The Martinez Administration’s Multi-Million Dollar Mistake and the Journal’s Curious Absence of Outrage

May 17th, 2013 · 2 Comments · NM Legislature, tax policy, Uncategorized

By Arthur Alpert

The Albuquerque Journal’s capacity for outrage is huge, almost as great as its passion for transparency.

So where’s the outrage? Where’s the transparency?

Where are they, I mean, now that we know the 2013 Legislature passed a budget based on oral testimony at the 11th hour from the Governor’s Finance Secretary that – he now says – was mistaken.

Here’s the essence:

The top budget official in Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration apologized to legislators Tuesday for claiming in March that a massive tax package would have a positive fiscal impact to the state during each of the next five years.

Finance and Administration Secretary Tom Clifford told members of an interim legislative committee Tuesday the information he provided on the House floor during the final hours of this year’s 60-day session was based on a different version of the bill.

“I apologize for that,” said Clifford, who testified on the tax package during the frantic final minutes of this year’s session.

In contrast to Clifford’s original claim, an estimate released after lawmakers approved the tax package calculates that the legislation will cost the state more than $70 million in forgone revenue in the 2017 fiscal year.”

At least one Democratic lawmaker said Tuesday that he did not think the tax package would have been approved by the Legislature if Clifford had originally portrayed the budget hit as negative.

That’s from Dan Boyd’s account in the Wednesday, May 15, Journal.

Passing a multi-million dollar tax package in that way is outrageous, right? The good government folks at the Journal will launch righteous salvos at the miscreants any hour now, correct?

Well, we’ll see about that but first a brief detour to transparency.

The Journal ran Boyd’s outstanding piece on C1, the front page of the Metro section, below the fold.  I kid you not. It landed on the lower right-hand corner of the third section.

It rated the front page, of course. (The Santa Fe New Mexican put Steve Terrell’s coverage of the story on Page One.)

The Journal’s front page had Dan McKay’s useful but unsurprising report on Bernalillo County’s decision to transfer prison inmates. Boyd’s revelations might have gone there. Or the editors could have tightened the illustrated “Great Osprey Rescue” feature.

This is, after all, a revelation of misleading testimony in the session’s waning hours from the Administration’s budgetary point man.

And it follows what should have been a mini-scandal when House Speaker Ken Martinez brought the budget to a vote before many members could read it.

And it was all about taxes, fer gosh sakes. Is there anybody who doesn’t care about taxes?

How could it not be front page?

I can only surmise. The Republican governor’s budget, which passed with support from many Democrats (including but not limited to downstate conservatives), lightens the corporate tax burden, shifts it to counties and municipalities and likely will increase the burden on working New Mexicans later. (State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, who voted “no,” has a more complete analysis at New Mexico Compass.)

In sum it’s a victory for the corporate party and that party’s ideology informs the Journal’s editorial agenda.

Ergo, when this story popped up, the Journal’s passion for transparency, its urgent need to uncover government’s dastardly deeds, suddenly cooled.

Not all governmental dastardly deeds are equal.

So much for transparency, let’s move onward (and backward) to the Journal’s outrage, its oft-expressed indignation at government’s failures. Oddly, the daily has yet to condemn this legislative flimflam. Perhaps I can suggest a few targets:

  • The Governor and the Legislative leadership for caricaturing a legislative session. “Most legislators didn’t know leaders were negotiating the tax bill as the 60-day session wound down last week. The governor, Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith and a handful of others kept discussions secret,” wrote Heath Haussamen in a commentary for New Mexico in Depth March 21.

No Journal outrage at governmental lack of transparency? Oooh. I feel faint.

  • Secretary Clifford, for his serial mis-estimating. Last year he was almost 140 percent off in figuring the cost to the state of curbing tax pyramiding, according to an Oct 30, 2012, report by Dan Mayfield in Albuquerque Business First. (“We made a mistake,” Clifford said.)
  • House Speaker Martinez, for allowing the budget to skirt the committee system and permitting a vote before many members could read it and for silencing fellow Democratic Reps. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque and Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces who dared question the rush to judgment. (See Milan Simonich’s March 16 column for a dramatic description of what transpired.)
  • Governor Martinez, for pushing upper income/corporate tax cuts despite evidence they don’t spur an economy. Similar adventures by former Governor Richardson and President George W. Bush did make the affluent more so; neither benefited the rest of us.
  • State Sen. John Arthur Smith, the Deming Democrat, who cooperated with the governor, covertly, to pass the budget and who said, after a hearing:

“Anybody who really wants to work can find a job,” Smith said.

Surely, the Journal is outraged by ignorance and callousness.

There, that list is my gift to the editorial writers. Here are a few story ideas for the editor-in-charge of political reporters, borrowed from old buddy, Joe Monahan:

“This tax package — touted as a panacea for the state’s ever deepening economic woes — is turning out to be a political tar baby. Dems who voted for it are accused of caving in to the Governor. Some of them could get primary challenges for it next year. Democratic House Speaker Kenny Martinez has had the first year speakership marred by his over eagerness to ram the bill through and now faces trouble in his House Dem caucus. And now even the Republican administration is taking hits.

If passage of the bill was based on erroneous information, shouldn’t Martinez and the Legislature redo the package? Well, that’s how it works in the real world, but not Santa Fe.”

I began by asking, where’s the outrage? Where’s the transparency?

Wrong again.

The real question is, where’s the journalism?

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Roland Penttila

    Where’s the outrage indeed. I don’t believe this was an accident or an oversight. The Journal’s over-riding philosophy is to promote corporate profits and low taxes for the more fortunate. Really, what’s new? I do not subscribe to this paper because I feel that I am supporting this weird, conservative and wrong-headed agenda. My only knowledge of the Journal comes from Journal Watch. And, thanks for that.

  • Laura F. Sanchez

    If this train wreck had occurred 10 years ago during the Richardson administration, the Journal would still be screaming about it at least once a month. Didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when Google featured a bit from the Seattle P.I. that quoted Jon Barela about how the governor’s fabulous new tax package was “expected” to create so many new jobs. It’s nice that Clifford apologized, and I’m sure the governor et. al. will call a special session to fix the mistake any day now.

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