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Legislative council says adding 160,000 jobs gets NM even
To bounce back from the recession, New Mexico must add more than 160,000 jobs in the next 10 years, state legislators were told Monday.
The Interim Jobs Council, an arm the Legislature's committee system, released the statistical breakdown. It said hitting the jobs target would return New Mexico to "where we were in 2007."
The report said this job-creation goal was "doable" if the state follows strategies that were outlined in general terms.
It called for "clarity and consensus on the predicament" and an agenda for creating jobs.
One plank in the council's platform suggested melding the state's efforts in education, tourism, workforce development and job creation. But how these large, separate agencies would work in unison to add jobs was not specified.
The report also suggested that legislators could take certain steps on their own to help create jobs, though at least one of these would simply add seasonal government positions.
That proposal was to fund an expanded summer youth employment program.
Another recommendation could mean additional paperwork for the state's colleges and universities.
It proposed a memorial -- action by legislators that has no force of law -- instructing colleges and universities to provide annual reports on hiring, salaries and job offers by major field of study.
Another possibility suggested in the report was to fund an online tourism training program to help along entrepreneurs.
The suggestions followed a recent report by the state Economic Development Department that said New Mexico had added about 10,000 private jobs for the year ending in August, but lost 3,100 government jobs in that span.
Most of the public jobs were at the federal level, said Jon Barela, secretary of economic development.
Barela said the government cuts were noteworthy because New Mexico is the state most dependent on federal spending.
New Mexico's reliance on government jobs seeps into the private sector.
Researchers at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University say New Mexico had the second-largest percentage of private-sector jobs that are financed by federal contracts. The total was 7.7 percent.
Only Virginia was higher at 10.7 percent. Maryland, like New Mexico, was at 7.7 percent.
True private-sector jobs -- those which are not financed by government -- make up 68.1 percent of all jobs in New Mexico. That is the lowest percentage in the country, according to the George Mason researchers.
Rounding out the top five states in term of private jobs tied to federal contracts were Mississippi and Alabama.
The five states with the lowest percentage of private jobs dependent on federal contracts were Oregon, Delaware, Wyoming, New York and Minnesota.
The George Mason University researchers who compiled the statistics work were Keith Hall and Robert Greene.
Governor, one of her challengers request one another's emails
New Mexico’s general election is almost a year away, but already Gov. Susana Martinez and one of her challengers are maneuvering to inspect each other’s emails.
Republican Martinez and Democratic state Sen. Howie Morales have each made open-records requests to obtain emails from one another.
Morales, right, of Silver City, filed his open-records request with 14 state agencies, including the governor’s office itself. He has requested emails, letters, memos or other documents between people working in state government and Jay McCleskey, Martinez’s political adviser.
McCleskey, who has been called the “shadow governor” by state Democratic Chairman Sam Bregman, was the subject of a recent story in the National Journal.
Morales said questions about McCleskey’s role in influencing government operations have swirled for three years. They were heightened by the National Journal’s piece, prompting the request for emails, Morales said.
“My role as a legislator is to take action so we are clear on how policy is being driven by people who are not part of state government,” Morales said.
Danny Diaz, a spokesman for Martinez, responded on behalf of her and McCleskey.
“The governor’s office has been crystal clear that Jay McCleskey is an important member of the political team, is not paid with tax dollars and never had an office in the Roundhouse,” Diaz said.
“Next, if Senator Morales’ open records request isn’t a stunt, and he is truly a champion of transparency, he will voluntarily release his office calendar so the public can see who he meets with each and every day during the (legislative) session, just as Governor Martinez has done, and Morales will make all his public business emails available for public inspection, just as Governor Martinez has done.”
Diaz said he assumed that Morales would refuse, so Martinez’s camp had filed an open records request covering his five years in the Legislature.
“... We call on him not to obstruct that request with the bogus rule he voted in favor of last session, which shields information from the public about what their elected officials are doing on the taxpayer’s dime,” Diaz said.
Morales said his calendar is already available to everyone. All of the Senate’s committee meetings and floor sessions are announced publicly each day.
“They just want to shift the focus away from my request, and my concern that the actions by her political employees leak over into the policy side, the governing side,” Morales said.
Another of Diaz’s criticisms of Morales pertained to a resolution approved in March that exempted state legislators from providing their emails upon request. Only one of the 42 state senators, Democrat Pete Campos of Las Vegas, opposed the resolution.
Senators of both parties said they were part-time legislators and could not keep track of thousands of emails that pour in during sessions. In contrast, legislators said, fully staffed state agencies have records custodians to track and supply emails requested by the public.
Morales is not the only Democratic candidate for governor who has made an issue of McCleskey in the last week.
Lawrence Rael, of Los Ranchos, has begun referring to the executive branch as the “McCleskey-Martinez administration.”
“It is no secret that Governor Martinez has allowed Jay McCleskey to exploit office space in the governor’s statehouse suite — space that is paid for by New Mexico taxpayers. New Mexicans expect and deserve that space to be used to do the people’s business, not to further the politics of personal attack,” he said.
Rael said he was asking state Auditor Hector Balderas to “immediately investigate the McCleskey-Martinez administration, and all the revelations of potentially illegal use of state resources to support blatantly partisan political activities that do nothing to create value for New Mexicans.”
In response, Diaz said that Rael had violated the U.S. Hatch act by campaigning for lieutenant governor four years ago while employed by a regional council of governments in the Albuquerque area.
“It’s stunning that a politician who has been found to have violated federal law by mixing partisan politics and official government work would be launching these baseless allegations,” Diaz said.
A letter in November 2009 from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel in Washington said it had “concluded that Mr. Rael’s current candidacy for lieutenant governor of New Mexico is in violation of the Hatch Act.” It went on to say that he was retiring from his regional government job “and we have no evidence that he willfully violated the act, we have decided not to pursue disciplinary action in this matter,”
Rael recently resigned from an executive-level job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture so he could run for governor.
Red states lead way on de-emphasizing prisons
Not so long ago, countless universities hired faculty members without bothering to ask if they had ever been convicted of a felony.
It did not seem possible to provosts and deans that an accomplished professor interviewing for a job could have a violent past.
All of that changed with a man named Paul Krueger, right. An assistant professor of education at Penn State University, Krueger seemed like so many of his colleagues — mild-mannered, serious, hard-working.
Krueger may have been all of those, but he had a record unlike anyone else on Penn State’s campus of more than 40,000 students.
At age 17, Krueger shot and killed three fishermen in Texas. He was convicted of murder and served more than 12 years in prison.
After being paroled, Krueger received a doctorate and pursued the life of an academic. He told no one in authority about his conviction.
Kruger’s criminal record became public knowledge when he was 55. Then Penn State cut its ties with him.
“The university and Dr. Krueger both recognize that his ability to carry out his responsibilities effectively ... has been compromised in light of the revelations about his history,” Penn State said in its official statement.
For a while, Krueger’s case sparked a national discussion about crime and punishment.
He appeared to be rehabilitated, productive and unlikely to commit another crime. But the horror of what he did outweighed what he seemed to have become.
Now a new debate on how best to keep the public safe — at the lowest cost — is under way.
What’s different today is that deep-red states such as Texas are the model for revising criminal codes to de-emphasize prisons.
Jerry Madden, a former state representative in Texas, testified recently before a New Mexico legislative subcommittee about being smarter in combating crime.
Madden, educated at West Point, had no experience in the criminal justice system. As chairman of the Texas House Corrections Committee, he examined crime and punishment with the analytical mind of an engineer, which he is.
He said the turning point in Texas came when his committee resisted budget plans to spend at least $2 billion more to add 17,700 prison beds.
Madden, a Republican, connected with members of his own party by arguing that legislators would better protect public safety and public dollars with a different formula. He called for more mental health and alcohol treatment programs instead of more prisons.
Madden’s approach proved persuasive in a state that leads the nation in executions. No one could say that Texas legislators were soft on crime. This enabled them to start making decisions that might appear less punitive but would be more effective in stopping repeat
“The red states are leading the way on this,” said New Mexico state Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, right, D-Albuquerque.
Maestas and state Sen. Lisa Torraco, R-Albuquerque, are cochairing a subcommittee that they hope will make deep and meaningful changes in New Mexico’s criminal justice system in 2015, after a year of work and study.
Maestas and Torraco are former prosecutors. Both say New Mexico should be smarter in crafting its criminal laws.
Maestas says someone convicted of second-degree murder now can face a sentence of zero to 15 years. But a drug user who stupidly packages his stash in a few Baggies faces a prison sentence of 18 years because he looks like a distributor.
Maestas says he wants to see New Mexico do a better job of prioritizing cases so that the might of the justice system is aimed at violent criminals.
He, Torraco, right, and other legislators will look at overhauling a criminal justice system that they say functions like an ineffective robot.
“We’ve been doing the same thing for decades,” Maestas said. “Now the goal is to put the public interest ahead of policy-makers’ interests.”
Paul Krueger’s case started a debate 10 years ago. Another round is under way in New Mexico.
Legislators say it is knocking school funding out of whack
The bill is aimed at Dona Ana and Sierra counties, both of which approved a special tax to help finance Spaceport America, the $209 million enterprise that is supposed to create a commercial space industry in New Mexico,
Voters in Dona Ana County authorized a quarter-cent tax by just 204 votes of 17,000 cast, said state Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces.
This razor-thin margin of victory was achieved with a promise that a share of the tax money would go to public schools, Cervantes said.
Now Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, right, D-Gallup, is challenging the legality of this arrangement.
With one or two counties using a sales tax to help finance school operations, the state’s carefully crafted system of equal funding for public education in its 89 districts is being thrown out of balance, Lundstrom said.
“This has opened a can of worms. Can you imagine if Albuquerque decided to pass a tax for school operations? The whole state see an inequity in school funding,” Lundstrom said.
Dona Ana voters in 2007 approved the special tax for the Spaceport. Sierra County voters did the same in 2008.
Cervantes, right, said then-governor Bill Richardson and his staff campaigned hard for the tax increase in the southern counties. The Spaceport was one of the signature projects of Democrat Richardson’s eight years as the state’s chief executive.
Sen. Mary Kap Papen, D-Las Cruces, said reluctant voters in Dona Ana County were won over with a sweetener to the tax increase. They were promised that 25 percent of the revenues collected from the special tax would go to school operations, Papen said.
She said this campaign pitch was critical in convincing people in impoverished border communities to support the tax increase.
“They were 40 miles from the planned Spaceport and would not get any direct benefits from it. But if their schools got some of the tax money, there was an incentive for them to vote for it,” Papen said in an interview.
Lundstrom said only recently did her Finance Authority Oversight Committee take notice of the tax arrangement in the south. By funding school operations with county tax revenues, an opening is created for wealthy communities to pour extra money into their schools.
Low-income communities or towns without much of a tax base could never match this level of funding, Lundstrom said. The result would be a state with a mix of wealthy public schools and others that were underfunded, she said.
Lundstrom’s bill to stop the southern counties from funding school operations sailed through the committee. Only Papen and Rep. Jimmie Hall, R-Albuquerque, voted against it.
Papen said she opposed changing the system because Dona Ana County voters had been promised that a tax for the Spaceport would also help fund their schools.
Cervantes was among a dozen legislators voting to endorse the bill. He said the question of equitable school funding was an important one that deserved consideration by the Legislature.
With the endorsement, the committee is asking Gov. Susana Martinez to allow the bill to be heard in the 30-day legislative session that starts in January. Lundstrom said the bill might qualify to be heard anyway because it involves the state budget.
So far, the special tax in Dona Ana County has generated about $32 million, Cervantes said. Of that, $8 million has gone to schools in the Las Cruces, Gadsden and Hatch districts.
Papen was the legislator most worried about a cutoff of funding. She said companies had funded construction of schools and sports stadiums for certain districts. She questioned why the Dona Ana County system was different.
Lundstrom said there was a big difference between building a stadium — a one-time construction project done as a gift to a community — and ongoing allocations of tax money to pay for teacher salaries and academic programs.
Silver City Republican seeks ninth 2-year term
State Rep. Dianne Hamilton will seek re-election next year.
Hamilton, R-Silver City, issued a statement Monday announcing her candidacy for a ninth 2-year term in the House of Representatives.
Hamilton, 79, represents parts of Grant, Sierra and Hidalgo counties in District 38.
She easily won re-election last year, defeating Democrat Terry Fortenberry, formerly the mayor of Silver City.
Hamilton for years has introduced a bill to require photo identification to vote, a measure that has been defeated by Democrats who control the House.
She also has shown streaks of independence in bucking her party. For instance, Hamilton and a handful of Republicans joined with majority Democrats in 2009 to repeal the death penalty in New Mexico.
Hamilton may be the only legislator whose political retirement was announced -- prematurely and inaccurately -- by a member of her own party.
State Rep. Tom Taylor, then leader of minority Republicans, publicly said during a news conference in 2012 that Hamilton was retiring.
Hamilton proved him wrong by running and winning in 2012. A race in 2014 would mean that she ran two campaigns after Taylor said she was done.
He is to start work Jan. 6
The New Mexico Finance Authority will offer Robert Coalter, its choice for CEO, a three-year contract with a starting salary of $160,000 a year.
Nann Winter, outgoing chairwoman of the finance authority's board of directors, said Monday that Coalter's contract calls for three months' severance pay if he were fired.
She said the board had reached "a handshake agreement" with Coalter, who is to start work Jan. 6.
Coalter, 55. now is executive director of the Texas Public Finance Authority. His salary will be $10,000 a year higher than that of Rick May, who was fired by the New Mexico Finance Authority board after a scandal in the agency last year.
Winter, appearing before a legislative committee, described Coalter as a knowledgeable professional, a hands-on manager and a mentor for his staff members.
She told legislators that she did not want to rehash the scandal that had kept the NMFA in the public eye for the last 17 months.
Board members fired May after one of his executives compiled and issued a fraudulent audit.
May has said he was a scapegoat. The fake audit went undetected by the board's audit committee as well as May.
No money was stolen from the NMFA, making the phony audit by former controller Greg Campbell an irrational act by one person, May said.
Campbell pleaded guilty to three felonies, and a judge placed him on probation.
After the board fired May, it hired former state budget director John Gasparich as interim CEO.
His job was to rebuild the finance authority's credibility and credit rating. It provides low-cost loans to local governments for capital improvements.
State Rep. Jim White, right, R-Albuquerque, downplayed the scandal when members of the Legislative Finance Authority Committee briefly questioned Winter. White criticized press coverage of the phony audit as excessive.
"It really wasn't that bad," White said. "The publications and the way it was covered were really bad."
Attorney, tribal administrator will run
Haaland, 52, has political experience and connections.
She is chairwoman of the Native American Democratic Caucus of New Mexico and tribal administrator of San Felipe Pueblo.
Haaland could not be reached immediately for comment, but we will keep trying.
Five Democrats are running for governor. Haaland and Marie Q. Julienne are seeking the No. 2 job. Julienne set up a FaceBook page saying she is a candidate.
Keller, who considered entering the race for governor, decided instead to run for state auditor. He described Haaland as a "respected native American with a law degree."
Says she did not have power to stop capital projects
State Attorney General Gary King issued an opinion Friday saying that the governor overstepped her authority when she suspended funding for 122 capital improvement projects across the state.
"The governor is not permitted under current law and the separation of powers mandated by the New Mexico Constitution to unilaterally withhold capital outlay funds properly appropriated by the Legislature," King said.
Twelve Democratic state senators last May asked the attorney general to review Gov. Susana Martinez's order that blocked $13.5 million in funding for projects statewide.
Martinez's administration said local governments were behind on audits or there were findings questioning public expenditures.
Martinez’s executive order established completed audits as a basic but critical financial standard.
“Millions of dollars are spent each year on capital projects in communities throughout our state,” she said at the time. “It’s important for the entities spending this money to show on a regular basis that they meet financial management standards.”
State Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, said the administration's contention that all local governments were behind on audits was incorrect.
Morales said he made sure that governments in his district had up-to-date audits before submitting any capital construction projects on their behalf. He said he was concerned that construction jobs and community improvements were being stalled unnecessarily.
But the overarching issue for Morales and other senators who challenged Martinez was about lines of authority. Senators said Martinez accepted a budget that included the capital projects, only to stop them two months later in a unilateral decision.
King said New Mexico courts have held that a violation of separation of powers occurs when a governor's actions "disrupt the proper balance" between the legislative and executive branches.
King said Martinez did just that in this instance.
Martinez's order suspended projects everywhere from the state’s biggest city to some of its smaller villages.
For instance, the city of Albuquerque was denied $738,000 and the village of Cloudcroft $225,000.
King, a Democrat, is seeking his party's nomination to run against Martinez next year. Morales also is a Democratic candidate for governor.
Governor seeks total of $114 million for water projects
A summer and fall of cool, pounding rains have not changed the arid landscape of New Mexico.
Part or all of the state has been in drought since 2000, state climatologist Dave DuBois said Thursday. He was among the first speakers at the 58th Annual New Mexico Water Conference.
Even this year’s gully washers did not reach all the state. Lea and Hidalgo counties, at opposite corners of the southern border, missed most of the rainfall, DuBois said.
Gov. Susana Martinez, in a statement broadcast to conventioneers at the Embassy Suites hotel in Albuquerque, said New Mexico was in its worst drought in 118 years.
She said she would ask the Legislature to allocate another $2 million for research on water problems when it begins its 30-day session in January.
The money would go the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute, which Martinez said would work in concert with the state’s universities and four-year colleges.
”The water challenge facing our state also provides the opportunity for us to be pioneers in innovative water research, planning and management,” Martinez said. The institute, at New Mexico State University, “must play a key role if we are to succeed,” she said.
Its areas of study include desalination, water quality and water supplies.
Martinez was not alone in suggesting that a pioneer spirit could help solve water problems.
One conventioneer said recent American history showed that fresh thinking could overcome perceived shortages of natural resources. An example was icy North Dakota’s emergence as a hot spot for oil and gas production.
Along with money for research, Martinez also will pursue a $112 million proposal that she said would combat water shortages and improve public structure for water systems.
Her idea is to spend about 60 percent of the money available next year for capital construction on water projects.
Martinez said her proposal would give priority to projects in communities “that are in danger of going dry or struggling with poor water quality.”
She said improving water systems also would improve economies.
New Mexico’s 112 state legislators advocate each year for capital construction projects in their districts, Their proposals typically are not targeted toward any one theme, but seek to fund projects ranging from roads to public buildings to fire protection.
The governor has veto power over items in the capital budget. But she would need help from lawmakers in devoting the lion’s share of the money to water projects.
Milan Simonich writes about New Mexico politics and government from the Santa Fe Bureau for the Texas-New Mexico Newspapers Partnership.