Major Transparency and Accountability Measures Head to the Governor’s Desk

By Tracy Dingmann

Three bills aimed at ensuring more transparency and accountability for the people of New Mexico have been approved by the New Mexico State Legislature and are headed for the Governor’s desk.

Senate Bill 47, sponsored by Senator Tim Keller (D-Albuquerque) and House Bill 161, sponsored by Representative Eleanor Chavez (D-Albuquerque), call for the state to establish a tax expenditure budget.  This innovative budget mechanism is a transparency tool that would allow the state to present a full and accurate accounting of the vast array of tax breaks and giveaways contained in the tax code, including those that have generated so much controversy, such as  for the  oil and gas, mining and film industries.

Moreover, it will give policymakers and the public a rational basis upon which to determine the fiscal and economic impacts of these tax expenditures.  Which ones are beneficial to New Mexico, and which ones are not? Which ones should be scaled back or even discarded?

“With passage of SB47 we’ll be able to measure the costs and benefits of these tax breaks,” Keller said.  “Some of these tax expenditures play an important economic development role and some support vulnerable segments of the population. The challenge is right now we don’t know which ones are beneficial to our state and which ones aren’t needed.”

This could benefit all New Mexicans by freeing up money for necessary services for all, including healthcare, education and public safety.

Senator Keller estimates that the state maintains approximately 107 carve-outs that make up a whopping  $1 billion in uncollected annual taxes each year.

Another bill headed to the Governor now is Senate Bill 208, which calls for the state to establish a much stronger process for reviewing insurance rate increases. The bill, sponsored by Senator Dede Feldman (D-Albuquerque), gives consumers fair and more transparent ways to hold insurance companies accountable.

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Kochtopus Bill Has Its Tentacles In The New Mexico Legislature

By Tracy Dingmann

Error-ridden language from a bill crafted by the billionaire Koch Brothers and served up as a template for a number of states has surfaced in the New Mexico Legislature.

Language for the legislation, which would have states pull out of regional climate accords they’ve formed to reduce the effects of climate change, was created by the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and circulated to conservative lawmakers in a number of states.

ALEC is a powerful lobbying group that is financed by large corporations, including ExxonMobil and a number of oil and gas companies who strenuously oppose taking any action against climate change.

In New Mexico, the ALEC measure is House Joint Memorial 24 and is being carried by freshman Representative Tim Lewis (R- Rio Rancho).

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Night of the Living Budget: Senate Passes HB2

By Claus Whiteacre

In the early hours of Wednesday morning with the legislative session heading into its final three days, the Senate passed its amended version of the General Appropriation Act of 2011, AKA House Bill 2. The state budget.

Uncharacteristically, introduction of the bill, amendments, and final vote took less then 30 minutes. The final vote was 27-14.

Going into this session, the legislature faced the task the task of closing a looming budget gap of about $250 million, due in part to a loss of federal stimulus funds. From the outset, the leadership opted for an approach that concentrated solely on the spending side — taking the revenue part of the equation off the table completely.

Sen. John Arthur Smith (D-Deming), Finance Committee Chair, proudly announced that the resulting legislation produced a balanced budget without layoffs, furloughs, or across-the-board cuts. Under the proposal, overall state spending will decrease by about 2.7 percent.

Not all senators agreed on this one-sided attempt to balance the budget – especially in the wake of almost a billion dollars in expenditure cuts already on the books. Three Democrats offered amendments. While acknowledging the gargantuan task of coming up with a balanced budget in tough economic times, they maintained that the discussion had neglected a more balanced approach.

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(UPDATED) Bills Threatening Cultural Properties to be Heard

By Tracy Dingmann

Here’s a legislative alert from our friends at Conservation Voters New Mexico!

SB421, a bill that would strip local communities of the right to protect significant cultural properties, is scheduled to be heard today (March 4) in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which convenes at 2:30 or whenever the Senate floor session ends.  The bill is sponsored by Sen. Rod Adair, (R-Roswell).

A companion bill, HB422, will be heard in the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Monday at 8:30 a.m. That bill is sponsored by Rep. Richard Vigil (D-Ribera.)

The bills are important because they would drastically reduce the power of local communities and residents to protect significant cultural properties by forcing them to register them with the State.

If passed, either of these bills would undercut the work of the Cultural Properties Review Committee and be a significant change from established process for nomination of future sites to the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties.

The bills would require that nominations to the New Mexico State Register of Cultural Properties include written notice of support from the majority of property owners, including those holding subsurface mineral interests.

This standard of owner support exceeds that required for nominating properties to the National Register of Historic Places – and would put extractive companies in the firmly in the driver’s seat.

If you care about this, contact Adair by clicking here or Vigil by clicking here and here.

UPDATE: The Senate bill has been tabled; but the companion bill lives on in the House.  Read more here at Democracy for New Mexico.


Only Yesterday: Jeff Bingaman vs. Harrison Schmitt 1982

by John Daniel

Back in the day: Senator Jeff Bingaman

Today’s retirement announcement by five-term Senator Jeff Bingaman recalls to mind the election back in 1982 that launched his remarkable career. That was the year Bingaman challenged a sitting Senator, a one-term incumbent whose name just recently popped back into the news —  Harrison Schmitt.  (link link link)

Bingaman’s 1982 campaign was particularly noteworthy in that it really represented the emergence of the state’s environmental community as a major player in New Mexico politics.

After winning a tough primary against former Governor Jerry Apodaca, Bingaman went into the general election as the underdog, trailing Schmitt in the polls until catching him in the final days. The pivotal event in that race were negative TV ads aired by Schmitt that backfired.

Here’s is how Time magazine described that race:

NEW MEXICO. Harrison Schmitt, 47, first rocketed to fame in 1972 when he landed on the moon as an Apollo astronaut. That feat helped propel him into the U.S. Senate in 1976. But in a state with an unemployment rate hovering around 10%, Reagan’s economic programs hurt Schmitt badly. State Attorney General Jeff Bingaman, 39, constantly linked Schmitt to the White House and called attention to his lackluster six years of service. But Schmitt may have largely engineered his own defeat. The Senator attacked his opponent with a pair of ads blasting Bingaman’s record as attorney general, a post he has held since 1978. One spot attacked Bingaman’s handling of a 1980 prison riot inquiry, while the other accused him of requesting a pardon for a prisoner who had once been on the FBI’s most-wanted list. Both commercials turned out to be based on inaccurate information. So incensed was Santa Fe Archbishop Robert Sanchez that he publicly denounced the prison inquiry ad, an invaluable boost for Bingaman in a state that is one-third Hispanic and largely Catholic. At the polls, Bingaman brought Schmitt back to earth, 54% to 46%.

And that’s the way it was, 29 years ago.

That Was the Week That Was: NM Leg Wk#3

The editor apologizes to Claus and our readers for posting this a day late.  Nonetheless, in the interests of preserving the historical record of this riveting legislative session, here it is.

by Claus Whiteacre

In week three of the New Mexico Legislature, legislative committees got very busy and Gov. Susana Martinez issued another yet another executive order right in tune with the themes from her election campaign.

In the wake of the Super Bowl, a football analogy seems appropriate. By repeatedly running the executive order route, the Governor appears to be attempting end runs around the legislative branch of government – as well as the law. And on three of these plays, she has run afoul of those black-robed refs in the third branch of government — the New Mexico Supreme Court.

The Walkout

On Monday before either chamber had convened, the Republican members of the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee walked out in the middle of a meeting. The revolt was led by Rep. Don Bratton (R-Hobbs).

While it is common for individual members of committees to talk to the press after a hearing, the fact that all of Republican committee members joined together after the walkout to craft a collective statement to the press brings up some questions.

The united statement spun the walkout as being unplanned and said the Republicans were just trying to represent the “people” in what they considered an unfair hearing.  However, it is worth noting that joining the walkout were a significant number of industry lobbyists. Presumably, this was done to remind us all that corporations are people too — albeit artificial ones.

It remains to be seen whether we will see more “unplanned” walkouts in the days ahead.

The Executive Order on Immigration

Later in the week, Gov. Martinez issued an executive order mandating that state police officers question criminal suspects about their immigration status. The executive order revoked a policy put in place by former Gov. Bill Richardson in 2005.

On Thursday morning, more than a dozen Democratic senators and representatives called a noon press conference in the Rotunda to denounce Gov. Martinez’s executive order.

“There are two things to take away from this: We are not Arizona and it is important that no one in this state will fear approaching a police officer,” said Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque).

In what turned into a duel of competing press conferences, Martinez scheduled one of her own at 12:30 PM to talk about the gas outages throughout the state.

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Leap to Extremes: New Mexico Tea Party goes by the book

by John Daniel

W. Cleon Skousen - The man who changed Glenn Beck's life

When it comes to the New Mexico’s Tea Parties, attention must be paid.

After all, many Roundhouse observers are crediting the Tea Parties (or blaming them, depending on one’s point of view) for derailing a bipartisan power-sharing arrangement in the state House of Representatives that would have unseated Speaker Ben Lujan and given conservatives considerably more power in the bargain.

According to those who spoke for the Tea Party’s position, their objection to the deal was one of high principle. Departing from their previous nonpartisan stance, they found it totally unacceptable for any Republican lawmaker to vote for a Democrat for Speaker – in this case, Representative Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces.

The Tea Parties are all about principle – so they say. They claim to be advocating a return to the nation’s founding principles contained in the U.S. Constitution – principles that have been discarded. And how do they read the Constitution?

For some answers, consider this invitation contained in a January 5, 2011 email blast from one of the New Mexico’s major TP groups, the East Mountain Tea Party based in Bernalillo County:

by W. Cleon Skousen

Constituion (sic) Class: $15

Sign up for our seven week course on the Constituion (sic), starting on February 5th, 2011. Discover the 28 fundamental beliefs of the Founding Fathers which they said must be understood and perpetuated by every people who desired peace, prosperity, and freedom. These beliefs have made possible more progress in 200 years than was made previously in over 5,000 years. Thus the title “The 5,000 Year Leap”.

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New Mexico Supreme Court: Governor Cannot Trump Law

Governor Susana Martinez’s attempt to do an end run around the New Mexico State Constitution was blocked by the Supreme Court today.

Here’s the press release from New Energy Economy (NEE), the organization that filed the lawsuit against the Governor:

New Mexico Supreme Court: Governor Cannot Trump Law

Decision Favors Pollution Reduction Policy to Strengthen Economy

Santa Fe – In a stunning blow to the inexperienced administration of GOP Governor Susana Martinez, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Governor Martinez violated the state Constitution when she prevented a rule reducing carbon pollution from being published as codified state law. The lawsuit was filed by nonprofit New Energy Economy and reflects growing claims that Governor Martinez arbitrarily and illegally sought to suppress the rule in an attempt to appease major carbon polluters who contributed heavily to her gubernatorial campaign.

‘We are prepared to continue fighting, and winning, against all challenges to New Mexico’s carbon pollution reduction rule. The scientific and economic facts are clearly on our side,’ stated a triumphant Mariel Nanasi, Executive Director of New Energy Economy. ‘We are pleased with the Supreme Court’s ruling today and will redouble our efforts to transform this culture of litigation into a culture of investment in creating family-supporting jobs for New Mexicans and an enduring legacy for future generations.’

New Energy Economy led a two-year public deliberation process that resulted in the carbon pollution reduction rule being adopted as official state law by the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board. The rule requires facilities that emit more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon pollution per year to reduce these emissions by 3 percent per year from 2010 levels starting in 2013. The rule enables effective and economically efficient carbon pollution reduction that will spur job creation, investment and innovation across New Mexico’s economy, particularly the energy sector. The rule will increase jobs and revenue among oil and gas producers as well as boost momentum in the state’s emerging energy efficiency and renewable energy industries.

‘Governor Martinez attempted an end run around the Constitution at the request of major polluters,’ stated Bruce Frederick, staff attorney from the New Mexico Environmental Law Center who filed the lawsuit on behalf of New Energy Economy. ‘Her attempt to prevent the carbon pollution rule from becoming a valid state law is highly illegal and cannot be tolerated in a democratic society.’

New Mexico’s carbon pollution reduction rule and related documents available at: www.newenergyeconomy.org

Our Thoughts Are With The Victims

Representative Gabrielle Giffords

Here at Clearly New Mexico, we are still in a state of shock over the horrific shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others in Tucson on Saturday.

Right now, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the six victims of this tragedy.

Huffington Post has a moving tribute to the six who died, exercising their right to free assembly. Here are some excerpts:

Named Arizona’s chief federal judge in 2006, U.S. District Judge John M. Roll won acclaim for a career as a respected jurist and leader who had pushed to beef up the court’s strained bench to handle a growing number of border crime-related cases… Bishop Gerald Kicanas of the Roman Catholic Church’s Tucson Diocese said Roll was an active parishioner. “He lived his faith as a servant of our nation for the cause of justice,” Kicanas said.

Christina Taylor Green was only 9 ..  Her parents say Christina had just been elected to the student council at Mesa Verde Elementary School and had been interested in politics from a young age. She already had told her parents she wanted to attend Penn State and have a career that involved helping those less fortunate than her… She also was the only girl on her Canyon del Oro Little League baseball team. Her grandfather, former major-league pitcher Dallas Green, managed the 1980 world champion Philadelphia Phillies. Christina’s father, John Green, is a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Christina was born on the tragic day of Sept. 11, 2001.

Gabe Zimmerman, the director of community outreach for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, handled thousands of issues raised by constituents out of the congresswoman’s offices in Tucson and Sierra Vista… Zimmerman’s mother, Emily Nottingham, said politics was a good fit for him because it combined policy and making a difference for others. “He had a real interest in helping people and had a real caring for social justice,” Nottingham said. Zimmerman, who was engaged, had set a wedding date for 2012.

When Phyllis Schneck and her husband retired, they spent their winters in Tucson and summers in their native Rutherford, N.J. “They didn’t want to ever have to deal with the snow again,” said Schneck’s daughter, B.J. Offutt of Colorado Springs, Colo. Schneck, who continued to return to Tucson in the winters even after her husband died in 2007, was a homemaker who raised her two daughters and one son and had a talent for cooking… Schneck is survived by her three children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Dorwan Stoddard … When the shooting started Saturday, he dove to the ground, covering his wife Mavy, who was shot in the leg three times. The couple had been grade school sweethearts growing up in Tucson… Mavy Stoddard talked to her husband, who was shot in the head, for 10 minutes while he breathed heavily. Then he stopped breathing…

Dorothy Morris, known to her friends as “Dot,” was a retired homemaker and secretary who lived north of Tucson in Oro Valley, Ariz. Dorothy died in the shooting. Her husband George, a former Marine and retired airline pilot, remains hospitalized after suffering two gunshot wounds. One of the couple’s daughters said George Morris tried to protect his wife of 50 years by throwing her to the ground and trying to get on top of her to shield her. The couple both grew up in Reno, Nev., and were high school sweethearts…

Our thoughts are also with an American hero, Daniel Hernandez, who, with no thought to his own safety, rushed to Congresswoman Giffords’s side and probably saved her life. And we will never forget the heroic woman, who after being shot herself, charged the shooter and grabbed his extra magazine before he could reload, averting even more loss of life. Her name has not been released.

Finally, we recommend this post by Amy Davidson of the New Yorker: Holding Giffords’s Hand.

A Very Corporate Thanksgiving

Someone out there has something to be thankful about.

NY Times: American businesses earned profits at an annual rate of $1.659 trillion in the third quarter, according to a Commerce Department report released Tuesday. That is the highest figure recorded since the government began keeping track over 60 years ago, at least in nominal or noninflation-adjusted terms.

While others aren’t so lucky.

Even amid the most turbulent economic conditions since the Great Depression, US corporate profits are at an all time high, according to a Tuesday report (PDF link) by the US Bureau of Economic Analysis.At the same time, America’s poor and middle classes are under siege, with a mostly stagnant job market that has shown only marginal signs of improvement.

In spite of meager growth in some sectors, the real unemployment rate remains high, at approximately 1 in 5 Americans.

Somehow it’s hard to square these stats with the picture in my head of all those who made off like bandits in this economic crisis, a catastrophe largely of their making, and watching them look up from their Thanksgiving feast to say, “pass me some more tax breaks and deregulation.”

Can’t they even say, “please”?

Chris Farrell in Business Week: “The rise in income inequality is well-documented. Median income began stagnating in the early 1970s, and income inequality started to surge in the early 1980s. The benefits of America’s economic growth since then have mostly gone to a wealthy minority, while the majority of workers have seen their earnings stagnate at best and decline at worst. The long-term trend is toward a small group of financiers, chief executives, professional athletes, entertainers, and other earnings titans pocketing much of the wealth generated by society.

Happy Thanksgiving to the rest of us!