When the prepared talking points don’t answer the question (VIDEO)

What happens when those in power, be they elected officials or a corporate CEOs, don’t have an answer for, or would prefer not to answer, a particular question posed to them by the media or the public?

Often the well-practiced ones will pivot and answer the question that they would prefer to answer — that is, the one for which they already have prepared talking points at the ready. In other words, simply ignore the question asked and answer an imaginary question instead.

A recent example of this technique was demonstrated the other day to listeners of Bob Clark’s morning show on 770AM KKOB radio.

Governor Susana Martinez was his guest. The question was about the impact of unlicensed drivers on traffic safety.

To hear what happened, here is one of New Mexico’s most perceptive commentators on media, comedian Sarah Kennedy:

Health insurance reform may benefit New Mexico economically

By Matthew Reichbach

The Medicaid expansion through the health care reform law will more than pay for itself in New Mexico according to analysts from New Mexico Voices for Children. Bill Jordan, Policy Director for New Mexico Voices for Children, and Kelly O’Donnell, an economist, gave a presentation to the Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy interim committee Friday in Albuquerque explaining how New Mexico’s tax structure lends itself to taking advantage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

The two were questioned by the committee on how the tax structure would help and whether or not the health care act would actually help lower income residents receive health insurance.

There are two main revenue streams from the federal government that New Mexico will benefit from according to Jordan. One is the money coming in directly from Medicaid. The other money is the money that would come in the form of tax breaks for health insurance for low-income individuals.

“Those are the two main streams of funds and ways that people will get insurance,” Jordan told Clearly New Mexico following the hearing. “Both of those, Medicaid and the private insurance that is bought on the health care exchange, are taxed already and will be taxed with a 4 percent health insurance premium tax. And that plus our gross receipts tax and other minor taxes, like personal income tax, will generate enough tax revenue that we’ll have more than enough money to pay for our share of the Medicaid expansion that’s coming.”

HSD, advocacy groups at odds over Medicaid’s future

The hearing comes after the state’s Human Services Department has said a redesign of Medicaid is necessary because it is unsustainable as it is currently run. Many more people will be eligible for Medicaid in 2014 because of the PPACA. The federal government will cover the vast majority of the costs for the first few years, though this phases out and New Mexico will be on the hook for ten percent of the costs of the new Medicaid enrollees when it is completely phased out.

This summer, HSD Cabinet Secretary Sedonie Squire rejected a call for a public Medicaid Redesign Task Force. The call came from advocacy organizations, including New Mexico Voices for Children, which were not happy about the secrecy of the Medicaid redesign.

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Tax Expenditure Budget: Does Governor’s executive order do the job?

By Matthew Reichbach

Senator Tim Keller

Clearly New Mexico spoke with Sen. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque, about tax expenditure budgets. A tax expenditure budget would review all of the tax breaks that the state gives to different portions of the population — which adds up to around a billion dollars annually. The annual state budget is $5.4 billion.

A bill in the 2011 session sponsored by Keller that would require a tax expenditure budget, or a review of all tax loopholes and carveouts, passed both chambers of the New Mexico Legislature without opposition this year. The bill was then vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez. A similar bill, sponsored by former state Rep. Brian Moore, R-Clayton, was vetoed by then-Gov. Bill Richardson in 2007.

Earlier this month, Martinez issued an executive order where she ordered a review of the tax expenditures.

Martinez said in a statement when ordering the review, “A thorough account of the state’s tax system will give us a better idea of what works, what doesn’t, and what we need to change in order to encourage greater job creation and economic growth through our tax structure.”

Keller, however, said in an interview with Clearly New Mexico that the bill that Martinez vetoed would have been preferable to Martinez’s approach for three reasons.

One is that Martinez’s executive order is not as comprehensive as the bill Keller would have passed, so Martinez can “pick and choose which [tax breaks] to investigate and report on.”

Another is that Keller’s bill would have had the Legislature and the Tax and Revenue Department work together on the tax expenditure budget. Martinez’s executive order will only have the Tax and Revenue Department, which is part of the executive branch, carry out the tax expenditure budget.

“And the third difference, which is probably the most important, is that it’s not a law,” Kellers aid. “So that at any given time she can decide not to do it and there is no accountability if she doesn’t do it.”

Keller also noted that it would not be binding to when a new governor enters office, which will happen in either 2015 or 2019.

“So we’re looking at this taking place for a couple of years then going away,” Keller said.

Keller said he would likely not introduce the bill again. However, he warned that if the report to look at all of the effects tax deductions, exemptions and credits is not sufficient, “a [veto] override is always a consideration.”

Veto overrides are uncommon in New Mexico, though the Senate voted to override a veto of Gov. Richardson’s in the 2010 session. The attempt failed in the House.

At the time, The New Mexico Independent reported, “According to the Legislative Council Service, the Senate’s override vote was the first time that body had ever voted to override Richardson on legislation. The House of Representatives did it once, in 2004.”

Two-thirds of both chambers must vote to override a veto for the override to become valid.

So what will Keller look for to see if the report is sufficient?

“It’s got to be as comprehensive as possible,” Keller said. “There are 109 of these different carveouts, or loopholes, so we want to look at all of them and not play favorites.”

Another key part of a successful report would be to track the benefits of each of the tax breaks, for example, jobs created or looking at which segment of the population that is helped.

Finally, he says the report should “recommend actions” and make judgments on whether the programs “are worth the taxpayers’ money.” For example, he believes the report should list whether the program deserves to have more money put in it, kept the same, reduced or even eliminated.

Keller believes it is important to find out which of these tax breaks are actually useful to the state. “Over time they, in aggregate, become a huge amount of money that the state doesn’t collect in taxes.”

Without such a report, it wouldn’t be clear the effects of these tax breaks on the economy and the state will not be able to see which tax breaks are valuable to the state’s economy.

For earlier Clearly NM coverage of the tax expenditure budget:

Gov. Can Still Sign Tax Expenditure Bill For Maximum Transparency and Taxpayer Accountability – April 8, 2011


Major Transparency and Accountability Measures Head to the Governor’s Desk
– March 18, 2011

Getting Corped: Their Legislature at Work – Feb. 16, 2011

Why Gov. Martinez Should Support a Tax Expenditure Budget – January 24, 2011

Time to track state tax expenditures - April 21, 2009

 

Legislature brings redistricting committee road show to Rio Rancho

By Matthew Reichbach

The redistricting committee hearing took its roadshow to Rio Rancho and V. Sue Cleveland High School where about 75 members of the public gathered to hear about the redistricting proposals the state legislature will likely turn to whenit gathers for a special session on September 6.

Research & Polling Inc. president Brian Sanderoff gave another in his series of presentations on the redistricting process, outlining the basics of redistricting. Sanderoff focused on how it will affect Sandoval County specifically. This comes a day after the committee met in Albuquerque.

Much of what Sanderoff had to say echoed his first presentation in June, including the principles that the legislators must follow while drawing the new districts.

Sanderoff also presented concept maps for state House, state Senate, congressional and Public Regulations Commission districts, focusing on Rio Rancho, Corrales and Bernalillo as well as parts of the westside of Albuquerque including Taylor Ranch and Paradise Hills.

A theme among local dignitaries from Rio Rancho and Bill Sapien, who was representing Bernalillo, was that they all wanted to keep their communities intact in one district.

Sapien asked that Bernalillo be treated as a “whole community, not as a separate precinct used to balance off the numbers.”

Former legislator and current Rio Rancho mayor Tom Swisstack also requested that Rio Rancho, which had a 69.1 percent increase in population, be kept in one district.

Sanderoff said that Rio Rancho, due to its rapid growth over the past decade, will have a large impact on the redistricting process this year. He noted that Rio Rancho, one of the youngest communities in the state, in the past decade now has more population than Santa Fe, one of the oldest communities in the state, and now only follows Las Cruces and Albuquerque in size.

Because of the rapid growth in Rio Rancho and the westside of Albuquerque, these areas will gain seats. But this comes at a cost to other parts of the state, as the state constitution says that the state House is capped at 70 seats and the Senate at 42 seats.

Sanderoff said that every time a new seat is put in a community it, “a seat somewhere else in the state must disappear. And that’s where the legislature has such a difficult time.”

Currently, of the four state Senators who represent parts of Rio Rancho, none currently reside in Rio Rancho. And only one of the four districts, the 9th, is made up of a majority of Rio Rancho residents.

In congressional redistricting, Sandoval County will play a large role, Sanderoff said. This is because of the growth in Rio Rancho and its proximity to Albuquerque and the 1st Congressional District.

If Rio Rancho remains in the 3rd Congressional District, it could become “the big player” in the northern New Mexico district. However, if it and Albuquerque are put in an “urban “ district, Rio Rancho would “not be as big a player,” Sanderoff said.

Governor Susana Martinez indicated that she will call for the decennial redistricting special session beginning on September 6. In addition to the contentious issue of redistricting, Martinez will put the controversial issue of repealing drivers licenses for illegal immigrants on the special session call.

New Study: Food hardship afflicts more than one in four NM households with children

By Matthew Reichbach

Nearly thirty percent of New Mexico households with children said there was a time over the last year where they could not afford food according to a report (pdf) by the Food Research and Action Center, or FRAC.

The study found that the 28.3 percent of households with children in New Mexico experienced food hardship. This ranked 12th out of 50 states and Washington D.C. from 2009-2010.

The food hardship rate was 28.2 percent for household with children in the Albuquerque Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Both numbers far outstripped the amount of households without children who said at some point from between 2009 and 2010 that they could not afford to feed their households.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty used the report as a reason to criticize the New Mexico Human Services Department for cuts to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs.

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty wrote in a statement:

[The Human Services Department] has made a series of cuts to programs for low-income children and their families. HSD said the cuts were necessary because it did not have enough money. However, HSD recently admitted to the Legislative Finance Committee that it did not spend $10 million in funds it had available to pay for these programs in FY2011. Usually children participating in the TANF program receive $100 in August for school clothing. This year, when families are struggling more than ever to make ends meet, they are receiving half that amount. Over 30,000 children will be affected by the cut despite the fact that HSD has the $1.5 million needed to provide this help.

“The new data reaffirm what we’re seeing in our communities – that far too many people continue to struggle with hunger in these challenging economic times,” said Patricia Anders, a staff attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “It demonstrates, as if any further evidence were needed, that this is not the time to make our safety net weaker.”

In May, New Mexico was one of four states and the District of Columbia that cut TANF funds according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

At the time, the CBPP said, “New Mexico cut TANF benefits by 15 percent effective January 1, 2011, reducing benefits for a family of three by $67 a month, from $447 to $380.”

“The food hardship rate in New Mexico for households with children is far too high, demonstrating a significant need for increasing family access to federal food assistance services,” said Meghann Dallin, manager of the New Mexico No Kid Hungry Campaign, a project of the New Mexico Collaboration to End Hunger, in a statement released today.

Washington D.C. had the highest rate of food hardship among households with children at 37.4 percent. North Dakota had the lowest percentage of food hardship among households with children at 15.3 percent.

New Mexico’s rate is not atypical among states in the region. Arizona came in at 29 percent, Texas at 27.9 percent, Oklahoma at 27.6 percent, Colorado at 23.4 percent and Utah at 23 percent.

Breaking down the food hardship numbers for households with children by congressional district shows the 1st CD scored the worst with 27.2 percent, followed by the 2nd CD at 25.5 percent. The 3rd Congressional District has the lowest rate at 24.6 percent. None rank among the top 100 in the national, though all are in the top half.

The report found that six of the 45 congressional districts with the worst rates were in Texas, two in Arizona and one in Okahoma.

ABQ rally calls for jobs, not cuts

By Matthew Reichbach

A rally of about 150 people in downtown Albuquerque called for the federal government to stop cutting services and instead focus on jobs. The rally, one of hundreds across the nation organized by the progressive organization MoveOn.Org, was given a shot in the arm by the recent debate in Congress over spending.

The event was a kickoff of sorts according to Greg Sandoval, a regional organizer for MoveOn.org and one of the organizers of the rally. A number of progressive organizations unveiled the “Contract for the American Dream” this week. The contract is “ten critical steps to get our economy back on track,” which includes investing in America’s infrastructure, ending the wars in the Middle East and securing social security.

Sandoval said the number one thing that people at the rally wanted was to work.

“They want a strong America,” Sandoval said in an interview with Clearly New Mexico. “They don’t want to be collecting unemployment. They don’t want to be on welfare. People want to work.”

While many speakers focused on what they believed Congress and President Barack Obama should do, State Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, gave an example of something he thinks should be done during the upcoming special session.

Ortiz y Pino says that the legislature should pass the severance tax bond issue but only include projects that would create New Mexican jobs.

“We should only be spending that money this year on things that put New Mexicans to work,” Ortiz y Pino told the crowd. “They want to work. They’ve got a lot of energy, a lot of talent, we’ve got to get them back to work.”

Ortiz y Pino gave an example of “software programs put together by a consulting company in another state” as an example of something that the legislature would take out of the severance tax bond issue.

“It’s a small step, but when we start taking enough small steps, we’re actually going to turn this thing around and make the American dream realizable once again,” Ortiz y Pino said.

State Senator Eric Griego, D-Albuquerque, spoke to the crowd and invoked former president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or FDR, who presided over the United States emergence from the Great Depression.

“What FDR said, and he said it in pretty clear terms, was we cannot turn our government over to corporations,” Griego said to cheers from the crowd.

Griego also said that government has a role in rebuilding the economy.

“When times are tough, you don’t turn government away from people,” Griego declared. “You turn government and public servants towards people. You put them to work by rebuilding the economy. By rebuilding our roads and our schools and our bridges and our green infrastructure.”

Homemade signs at rally echoed the statements of many of the speakers.

One, held by a charter school teacher fresh off of his first day of classes, said that the government should be funding “schools, health care, jobs — not the war machine!”

Cycles of Life: Youth Turn Their Homemade Bikes into Healing Ride Across New Mexico

By Anthony Fleg, Native Health Initiative

Albuquerque, NM – The youth took a collective deep breath, and as Arlyn John began to sing a traditional traveling song, the cars and other noises of the city seemed to fade away.

For many, the journey they were about to begin, biking from Zuni Pueblo to Taos Pueblo, is the biggest trip of their lives. The Cycles of Life program chose this route for their healing ride, using the same route that Coronado’s army took centuries ago when the goal was the destruction of Indigenous communities.

“I am excited and also nervous because I have never biked this far,” admits Franchesca Sisneros (Dine’/Hispanic), a high school student at the Native American Community Academy (NACA) who, along with her fellow youth taking part in the Cycles of Life program, built her bike that she will now use to ride across the state. “I am thankful to have this opportunity because I know that a lot of youth do not have chances to do something like this.”

Arlyn (Dine’ –  Zuni clan, born for Tangle Water),  a teacher of personal wellness at the Native American Community Academy (NACA),  who also coordinates the NACA Conservation Corps (CC) summer program similarly breathed a sigh of. Weeks earlier he was looking for a program for his CC students, and came across the Cycles of Life Program. “It seemed like a great fit, a way to connect taking care of yourself and taking care of our Earth,” he recalls.

We are learning first-hand the power of critical thinking linked with action through, taking an indigenous perspective on health and education,” says Jake Foreman, the program’s creator. “We are creating a space that supports, encourages, and strengthens youth to realize their innate potential as compassionate leaders for our Mother Earth through service, exercise and exploration of our local community.” In addition to learning bicycle maintenance and working to build bikes that are “funky and fresh” the youth have learned how to make traditional-style waffle gardens, did an energy audit on a local building, and learned more about green energy initiatives in our region.

The inspiration for creating a summer program for indigenous youth that connects bicycling, gardening and art came from my personal understanding of the interconnectedness and impermanence of everything on our planet. A profound lesson of impermanence came when my father passed away last spring.

Cycles f Life ran off ‘loving service’ and lots of committed partners, says Jake. Entities involved in the Cycles of Life Program include community members in the Zuni, Laguna NACA and the NACA Conservation Corps, NM Game and Fish, the Sierra Club, UNM CLPS Program, Molina Healthcare, the Native Health Initiative, and Instituto Sostener.

Interim Watch: Uranium Industry Makes Big Pitch to Resume NM Mining Operations

By Charlotte Chinana

As state officials look for ways to stimulate New Mexico’s economy and create more jobs, supporters of efforts to restart uranium mining operations in the state were handed a stage to make their pitch to legislators at this week’s meeting of the Economic and Rural Development Interim Committee in Grants.

And according to a panel devoted to the subject, prospects for the industry couldn’t be rosier as their key following talking points did attest:

  • New Mexico’s uranium reserves are among the richest in the nation – 2nd only to Wyoming;
  • The nuclear energy industry’s safety record is the “Best of any industry in the history of the world;” and
  • “The future is fairly optimistic for uranium (mining) in New Mexico”

New Mexico’s uranium rich reserves

According to the industry speakers, New Mexico has one of the richest uranium deposits in the United States, which “creates a lucrative opportunity to resume mining operations,” projected to “create thousands of jobs.”

“The world demand for uranium would double if the proposed nuclear reactors are built,” said Barbara Brazil, Deputy Secretary of the state’s Economic Development Department. According to estimates from the International Atomic Energy Agency, there are currently 440 operational reactors in the world – 104 of which are located across the United States.

“The U.S. consumes 20% of the world’s energy,” added John Bemis, Secretary-designee of the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department. “This is the world as we know it today…everybody needs to remember that we need uranium to fuel those nuclear plants.”

Not addressed in any detail were a couple of none too rosy “economic opportunity caveats”:

  • Industry estimates that the state’s uranium reserves will be worth approximately $31 billion dollars are based on economic assumptions that the price per pound of uranium would hold steady at $90 to $100 per pound over a 30 year period. However, a more likely scenario is that the price will fluctuate.  The laws of supply and demand can be a pesky critters. For example, in 2000 the price per pound of uranium was $6 – and as of July 25 of this year, the uranium price per pound was $51.50.
  • Metal mining in the state doesn’t have the best track record in terms of economic stability. According to a 2008 report prepared for the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, the state has been through many copper mining boom and bust cycles, as well as one previous uranium boom and bust cycle (circa 1948 – early 1980s).

Also, another hardly insignificant issue touched on with regard to NM’s uranium reserves was the potential jurisdictional issues that can arise. Some of “the state’s” uranium deposits are located on Indigenous lands.

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New Mexico’s Empty Unemployment Rate Drop

By Matthew Reichbach

Despite headlines that the unemployment rate in New Mexico dropped to 6.8 percent in June, digging into the numbers shows the jobs situation in New Mexico remains dire.

The Santa Fe New Mexican noted that New Mexico ranked 50th in job growth. That’s dead last in the nation. Winthrop Quigley of the Albuquerque Journal said the numbers on jobs “are conflicting” and that “at least some employment data show New Mexico mired in a recession.” And the Santa Fe Reporter wrote that the numbers “don’t add up.”

Why?

Gerry Bradley, an economist and research director for New Mexico Voices for Children, told Clearly New Mexico that the unemployment rate largely reported in the media is “irrelevant” and that “no economist takes the unemployment rate as a good indicator of where the economy is going.”

Instead, Bradley suggests looking at the numbers from the Current Employment Statistics, or CES.

“The CES is a fairly large survey of employers in the state,” Bradley suggested in a phone interview with Clearly New Mexico. “At the same time that the Bureau of Labor Statistics is running this one program to get the unemployment rate, they’re running another survey that gives you employment data.”

Looking at this data paints a different picture from the unemployment rate that the media concentrates on.

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