The Key Word Here is Public

February 28th, 2011

Here we go again. Those that we elect to serve in public office (mind you the key word here is “public”) would prefer to operate under the cover of darkness:

In  a decision that was partly fueled by the governor’s videos, the Senate voted to restrict webcasting, photography, and video or audio recording of Senate committees by the public unless there is permission from a panel’s chairman and ranking minority-party member. The rule was adopted on a 35-3 vote.

Apparently, this is one of those elitist bureaucratic decisions that enjoys strong bipartisan support. What is the motivating factor behind restricting public access to public meetings, paid for by the public in a building built by the public? Well, according to Senator Dede Feldman, it appears that our elected officials are concerned they might actually be held accountable for their actions:

Is this a trend?  We’re not sure yet, but in the following committee meeting, where several DWI bills that the Governor is supporting were presented, her staff appeared with little cameras in hand to tape the proceedings. They did not ask permission from the Chair (me), which is protocol on both the floor and in committees, so I am cynical about how they intend to use the material.  I’m a great fan of opening committee hearings to the news media, but this felt different. Since the staffers did not speak to me, I do not know how they intend to use the footage, but several present felt it was intimidation, meant to remind Senators that their comments would be used in campaign ads next year. Hmm.

Oh no, horror of horrors. What’s the world coming to when elected public officials might be held accountable for comments they make in public hearings? That’s just not fair. We’ve elected them, and they should just be allowed to rule the state in peace without being concerned about peering eyes. Upcoming elections should be events ruled by civility where the voting populace makes a decision, not based on actual performance, but instead based on the quality of the touched up pictures and senatorial likeness of those in office, and the claims of great deeds they’ve performed in our name regardless of what they’ve actually said or done in committee meetings.

Legal Shenanigans Serve as Fallback Position

February 22nd, 2011

For years I’ve lamented the fact that we’ve thrown more and more money at education in New Mexico with absolutely no return on our investment in the one place that it matters most – improved student performance. In fact, it could be easily argued that the more money we put into the system, the worse it seems to fare for our children. The education unions have proven that when push comes to shove they are more interested in maintaining hierarchies than improving the system for our children, or allowing exceptional teachers in the rank and file a place to flourish.

So, now we’ve got new leadership on the fourth floor, and you know what? Governor Martinez is actually shaking things up. She is looking at a broken system and an empty piggy bank, and saying it’s  time to take a different approach. Now, the left is famous for talking a big game and promising bold change, but in the end delivering the status quo. In fact, threaten to upset their apple cart, and they’ll pull out the lawyers to look for any minute legal justifications to avoid change:

Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s nominee for public education secretary, Hanna Skandera, faces questions in the Legislature over whether she meets constitutional requirements for the job.

The leader of the Public Education Department must be a “qualified, experienced educator,” according to the New Mexico Constitution, but Skandera has never worked as a teacher or administrator in a public elementary or secondary school.

Skandera is subject to Senate confirmation, and Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said lawmakers are trying to determine what the Constitution means by “educator.”

“I don’t think we should just close our eyes to that issue,” Sanchez said recently.

Just in case you’re wondering, when Senator Sanchez isn’t putting unions before children, he’s practicing law. Now before some bozo tries to make the case that only someone who has spent some time in a classroom can run an education department, let me say that is utter nonsense, and for the record, I spent five years in the classroom. Let’s also forget about the fact, that if someone has a Master’s degree, than they have spent an awful lot of time in a classroom. And, let’s move beyond the buffoonery which would pretend that if someone has served as an adjunct professor and guest lecturer at a University, which Ms. Skandera has, they are less of an educator than say a fourth grade teacher.

After all, according to the Union and good Senator’s logic, the only one capable of running a fast food enterprise is someone who has served time as a fry cook, and we all know that’s not true. But, I’ll tell you one good thing is coming out of this. This desperate last ditch ploy by the entrenched beneficiaries of the status quo make it abundantly clear that Governor Martinez’s selection for education secretary is going to shake up and truly attempt to improve the system.

Oh Yeah, It’s the Signs

February 8th, 2011

How do you help the economy in the Duke City? Apparently, by working to kill another growing industry. You probably have noticed there are more and more digital signs popping up all over the place. A handful were put up by outdoor industry giants, like ClearChannel. But of late, I’ve noticed more and more of these are being put up by individual businesses in an effort to attract customers and build their businesses.

Now, it appears the Albuquerque City Council has these and other businesses firmly in their sights:

Their measure would control how bright the signs can be, how rapidly they can change the images displayed and other matters. Electronic signs would be prohibited in residential and historic districts. Moving images would also be banned.

“We need some common-sense guidelines,” Lewis said.

The proposal comes after the city convened a task force to review electronic-sign regulations. Critics, especially neighborhood leaders, have said electronic signs are distracting and a safety hazard at busy intersections.

Ok, let’s be honest here. This has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with aesthetic preferences. You don’t like bright LED signs, great, just say so. But, don’t insult our intelligence and say this is a safety issue. What’s next, are you going to ban all of those high school kids from waving signs at busy intersections to distract you into getting your car clean. Or maybe, the arrow twirlers drawing you into a home development. Perhaps, we might ban the waving Statues of Liberty that pop up on street corners around tax time. How about the political sign waving supporters every Election Day? Maybe we should ban brightly colored wrapped vehicles from driving our streets?

Let’s get honest people. This has nothing to do with public safety and everything to do with personal preference. You want to remove another tool from those businesses struggling to keep alive, or kill those businesses selling digital signs? Well, then just come out and say so. But, please don’t feed us another public safety line.

The Problem With Mandates in a Nutshell

February 3rd, 2011

In a blog post about the most recent blow to mandated healthcare for all,  the Capital Report includes this tidbit from a Washington Times article:

“I note that in 2008, then-Senator Obama supported a health care reform proposal that did not include an individual mandate because he was at that time strongly opposed to the idea, stating that ‘if a mandate was the solution, we can try that to solve homelessness by mandating everybody to buy a house,’” Judge Vinson wrote in a footnote toward the end of the 78-page ruling Monday.

Who would of thunk it? I couldn’t agree more with 2008 pre-President Obama.

A Clever Permanent Fund Raid

January 27th, 2011

Senator Michael Sanchez has a proposed solution to the state’s economic challenges. He has introduced it as Senate Bill 1, The Recovery Investment Bonding Act. In short, here is the good Senator’s strategy:

The purpose of the Recovery Investment Bonding Act is to provide a mechanism for the state to invest enough money from its permanent funds to avoid extreme economic hardship for its citizens, while providing a secure revenue source that will pay the debt and guarantee that the long-term health and stability of those funds are not threatened.

Another words, the Senator is proposing a creative approach to a permanent fund raid. Reminder all, the permanent fund (permanent being the operative word here) was a bipartisan creation that wisely recognized that the extractive natural resources from which we draw so much of our state’s revenue are finite. These are not rainy day funds. Otherwise, they’d be called rainy day funds. They are not to be tapped, creatively or otherwise, during low points in an economic cycle. They are there to protect against a day when the state can no longer count on taxes generated from extractive industries.

So, don’t be fooled by any creative named Senate bill. In fact, it is creative strategies like these that have bankrupt the social security system. We’d be wise to think of the permanent fund as our state’s social security system, and leave it well enough alone. Remember, the previous Governor already tapped it once, and that didn’t put us in a better place.

New Mexico Commission on the Status of Women

January 25th, 2011

Let the cutting begin. Or, better yet, let the cutting continue. I’m all for this elimination of wasteful spending:

The state’s first elected female governor says the state should stop funding the New Mexico Commission on the Status of Women.

As part of her plan for covering a large projected shortfall in the state budget, Gov. Susana Martinez recommends eliminating state spending for the 37-year-old program.

In response, commission officials have launched a campaign to lobby legislators and the Governor’s Office to keep state money flowing.

In fact, I’ve given reasons before for eliminating this Commission. It’s nice to have a Governor willing to make sound fiscal decisions.

Moronic and Spineless

January 19th, 2011

Probably won’t make me any new friends at the next gathering of my fellow Republicans, but what the heck? Moronic and spineless are the only words I can think to describe today’s vote to keep Ben Lujan in his position as Speaker of the House. Scandal after scandal have plagued the Speaker’s tenure, and today the House voted unanimously to maintain the status quo. The rationale “Tea Party” activists gave for applying pressure to avoid a coalition was that Representative Cervantes is a progressive.

Hello, anyone home???

We’ve got a Republican Governor and 33 votes in the House. Assuming we can’t find enough reasonable Democrats to keep supposed “progressive” legislation from passing, we’ve got a Governor, who has given every indication that she would be willing to veto these and other misguided efforts no matter how creatively packaged:

“To make them sound better, some call them ‘revenue enhancements.’

“They can be called many things but they will all be vetoed.

In case you can’t tell, I’m completely disgusted.

UNM Kills Freedom of Speech

January 14th, 2011

It looks like KNME Director of Content Franz Joachim, or someone else over at the University of New Mexico, just made a big mistake that seriously undercuts their credibility as a media outlet. A couple of sources reprinted a press releases by Adam Kokesh regarding his right to bear arms for the taping of a political talk show. The mistake I’m talking about is not the one where UNM refused to allow him to open carry a weapon after he had already done so without incident, although it could be easily argued that was a mistake. The big problem is that they uninvited him from participating in another previously scheduled appearance because he sent out a press release:

After sending out the press release below, Iraq veteran, former congressional candidate, and host of Adam VS The Man on AM 1550 KIVA, Adam Kokesh was “uninvited” from participating in the scheduled taping of “The Line” today for KNME TV. Despite receiving death threats, Kokesh was originally denied his request to legally open carry at the studios on the University of New Mexico campus, then abruptly denied his opportunity to participate in this publicly sponsored political talk program. At 11am this morning, KNME Director of Content Franz Joachim called Kokesh to inform him that because of the previous press release he was no longer welcome.

Regarding this gross disregard for public safety and freedom of speech, Kokesh said, “No Iraqi ever threatened me, but I was given a gun and told to patrol Iraq to fight for our freedoms. When I came home, fellow Americans threatened me, and I was denied my basic right to self-defense. Having a government sponsored institution making people feel unsafe to speak out politically is unacceptable.”

In one fail swoop, a taxpayer funded entity just trampled on the first and second amendment of the Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, I can’t say I’m surprised that UNM disregards our second amendment rights, although I wonder if they would treat Governor Martinez the same way if she was (or when she has been) a guest on one of their shows?

With that said, I am flabbergasted by the concept of a citizen being uninvited from a political discourse show produced by a taxpayer-funded University for publicly, and in a completely non-violent manner, expressing an opinion.  Universities are supposed to be places where the free flow of ideas are encouraged, not punished or kept from ever seeing the light of day. This is absolutely reprehensible, and it’ll be interesting to see what action is taken by those who position themselves as ardent defenders of free speech.

Finding Untapped Cash for State Government

January 13th, 2011

Have you ever tried to explain New Mexico Gross Receipts Tax (GRT) to a business person not from New Mexico? They just don’t get it. This is especially true for businesses who do business with the federal government.  Mention GRT, and they’ll tell you they have an exemption from charging sales tax to the federal government. It is a completely foreign concept. In other states, they have sales, and you can’t charge the federal government sales tax. That’s why we have gross receipts tax in New Mexico. So much of our eco0nmy is based on federal dollars that the State had to figure out a creative way to collect taxes on that exchange of dollars.

But, what about those out of state companies that do business with federal agencies in New Mexico? Do they know they have a GRT liability. I’m willing to bet the vast majority of them don’t. In fact, if they’re bidding against a New Mexico company  for work at a federal facility in New Mexico, they’ve got a built in competitive advantage. You see, out of state companies have the lowest GRT rate in the state. In some case that advantage can translate into a 3% difference. Don’t believe me, download the tax rate table and see for yourself.

Now, that assumes that the out of state company is registered to do business in New Mexico and is actually paying GRT, which I believe would actually be the exception rather than the rule. In fact, if they’re not factoring in GRT, they may find themselves with 8% or greater competitive edge over their New Mexico competitors. Just in case some of you might think I’m making this up, let’s just take a look at a recently awarded federal contract:

Title:                 Tower Relocation Project
Sol. #:                AG-7512-S-10-0036
Agency:                Department of Agriculture
Office:                Forest Service
Location:              R-3 Southwestern Region/Lincoln NF
Posted On:             Jan 11, 2011 4:49 pm
Current Type:          Award
Base Type:             Presolicitation
Base Posting Date:     Aug 10, 2010 4:54 pm

Click the link, and you’ll find this $29,500 contract was awarded to Jim and Martha Flake of Clarksville, Tennessee.  I don’t know the Flakes, and I’m sure they are hardworking people. But what I do know is that a quick search on the Corporations page at the NM PRC, doesn’t show them registered to do business in New Mexico. So, if they’re not even registered to do business in the State of New Mexico, does anyone believe they are actually going to pay GRT?

Yeah, me neither.

So, here’s a revenue generating idea for the good folks in Tax and Rev: Start monitoring which out-of-state firms are winning federal contracts in New Mexico, and while you’re at it, maybe you want to use some of the free tools available to figure out which of those firms that have won contracts in the Land of Enchantment in the past have actually paid the GRT that New Mexico contractors have to pay.

Just a thought.

It’s a Bond, Not a Tax Increase

January 12th, 2011

Governments love to issue bonds for projects. Usually these push for new bonds are accompanied by claims that new bonds will not raise our taxes. But, what happens when the state and local governmental entities that push for the bonds ends up unable to pay for it?

The $2.9 trillion municipal-bond market has been stung recently by worries that some cash-strapped cities or states won’t be able to pay off or roll over debt. Costs have risen broadly for municipal borrowers. The market also faces challenges from the expiration of the Build America Bonds program, which helped cities and states borrow $165 billion at interest rates held down by federal subsidies.

Can you say, “Tax increase?”