Posts Tagged ‘Bill Richardson’

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Thursday, December 17th, 2009

People who work for the government work for us – the taxpayers. Ultimately, we’re their bosses. I know, based on some interactions you have with your employees it seems that they conveniently forget this fact.

Be that as it may, it truly works much the same as any business. We, the tax-paying bosses, produce revenue so that they have a job. This goes for everyone who is collecting a government paycheck, from President all the way down to administrative support staff in the smallest municipality in the nation.

Of course, the one biggest difference is that you, the taxpayer, can’t immediately fire these employees for poor performance. Imagine how different your last unsatisfactory interaction with a taxpayer paid employee would have been if you could fire those who don’t meet your level of expectation. Sure, you’re probably thinking, “I can fire the elected ones.” But, the thing is that particularly type of firing is a delayed action. The underlying reason the individual is losing their job is not apparent in that type of firing.

It’s kind of like housebreaking a dog. If you scold the dog after the fact for eliminating in the home, it will not equate the reprimand with the actual act of relieving itself in the home. For that to happen, you actually have to catch the dog in the act and show your displeasure. Same thing with elected folks on the taxpayer payroll. When they get reprimanded (read: the boot out of the door), they think it has something to do with changes in the political wind. They rarely think it is because of their repeated poor job performance.

Ok, so our system isn’t perfect. No news on that front. But, the system we’ve had in place is still better than any other around the world. Or, at least it had been. There wasn’t immediate accountabilty, but until recently there had been some semblance of accountability. For example, until recently, our employees felt obligated to provide us information when we requested. An obligation that is legally mandated.

I said until recently. Now, it appears even that level of accountability is going by the wayside:

Days after a spokesman for Gov. Bill Richardson told a TV reporter that it was “not appropriate or dignified” to identify the 59 political appointees who are losing their jobs, Richardson’s office has formally denied a newspaper reporter’s request for that information.

The Santa Fe New Mexican’s Kate Nash didn’t get much – including anything that identifies the people who are being laid off – in response to her request.

Reporters, who happen to be taxpayers as well, have historically taken the role of internal audit committee for our, the taxpayers, business. In other words, they’ve looked out for our interests. However, if we allow them to be shut out and denied information about who is or isn’t working for us at a given time, then we stop having any sort of control over our government employees and officials. When this happens, those folks no longer work for us as public servants. Instead, we work for them in a manner very reminiscent of feudal fiefdoms in days of old.

I don’t know about you, but the idea of becoming a serf is not particularly appealing to me.

So Here’s a Thought

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

The union appears to be a little riled with Governor Richardson over the nonnegotiable forced furlough of state employee’s as one tactic to plug the state budget gap:

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 18 says Richardson’s administration violated the law by refusing to bargain with the union over five unpaid furlough days Richardson ordered for 17,000 state workers in December, January, March, April and May.

“It’s a fairly simple complaint,” said Albuquerque attorney Shane Youtz, who is representing AFSCME and its 6,000 members. “We asked politely to bargain and were told no.”

State Personnel Director Sandi Perez said the state fulfilled its legal duties by discussing the furloughs with union leaders in November.

Well, here’s a fairly simple idea for union leaders. Next time, the government starts promoting spending gobs and gobs of money (translation: hundreds of millions) on things like Spaceports and trains, you might want to voice your opposition. After all, it’s things like the ongoing tens of million of dollars in losses incurred by the Rail Runner that are causing your union members to have to take unpaid furlough days:

The red ink lubricating the wheels of the Rail Runner is getting redder. Its operating deficit for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009, topped $19 million. It collected a mere $1.9 million in fares against $21 million in operating expenses. The losses are greater than we reported in August. Based on information provided us by the Middle Rio Grande Council of Governments, we reported then that the Rail Runner’s operating loss through May 31, 2009, exceeded $13.4 million. But data for the entire fiscal year, ending June 30, 2009, reveal a number almost 42% higher.

Now, I realize there are several members that might be taking that train up to Santa Fe, but I’ll bet you there are even more that are not. Which mean, that the vast majority of members are going to see a cut in pay, so a handful can pay less than their full share to ride the train to Santa Fe.

It’s just something for you to consider.

Tax Increases Only Inevitable in Governor’s Mind

Friday, December 11th, 2009

Governor Bill Richardson is all about raising taxes in the upcoming 2010 legislative session. In his mind, a tax increase is inevitable. But, thankfully sounder minds may prevail:

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, the Finance Committee chairman, said many lawmakers from rural parts of the state — both Democratic and Republican — remain wary of raising taxes during tough economic times, despite the state’s budget deficit.

“There’s no guarantee there’s going to be revenue enhancements,” Smith said Thursday. “I just don’t see an overwhelming vote.”

Lawmakers already have reduced general fund spending by about $700 million, from $6 billion to about $5.3 billion, because of steady declines in state tax revenues. Some legislators say there’s room for more cuts in the state budget, which grew by 50 percent during Richardson’s first six years in office.

First, a word of advice to those that oppose tax increases. Let’s call them what they are – tax increases. The presumably poll tested and less offensive positioning of tax increases as “revenue enhancements” isn’t fooling anyone. The voting public in New Mexico is not as naive as some elected officials would like you to think. If you raise our taxes, we’ll know it. And, we’ll hold it against you. We get enough “enhancement” junk mail in our inboxes to know political spam when we hear it.

With that said, let’s talk about the resistance to cutting the bloated budget – a budget that increased 50% since the current administration took control. Exactly what has this recurring explosion in spending bought us?

  • Is your life better today than it was in 2002?
  • Are schools performing better than they were in 2002?
  • Do you feel safer in your homes today than in 2002?
  • Do you feel more optimistic about your future today than you did in 2002?

My guess is that the vast majority of New Mexicans would answer all of these questions with a resounding, “No!” So, let’s stop talking about tax increases and let’s get back to a time when life was enhanced and government was smaller. It would be a small step back to make a huge step forward.

State Prepared to Fight County Tax Lightning Correction

Monday, December 7th, 2009

A law from 2001 put a 3% cap on the amount our property taxes could increase year over year. However, the law allowed the property tax to be reassessed upon sale of the property. The result has been an unconstitutional tax lightening effect. In other words, two neighbors in the same size house could find themselves paying hugely different annual tax bills.

After two judges have found this unequal taxation to be unconstitutional, Bernalillo County Assessor Karen Montoya has opted to do the right thing and put everything back in balance by 2010. But, it appears she is going to get a fight from State Secretary of Taxation Rick Homans:

Rick Homans, secretary of the state Taxation and Revenue Department, said Montoya’s decision could have serious consequences.

“A massive rollback in property taxes, as suggested by the county assessor, raises several complex legal questions and has potentially serious fiscal implications that need to be studied more closely in the weeks ahead,” he said.

Leave it to a state bureaucrat from the Richardson administration to twist the facts into a new reality. The truth of the matter is that it was the law that was passed in 2001 that raised the complex legal issues. Complex legal issues that impact tens of thousands of voters in Bernalillo County alone. Complex legal issues that have been determined by the courts to be unconstitutional, not once but twice.

Now, it is refreshing to see an elected official like Bernalillo County Assessor Karen Montoya decide to take a corrective course of action on behalf of taxpayers. Compare that action to the current administration’s fallback position to delay justice for those unfairly penalized. The Richardson administration would rather push off taking any action, and instead create a new industry and over burden the court system by forcing tens of thousands of taxpayers unjustly impacted by tax lightning to sue for equitable treatment under the law.

Considering that many of those homeowners are probably struggling to keep a roof over their families heads in these times of increasing unemployment and home foreclosures, it is clear that this administration puts protecting their revenue streams ahead of the needs of working New Mexican families.

Political Sound Bites

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

That’s really what we’re talking about here – political sound bites. It’s beyond absurd for Governor Bill Richardson to be proposing a special initiative to close the Hispanic education gap:

Gov. Bill Richardson said Tuesday that he will work with state legislators to develop and pass a Hispanic Education Act in the 2010 session of the New Mexico Legislature.

This administration has a proven track record of spending hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars on budget breaking projects like spaceports and trains, but to expect them to make any gap closing changes in education is just ridiculous. For us to believe this is possible, we would have to forget the track record of education failures in student performance that have plagued this administration from day one.

And, am I the only one who finds it a little bit insincere for Governor Richardson to talk about closing the education gap for Hispanics by passing a Hispanic Education Act? Seriously, this may make sense for a state with a small percentage of Hispanics, but in New Mexico, we’ve got the highest percentage of Hispanics of any state in the nation – 45% of our state’s population.

So, nearly half of our public school children are Hispanic. Fixing and education gap for almost half of the student population does not require a special initiative. It requires a complete overhaul of the education system. But, don’t expect anyone in this administration to be up to that challenge. Instead, look for them to blow more smoke and spend more money on initiatives that will do nothing to improve student performance:

Richardson asked summit participants — students, teachers, administrators, politicians and others — to come up with solutions before the legislative session. He said he wants the recommendations to help shape a new Hispanic Education Act, similar to New Mexico’s Indian Education Act. That act created a special state division, which compiles an annual report on the progress of Native American students and encourages communication between tribes, among other things.

Yeah, that’s what we need. A new “special state division” to compile annual reports and encourage communications. That’ll solve all of our problems. Maybe we should bring back the efforts to create a Department of Hispanic Affairs as well?

Note to the Democratic Party

Friday, October 30th, 2009

With Heather Wilson’s announcement yesterday that she will not run for Governor in 2010, there is only one thing that is crystal clear about the gubernatorial race… The Democratic Party of New Mexico has a messaging problem:

“Regardless of who emerges from the Republican primary, the lack of experience in their entire slate of Republican candidates should deeply concern New Mexicans,” Geise said. “Now is not the time for on-the-job training. We need a proven leader to help New Mexico families weather these tough times, and none of the Republicans running come close to meeting that challenge.”

What’s the problem with this message you ask? Well, it tries to define Lt. Governor Diane Denish as a proven leader. Of course, the only proven elected leadership Lt. Governor Denish has is as the second highest ranking member of the scandal plagued Richardson Administration. Heck, if you factor in the Governor’s out of state travel schedule, especially in the last four years, you might even argue that she has significant experience as acting Governor of a scandal plagued administration. Problem is you’d be arguing against Lt. Governor Denish herself:

Denish has said, in an attempt to distance herself from the scandal-plagued Richardson administration, “There is only one governor at a time.”

So, which is it? Is she a proven leader, or someone who spent the last seven years failing to prove leadership? Let’s say we give the Lt. Governor the benefit of the doubt and choose the former over the latter. Well, then we have a leader who has proven that she can be at the helm of the most corrupt, financially bankrupt and policy flawed administration in the history of New Mexico.

Our roads are crumbling, our schools are failing and not a week passes without someone tied to the administration getting indicted or resigning in shame. If this is what counts as “proven leadership” in the Democratic Party, then I think you’ll find most New Mexicans have just about had enough with the Denish/Richardson brand of proven leadership.

On the other hand, if we are to accept the Lt. Governor’s claim that the terrible mismanagement of the public trust belongs to Governor Bill Richardson, then she has a failure to prove leadership problem on her hands. See, over the last seven years, Lt. Governor Denish sat side by side with Governor Richardson and told New Mexicans that all was well in the Land of Enchantment. Now, we all know that all was not well. In fact, as we have spiraled further and further into crisis, one thing has becoming increasingly clear there has been a decisive lack of leadership shown within the ranks of the Richardson Administration.

The Governor of La La Land

Monday, October 26th, 2009

That’s the only way to look at it. Governor Richardson has officially relocated to La La Land:

  1. Los Angeles, California (often abbreviated L.A.). This expression pokes fun at the alleged eccentricities of the city’s inhabitants. For example, What do you expect? Frederick has lived in la-la land for ten years and it has rubbed off on him. [Slang; c. 1980]

  2. A state of being out of touch with reality, as in I don’t know what’s going on with Amy–she seems to be in la-la land. [Slang; c. 1980] Also see cloud-cuckoo land; never-never land.

No, I don’ mean that he has moved to Los Angeles – although, one could only hope. But, like Frederick in the example above, it appears that Governor Richardson’s contact with Hollywood’s elite has altered his perception of reality:

New Mexico lawmakers on Friday wrapped up their special legislative session, sending Gov. Bill Richardson a package of measures to repair a $650 million budget shortfall this year.

“It isn’t pretty. It doesn’t solve the problem; we know that. But it’s a step forward,” Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said before the Legislature adjourned.

The package includes spending cuts of about $253 million this year in public schools, colleges and other government programs.

Richardson criticized what he said were “excessive” cuts to state agencies, and warned they could result in layoffs and reduced services.

That is the only possible explanation for the Governor’s reaction to the recently ended special session. See, when you have a $650 million deficit and growing, and you only cut $526 million, that leaves a gaping hole of a whopping $124 million. No one in their right mind would call those cuts “excessive” as they clearly fall far short of the mark of what’s needed.

Then again, I guess if you’re a Governor living in “cloud-cuckoo land” you’re not really in your right mind.

Education Cuts Put in Perspective

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

The education establishment is up in arms and willing to go to any length to fight education cuts during the special session. Admittedly, part of the problem is the way that cuts are proposed. Rather than take responsibility for past irresponsible actions, the Richardson/Denish Administration like to propose “across the board” cuts:

Richardson has proposed a 3.5 percent cut to state agencies and a 1.5 percent cut to public schools, which would amount to about a $40 million reduction in the state budget for kindergarten through 12th grade.

Taking this approach to reigning in a budget gone wild is irresponsible at best. Yet, a recent special audit report released by State Auditor Hector Balderas show just how much waste is in education:

The money involved in the transfer to the discretionary account came from funds meant for technology and transportation, Balderas said. About $3,500 of it came from federal Head Start money, in violation of the federal rules, the audit states.

Among the items allegedly purchased by the northern New Mexico school district through the discretionary account were:
  • More than $2,800 in lobbying expenses.
  • $200 spent on 20 bags of beef jerky for lobbying at the Legislature last March.
  • $742 spent on food at the Bull Ring in Santa Fe for a legislative meeting last February.
  • More than $900 spent on flowers for funerals and other events.
  • Jackets for all district staff for staff appreciation in January 2007 costing $3,299. More jackets for staff and also for legislators in March 2007, costing $290.
  • Gift certificates from Wal-Mart for three retiring employees in May 2006 costing a total of $150.
  • A $302 gift from Zales Outlet for the district’s retiring superintendent in August 2006.
  • Another $1,200 for items for conference rooms from a vendor called “Nambe” in August 2008.
  • For district staff: more than $1,300 for hams in December 2007, more than $1,600 for turkeys in February 2009 and more than $900 for denim shirts in April 2009.
  • And more than $2,400 spent on jackets for district leadership in March 2009.

The audit said that depositing money into the discretionary account resulted in less money available for school district operations. Auditors looked into transactions from the discretionary account from fiscal years 2006 to present.

Consider that’s just one finding, and it accounts for almost 1.5% of the district’s annual budget. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get the job done.

Now That’s Interesting

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

It’s like the legislature just woke from a seven year slumber, and decided to, well, decided to start acting like a legislature. For seven years, those controlling the legislature have rubber stamped every ridiculously large, bank-breaking budget proposed by the Richardson/Denish Administration.

Now, the piper wants to be paid, and it is becoming increasingly clear that the Richardson/Denish Administration have created, long-term structural problems for New Mexico. But hey, don’t take my word for it. Instead, read what Lt. Governor Diane Denish has to say about the failed policies of her administration:

We know temporary “band aids” applied to remedy our budget shortfalls are not the answer to long-term, structural problems with the state budget. We must craft solutions that work for future generations of New Mexicans.

In other words, what the Lt. Governor is trying to sell us is, “I got us into this mess, so I can get us out of this mess.” Of course, we know that’s not the way it works in the real world. In the real world, when people make bad decision after bad decision that results in the virtual collapse of their organization, they can expect to be fired.

Now in case you’re wondering what type of bad decisions have been made by Rchardson/Denish Administration, you have to look no further than some of the proposals that are being put forth by their Democratic peers in the legislature to fix the “long-term, structural problems”. For example, consider this press release received from Representative Cote:

Rep. Cote introduced HB24 on the floor of the House today. The proposed bill calls for the Governor to reduce the number of exempt employees in cabinet departments and state agencies with salaries over $50,000. According to the bill, cutting at least 180 of these positions would save $8.1 million for the rest of this year and $19 million in the next fiscal year.

“Under the current fiscal conditions, all state expenditures must be analyzed and none excluded. I’ve noticed significant growth in the number of exempt positions in the last several years and the incumbents of which could be placed into permanent classified positions. My bill is an attempt to reduce the size of the state’s payroll. I feel the state government has grown too large for the revenue available in the state of New Mexico,” Rep. Cote (D-Dona Ana, Otero-53) stated.

During the last regular session the Governor said he would trim salaries of 470 exempt employees but, in the past year alone, the number of Governor exempt employees has risen by 27 positions from 789 to 816, while the number of state classified employees has stayed the same. Over the past seven years the Governor’s exempt positions has risen by 281 positions.

That’s right, Lt. Governor Denish has stood silently by as her partner in crime, Governor Bill Richardson, has created and handed out new government jobs as payback for political favors. This practice, among many others has led to the long term, structural problems with our state budget, that now threatens the financial viability of education, social and infrastructure programs.

Of course, Lt. Governor Denish would rather we not point fingers and blame (read: personal animosity):

Legislators should act quickly, she said–putting “personal animosity aside”–because the state doesn’t have “time or money to waste”

Of course, she’s right. The state doesn’t have time or money to waste… Diane Denish and Bill Richardson have spent seven years wasting our money and our time, and the proverbial cupboard is now bare.

Budget Cuts Shouldn’t Hurt Kids

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

Governor Richardson’s mantra going into the Special Session this weekend is a simple one: “Budget cuts shouldn’t hurt kids.” It’s one that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn had been voter tested and approved:

But most interesting was $38,353 paid for “research/polling” to a company called Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates in Santa Monica, Calif. Nearly all the money was paid in June, a much smaller chunk paid in September.

It’s a simple message, and a nice diversion tactic. Governor Richardson gets to avoid taking ownership for spending New Mexico into a crisis. He gets to pretend to be the great savior of our children, while trying to turn the legislature into the big bad wolf:

Gov. Bill Richardson late Tuesday rejected legislative proposals to plug a state budget gap that’s now expected to top $650 million, saying at least two of them would cut too much money for public schools.

Richardson called for lawmakers to try again before a special legislative session on the budget starts Saturday.

“Governor Richardson has studied the legislative proposals and finds the cuts to education unacceptable because of the severe impact to teachers and kids,” Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said. “The governor wants one proposal from the Legislature, not three, that makes fiscally responsible cuts without hurting schools.”

But, here’s the thing. The Richardson Administration, and to a great extent the rubber-stamping majority in the legislature have done more to damage education in New Mexico over the last seven years, then anything some cost-cutting could ever do. They’ve herald one supposed “great” education reform after another without ever actually doing anything to improve education for our children. Worse yet, they’ve refused to ever take ownership of their repeated failures:

A new batch of testing results shows New Mexico students’ math scores are among the nation’s worst, with little change from previous years.

The data, released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress and often called the Nation’s Report Card, shows New Mexico’s fourth-graders with an average math score of 230 out of 500. The national average was 239.

The New Mexico average score for eighth-graders was 270, compared to a national average of 282.

The achievement gap between New Mexico’s Anglo students and students of other ethnicities remained wide, without significant change from 2007.

Secretary of Education Veronica Garcia said the overall numbers may not provide a fair comparison because of the small sample of students tested. About 11 percent of New Mexico’s fourth-graders and 10 percent of eighth-graders took the test.

Garcia also said students and teachers in New Mexico often do not take the test very seriously because scores are not broken down by district or school. She said other states use incentives to raise awareness about the test’s importance.

Oh yeah, that’s the problem with the test scores. We don’t have a big enough media campaign to let our kids know that tests are important. They actually know all of the information, there just not taking the test seriously. GIVE ME A BREAK! Here’s a novel idea… How about taking ownership for the education failures?

Look, year after year, we’ve thrown ever-increasing pots of money at education with ever-worsening results. How about we try something different? Go ahead and cut education spending. Let’s stop pretending the children are going to get hurt. Based on the test results released year after year, it can’t get much worse for them.

And, as long as we’re making cuts, how about getting rid of the hundreds of governor created and appointed positions drawing down comfortable salaries for absolutely no work. In fact, let’s fire everyone who can’t seem to get their department to actually provide the services they are supposed to be providing.

Heck, why stop there? Let’s just fire everyone who refuses to take responsibilities for seven years of failures and fiscal mismanagement. Start with Governor Richardson and don’t stop until you find someone who says, “I’ve totally and completely messed up, and this is how I’m going to fix it.” My guess is that before you find that person, the budget will actually be balanced.