It’s Official: AG Approves Environmentalists on Environmental Improvement Board

By Tracy Dingmann

The New Mexico Attorney General’s office has determined that there is no conflict of interest among members of the Environmental Improvement Board who are currently considering two petitions on limiting carbon emissions. (Read “AG Office Finds No Conflict on EIB.”)

What does that mean in plain English? It means the state has just made clear that it’s okay for environmentalists to serve on the Environmental Improvement Board.

Sound silly? It is.

The only reason I’m even writing about this again is because last month, a group of New Mexico legislators – specifically, the GOP Caucus in the House of Representatives – sent a letter asking the state Attorney General to investigate whether specific EIB members have conflicts of interest that would preclude them from making objective decisions on the carbon cap petitions.

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Tax Un-Truthiness: What the Journal didn’t tell you

There has been a lot of coverage about the negotiated tax package passed by the Legislature during the special session to shore up the state budget, including this ridiculous claim in an Albuquerque Journal editorial from March 11:

“There is a big state income tax hike ($193 on average per filer, raising an estimated $66 million) brought about by elimination of the deduction for sales tax. It is, in fact, a tax on a tax.”

Presumably this is a reference to the measure that would disallow individuals who itemize from deducting their state and local taxes on their state income tax forms. What the Journal doesn’t  tell you is that this will affect only about 20% of NM tax filers. The other 80% of the state’s tax filers use a standard deduction that doesn’t allow them to deduct these same taxes, so they would not be subject to what the Journal calls “a tax on the tax.”

The phrase “a tax on a tax” makes no sense in reference to this measure.  What the Legislature did was  remove a deduction that never should have been there in the first place.

New Mexico is only one of only a handful of states that currently allows this deduction, probably because most other states have figured out that allowing it doesn’t make any reasonable fiscal sense. Indeed, the only real effect of allowing the deduction has been to reduce state tax liabilities for wealthy individuals — that is, those most likely to itemize on their state tax forms.

New Mexico Voices for Children developed this table to clearly show who benefits the most from this policy (click on the chart to view):

According to the Taxation and Revenue Department’s analysis about 70% of the increased liability would come from households with an ADJUSTED gross income of $100,000 or more. Only 4% would come from households making less than $50,000.

Therefore, the Journal’s claim that removing this deduction would raise taxes “$193 on average per filer” is misleading at best.

A look at the facts serves to underscore the progressive nature of this policy. In fact, it is the only revenue enhancement in the tax package that actually makes the rich pay their fair share.

It is clear that whomever wrote the editorial didn’t do their homework on the actual policy but instead  merely inserted some boilerplate talking points courtesy of corporate lobbyists who opposed the measure during the legislative session.

New Mexico’s Interlock(ing Directorate)

When I was but a wee lass in college absorbing complicated theories in Political Science 101, I learned about a scary thing called an interlocking directorate.

The dictionary defines it as “the practice of members of corporate boards of directors serving on the boards of multiple corporations.” The good book says the concern is that hubs of power will form around these alliances, threatening to compromise the quality and independence of various board decisions.

As I recall it, my poli-sci prof broadened the concept dramatically, using the term to describe the heads of media and commerce and government generally as they interacted across their customary boundaries to influence and shape society to their mutual benefit.

At the time I thought I’d never actually experience this phenomenon in real life – it sounded much too sinister and contrived to my innocent, Catholic-educated ears.

But I’ve sure been thinking about it a lot lately as I watch certain media and business groups collaborate furiously to protect the interests of those who stand to benefit most from resisting reform and maintaining the status quo. It’s happening whether the debate is about climate control regulations, healthcare reform or solutions to the economic crisis that’s now upon us.

It occurred to me when I read this editorial (subscription required) in Tuesday’s Albuquerque Journal warning the state against enacting stringent environmental regulations that might cause oil and gas extractors to leave New Mexico. (Ignore for a second the question of why these companies would leave, when the materials they extract from the land are here, not somewhere else.)

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City Charter Task Force: What the Journal Won’t Tell You

coaI had the honor of serving on Albuquerque’s City Charter Revision Task Force, along with 13 other dedicated individuals. Our group ranged across the political spectrum with diverse interests and was most professionally chaired by former State District Court Judge Wendy York.

Based on the Albuquerque Journal’s story and editorial this week, you’d think all we did over the past eight months, consisting of 17 full Task Force meetings and numerous subcommittee meetings, was argue over the issue of nonprofits – the topic with which the Journal is so clearly obsessed.

Amazingly, the Journal failed to mention – in both its news story and its editorial – that the Task Force actually killed the proposed nonprofit amendment to the City Charter sponsored by Chuck Gara for lack of support and because of gaping holes in its application and constitutionality.

That’s right. Gara’s amendment was withdrawn. Only after the amendment’s withdrawal did the Task Force cast a symbolic vote to request the City Council look at the nonprofit issue, just as the Council will consider the tens, if not hundreds of governance issues, when it takes up the Charter next month.  But if the Journal is your only news source, you could hardly be blamed for believing that the Task Force’s sole accomplishment over these past eight months was sending this nonprofit issue up to the Council for “action” — even though the amendment was killed.

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The Media Game has Changed

If it’s Friday, it must be time to connect the dots after a particularly tumultuous week.

A couple of local institutions took major hits – not the least of which was the governor’s office.  For starters, the Washington Post suggested that Gov. Bill Richardson’s days on the national stage may be over.

Whether anyone should ever count Richardson permanently out of consideration for higher office is debatable – our esteemed governor has persevered after many setbacks in a remarkable career. Richardson is smart, engaging and incredibly well-connected. And let’s not forget, there’s trouble in North Korea and an American hostage in Iran right now that probably only he can pry loose.

A Right Jab

The Albuquerque Journal’s Win Quigley took some potshots at Richardson that didn’t go over well with former Albuquerque mayor and media watchdog Jim Baca, who said he’s noticed an inordinate number of hits on Richardson lately in the Journal. Saying the city’s remaining daily paper is turning into a (gasp) blog, Baca suggested the Albuquerque Journal change it the name of its “UpFront” series of columns to “The Grudge Report.”

El Jefe

The mayor’s office took some hefty blows this week, too, with a story in Tuesday’s Journal detailing alleged wrongdoing in connection with an airport contractor at Double Eagle Airport. According to the story, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into Bode Aero Service’s allegations that Mayor Martin Chavez retaliated against them after it refused to provide free or discounted services for Chavez during his aborted run for Senate last year.

Add to that the Journal’s extensive coverage of the legal battle that’s brewing with the City Council over a $6.5 million swimming hole the mayor wants at Tingley Beach, and it’s not likely the mayor is enjoying reading the newspaper much lately.

Daily Grind

The contiguous thread here is the Journal, still far and away the best-read of all print newspapers in Albuquerque, N.M.

Despite the malaise affecting newspapers everywhere, the Journal is still chugging along. But it took some hits this week, too. Yep, there’s only one big newspaper in Albuquerque, but now there are lots of little blogs that can take potshots of their own.

In addition to Baca’s commentary, there was  this from blogger and middle school teacher Scot Key, calling attention to a story that the Journal ran this week detailing some of the reasons why an earlier story it published a few weeks ago was pointless and wrong.  The original Journal story, which printed the name of every elementary school teacher in APS next to arguably meaningless test scores from their students, understandably alienated a large number of hardworking teachers who felt they were held up to public ridicule for no good reason.

Ink by the Barrel?

Despite once being part of the mainstream media machine, I sure as heck am enjoying the lively give and take between the media behemoths and the smart, scrappy bloggers that goes on these days.

No matter the issue, no matter the political stripe – the tempest kicked up by Key’s blog and Baca’s blog and the criticisms and commentaries raised by the many, many other New Mexico-based blogs just underscores the point – the media game has changed. It’s no longer a one-way communication street, where people timidly submit their information to the daily paper and hope everything comes out alright.

And picking a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel isn’t quite as futile as it used to be.