy coverage. Without the “young invincibles,” the ACA won’t be financially viable in the long run.

In the past month, NMHIX has been running an advertising campaign aimed at young people. But the most recent figures from HHS show that, in New Mexico, most of the people signing up are older.

Some 59 percent of enrollees are 45 and older, which is six points higher than the national average; 37 percent of New Mexico sign-ups are between 55 and 64 — six points higher than reported for all states.

New Mexico’s numbers for enrollees between the ages of 18 and 34 improved slightly in the past month, from 18 percent to 20 percent.

“That’s the plus side,” Nuñez said. “This is a different population to reach, and we’re really targeting them now in a unique and novel way.”

NMHIX is running more television commercials featuring young people, and the exchange is taking its marketing campaign on the road. Earlier this week, Nuñez said, his organization launched a “three-city release” that included talking to students at community colleges in Albuquerque, Roswell and Las Cruces.

The exchange is also targeting people who fall between 138 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level through direct marketing and “tele-town halls,” Nuñez said as the March 31 open enrollment deadline approaches.

“Those are our two focuses,” Nuñez said.

“I think we’re going to see a last-minute push,” Hammer said. “I think a lot of people are unaware of (the March 31 deadline).”

Here’s the breakdown for New Mexico enrollment numbers for individual Obamacare plans:

And here’s one of the new TV commercials NMHIX is running to lure young people:

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

‘I don’t think I could get elected mayor today’ and other opinions from Sam Pick — without the ‘r’

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Thu, 2014-02-13 19:39

SAM THE MAN: Former Santa Fe Mayor Sam Pick spoke to a crowd of about 50 Tuesday night, saying his hometown needs to be more business-friendly. NM Watchdog photo.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – “We have bars that charge $9 a drink. It’s hard to get people drunk at $9 a drink.”

Sam Pick, the free-wheeling, shoot-from-the-lip former mayor of Santa Fe, had the crowd at the Rio Chama Steak House right where he wanted them Tuesday night.

Speaking before the Capitalist Forum, a civic group of free-marketeers, the 77-year-old was in vintage form, mixing political opinion and his pro-business ethos with old war stories.

He recalled a speaking engagement in the 1980s with former Mayor Joe Valdes, who was irritated when the event’s organizers spelled Valdes’ name with a “z.”

“Joe said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, I’m Joe Valdes — that’s Valdes without the ‘z,’ ” Pick recalled. “I followed him and stood up and started my remarks by saying, ‘I’m Sam Pick — that’s Pick without the ‘r.’ ”

However you spelled his name, Pick served two consecutive terms as mayor, from 1986 to 1994. Before that, he was appointed — not elected — as mayor from 1976 to 1978, succeeding Valdes.

“I was Santa Fe’s Gerald Ford,” Pick said.

Born and raised in Santa Fe, Pick loves his hometown — “how many places can you live in where you go skiing in the morning and play golf in the afternoon?” — but the former chairman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico thinks it should be more business-friendly.

“I’m a free enterprise guy,” Pick said.

“I think if you get people who have an opportunity to make a profit, they’re going to make something happen,” Pick told New Mexico Watchdog. “The government, if they fail all they’re going to do is cover their failure by increasing your taxes or reducing your services.”

Can a free-market guy get elected mayor in The City Different today?

“It would be more difficult than it used to be because the society is much more liberal than it used to be,” Pick said. “The way I envision government now is, rather than giving people opportunities, we’re giving them money. We’re not teaching them anything. We gotta teach them skills … I think Santa Fe is one of the more liberal communities. I don’t think I could ever get elected here again.”

Pick has his own bones to pick with city hall.

For one, he’s dead-set against a proposal for instituting a “strong mayor model,” which calls for making the mayor a full-time, paid position.

“I liken city government to a corporation,” Pick said. “The chairman of the board is the mayor. The board of directors is the city council. The chief operating officer is the city manager. The citizens are the stockholders … What happens if you get a full-time mayor is, he’s going to be getting in the city manager’s way … The day-to-day (operations of municipal government) is the job of the city manager. We shouldn’t lose sight of that.”

As for the three-way race for mayor featuring Javier Gonzales, Patty Bushee and Bill Dimas, Pick said he hasn’t made up his mind.

“Gonzales seems like a good man … but I’m worried about these PACs (who have supported Gonzales) … Politicians always say, ‘I have nothing to do these PACs, they’re doing it on their own.’ That’s bullshit.”

As for other topics, Pick offered these bon mots:

“Friendly outsiders are not welcome in this city.”

“We should be thankful for Los Alamos instead of giving it a lot of crap.”

“The plaza is a mess. It looks like a flea market … We gotta keep the bums out of there. Keep it safe. There should be a police presence — not a big one, but people should feel safe there.”

“Economic diversification is what everyone says these days but we are what we are … I don’t think we should think we should be bigger than we are.”

The city council “shouldn’t be trying to save the world … like these resolutions on the Iraq war and the Keystone pipeline. What does that have to do with city government?”

“The city spent $90,000 on guns (in a buy-back program last year). Why didn’t we take that $90,000 and spend it on art supplies and band equipment?”

On the Railyard project: “That’s a crappy development, as far as I’m concerned.”

“I’m old, I don’t care.”

And here’s an excerpt of Pick’s interview with New Mexico Watchdog:

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

NM House budget bill goes back to committee … is a special session coming?

Capital Report New Mexico Blog Postings - Wed, 2014-02-12 19:01

NOT SO SPECIAL: A stalled budget bill in the NM House of Representatives raises the possibility of a special session being called.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE – Two dreaded words are floating through the Roundhouse: Special session.

By a single vote, the state House of Representatives sent a series of budget bills on Wednesday back to the committee process as the 30-day legislative session approaches its final week.

“We’re out of time and we need to move the budget on to the Senate,” House Minority Leader Don Bratton, R-Hobbs, told New Mexico Watchdog. “Any delay creates the potential that we can’t get our work completed … and that would mean we have to spend additional tax dollars to bring (the budget bill) back in a special session.”

“I’m a little concerned to what extent can people negotiate and compromise because time is getting short,” said Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela, D-Santa Fe, before the House floor voted 34-33 to send the five budget and appropriations to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

“There was a feeling on our side (Democrats) that policy is best-suited in committee than on the floor,” Speaker of the House W. Ken Martinez, D-Grants, said.

Last Friday, the budget that’s supported by House Democrats was blocked in a 34-34 tie. The same may have happened on Wednesday but Republican state Rep. Dianne Hamilton of Silver City was absent.

A source who preferred to be unnamed told New Mexico Watchdog that Hamilton missed Wednesday’s floor session due to illness and that she is expected back Thursday.

If a budget agreement is not reached, Gov. Susana Martinez can call the entire Roundhouse back to a special session to try to hammer out an agreement.

Martinez’s office took a shot at House Democrats after Wednesday’s vote.

“We hope it is not the preference of certain members to spend additional time in a special session, but right now it appears that the extreme elements of one caucus are blocking consensus and bipartisan compromise,” Gov. Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said in an email.

The major point of contention centers primarily on education funding. Gov. Martinez and Republicans want roughly $20 million in education reforms supported by the Martinez administration.

Democrats are opposed, partly because many members are opposed to the measures and partly because they don’t like the fact that the funding will be coordinated by the Public Education Department (what’s called “below the line” spending) instead of local school districts (“above the line” spending).

“The sticking point on the other side is not the magnitude of the dollars but what the dollars will be used for,” Bratton said. “We’re talking about .00275 of the budget. To put it in terms people can understand, if we were talking about $6.10 for the budget, we’re talking about 1.7 cents.”

While the House budget goes back to the appropriations committee, there’s talk of the Senate working on its own budget bill that could head to the House.

But since the Senate has a 25-17 edge for Democrats, there’s doubt whether a potential Senate budget could avoid a veto from the governor.

“What is it that the governor won’t like?” Varela said. “It’s a power struggle. It’s always been … I’m willing to look at where (Republicans) want additional funding … To what extent can we negotiate? We’re still working on it. We don’t give up until the fat lady sings.”

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

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