Posts Tagged ‘Legislature’

The Key Word Here is Public

Monday, 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.

Moronic and Spineless

Wednesday, 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.

Do the Right Thing

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

For years the Republicans in the state legislature have had as much impact as spectators in the galley. I don’t mean that as a derisive remark about our elected Republican representatives. It was just a fact based on the circumstances. They didn’t have enough seats to really do anything, or stop anything. Well, the tides have changed, and although we still remain in the minority, there is an opportunity to make a difference. An opportunity to work together as one, and provide leadership when the state so desperately needs it.

Alligator WranglerNow, I don’t usually put a lot of credence in the musings of the old alligator wrangler, but I know enough of the legislators on our side of the aisle to believe that some could actually be foolish enough to think this way:

We’re told the Republicans reluctant to join any coalition have several concerns. One is their hometown constituents and whether they would want them voting for a Democratic Speaker. Another is strategic and one we’ve previously mentioned. This 60 day legislative session starting January 18 is going to be about cutting budgets and taking services away from the public. Not all Republicans want ownership of that agenda and the resulting pain. If the session doesn’t go well, the majority party would be positioned to take the hit.

So if I may, let me try and put this in a different political light for any Republican legislator sitting on a fence regarding forming a coalition to get done what the Democrats failed to do when they caucused last weekend. Namely, they failed to clean their own House. Over the last few years, we’ve  seen indictment after indictment hang like a never ending storm over the Land of Enchantment. However, two slippery politicians have managed to be in the thick of things and yet emerge unscathed – or maybe better said, unjailed.  Well, term limits did for us what New Mexicans were unwilling to do for ourselves and sent one blight of the public trust packing – yet another case for term limits.

Now, it’s time for the House Republicans, and any House Democrats with cajones still intact, to remove the last remaining highly visible monument to the old way of doing politics. If your a Republican worried that you might get hurt in a primary in two years because you voted for a Democratic Speaker of the House, consider for a moment the mail piece that might go to your constituents with the headline, “Representative [Fill-in the Blank] Gave This Man [Picture of Lujan] a Pass” followed by a passage of the scandals that have  and continue to plague the Speaker’s tenure.  I can practically guarantee that if you lose your backbone and keep the current Speaker, you will lose your seat in two years. So, if self-preservation is the motivation for all of your decisions, do the right thing and form a coalition to send the current Speaker packing.

As to any Republicans that are afraid to take ownership of how to fix the pickle in which we find ourselves, I’ve only got one thing to say. Pack it up and resign now. You’ve been hiding behind the skirt of the minority excuse for so long, you’ve forgot why you ran or were elected in the first place. Make a difference, or move aside to let someone else willing to put New Mexcians before a personal agenda.

Happy Thanksgiving!

They Went Ahead and Did It

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

It took three days of meetings behind closed doors for the Democratic leadership to make a monumental mistake and push through regressive tax increases on New Mexico’s working and non-working families:

The tax hike legislation included an increase in the statewide gross receipts tax, or sales tax, as well as a partial reimposition of the sales tax on food.

Members of the Republican minority harshly criticized the omnibus bill (SB10,12,13), arguing that the largest tax increase in recent history had been hatched without their input and that the tax changes should be considered separately.

The proposal would impose “a serious tax burden on New Mexico working families,” said Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Tucumcari.

House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, said the tax increases were needed to avoid deep cuts to public schools in the 2011 budget year, which begins July 1. 

Of course, the Speaker’s excuse is total and complete nonsense. The tax increases pushed exclusively by the Democrats on everyday New Mexicans struggling to get through this economy that has left so many unemployed and struggling to pay for the basics, like FOOD, could not come at a worse time. More than half of the $200 million tax increases introduced are regressive in nature. Yet, we all know that almost an identical amount could have been easily cut from government:

The committee to improve government efficiency has delivered its final report to Gov. Bill Richardson, recommending cuts and consolidations that total $129 million.

The committee said there are too many state government employees. New Mexico has nearly 25 state employees for every 1,000 people. That ratio is higher than any state in the region and twice the national average.

So, please excuse us Mr. Speaker while we take umbrage with your attempt to pretend your putting our children first.  It is clear to everyone that patronage is the first priority of your caucus, and to heck with taxpaying New Mexicans.

Of course, you’ve got to love the irony of the fact that one Lujan expresses outrage at increases in healthcare premiums at the same time his father pushes tax increases on food for the same struggling families:

One New Mexico congressional representative expressed outrage at the increases in a statement.

“At a time when families throughout New Mexico are struggling to make ends meet, these rate increases are outrageous,” Rep. Ben Ray Luján, CD-3, said.

Maybe this family of politicians needs to caucus.

What’s That You Feel in Your Pocket

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Near as I can tell that hand you feel in your back pocket belongs to the NM Senate:

The Senate-passed tax increase package would raise the statewide gross receipts tax rate — now 5 percent — by one-eighth percentage point, yielding almost $60 million a year.

The bill also would reimpose part of the gross receipts tax, or sales tax, on food. The rate would vary, depending on the local gross receipts tax rate of the city or county in which the food was bought, but average about 2 percent. The change would bring in an estimated $68 million.

Another $66 million would be gained from eliminating the deductions that some New Mexicans can now take on their state tax returns for the state and local taxes they’ve paid. That would increase their taxable income.

And the state would get $11.6 million from a newly imposed compensating tax on out-of-state companies that sell products to New Mexico businesses but have no physical presence in the state.

Oh, I know that some you will say that the legislature has no choice.  They have to raise taxes to get us out of this pickle. But, that’s not true.  There are other options:

The numbers are big and the money bigger, but the bottom line is New Mexico could find $280 million to help fix its budget.  Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Tucumcari will try to bring an amendment to the state budget bill that will simply cut those state positions which are currently vacant.

Roch points to a report he requested from the Legislative Council Service (LCS) outlining the job vacancies in state government. The report says as of January 4th, there were 4369 vacancies in state government. The problem according to Roch is that the proposed budget lawmakers are trying to tackle would fund 3396 of those positions. Roch argues if the state can function now without those positions filled, then it can function by eliminating them altogether.

But hey, that makes too much sense, right? Cut non-existent jobs over increasing taxes on struggling families.

I’ve got to run, but you can catch me today at 3:00 pm on Jim Villannucci’s show on 700 KKOB discussing this and other issues with Carter Bundy.

New Mexico Democrats Have a Problem

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Last week, I attended an event that had, among others, Lt. Governor Diane Denish as a speaker. To the delight of myself and the small business audience in attendance, the Lt Governor said, and I paraphrase, “Now is not the time to raise taxes. It is time for the government to do what the private sector has been forced to do and control spending.”

Now considering that Lt. Governor Denish is usually considerably to the left of me, and that her campaign for Governor is well-funded, it can only be concluded that her internal polling is telling her that supporting tax increase, any tax increases, right now would be the equivalent to political suicide.

And, herein lies the problem

More details on tax hikes and spending cuts in a new state budget plan emerged Sunday as New Mexico lawmakers prepared to return to the Capitol today for a special session on the budget.

The plan, hammered out behind closed doors by top-ranking House and Senate Democrats, would increase the state’s gross receipts tax, raise the tax on cigarettes and have New Mexico cities reinstate a portion of the gross receipts tax on food items that was repealed six years ago. 

Yup, leave it to the Democrats to propose a slew of new taxes as families are struggling to survive. If these tax increases are passed, they are going to hurt campaign efforts of every Democrat running for office during this election cycle. Mind you, that’s not something that’s particularly upsetting to me, but for a strategic standpoint its interesting to watch how this is playing out. 

As a limited government guy, I wouldn’t mind seeing some taxes cut for a variety of reasons I’ve outlined over the years.  But, in the current economy, I would be willing to settle for no new taxes. The Democrats seem to be operating as though it is business as usual (i.e. let’s find another incremental tax to pass).  But, there is nothing usual about the situation in which we all find ourselves.

Right now, Lt. Governor Denish is trying to emerge from Governor Richardson’s shadow and define herself as a leader in her own right. Of course, taking a stand against new taxes when her Democratic colleagues are pushing for them is setting her up to appear either:

a) Lacking in leadership and the ability to influence policy.


b) Saying what the people want to hear in public and privately supporting the taxation of the masses.

Either way, New Mexico Democrats, from the Lt. Governor on down, have a big problem.

Elect Officials Fail New Mexico

Friday, February 19th, 2010

When the Legislature meets during the 30 day session, the constitutional mandate is clear:

B. Every regular session of the legislature convening during an even-numbered year shall consider only the following:

  (1) budgets, appropriations and revenue bills;

  (2) bills drawn pursuant to special messages of the governor; and

  (3) bills of the last previous regular session vetoed by the governor.

Stitching a Budget Together With Disappearing Thread

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

They are feeling the pressure at the Roundhouse to get a budget approved before the strike of noon tomorrow.

“I’m hopeful we can come up with something (to avoid a special session),” said Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, who’s participated in the budget talks.

The House approved cuts of about 1 percent for public schools and government services, while the Senate budget package calls for reducing spending levels by about 3 percent.

The shallower cuts in the House plan would be made possible by more than $300 million generated by tax hikes, primarily the gross receipts increase. The Senate plan relies on $180 million in new tax revenue.

However, Jennings said he’s concerned revenue levels might end up being even lower than projected and said Richardson has criticized more tax ideas than he’s offered. 

 I’d say that Senator Jennings concerns about lower revenue levels are well founded.  Consider for a moment the source of some of the revenue being expected to help plug the gap:

The Finance Committee approved the budget on Thursday and sent it to the Senate for consideration.
The committee proposed spending about $5.5 billion in the next fiscal year, which starts in July. That includes about $200 million in federal aid that’s replacing state money for Medicaid, public schools and higher education.

 Of course, there’s one obvious problem with this plan. It seems to fail to consider the reality of what is being said about the future of federal money coming to the states:

Payments to states and individuals will fall to $11 billion, from $14 billion, per month. Much of this spending — such as Medicaid funding and additional unemployment benefits — was meant to stabilize the economy during the recession.

 Yuppers, it looks like that faucet is starting to be turned in the opposite direction. So, here’s my prediction. Assuming a state budget gets approved by noon tomorrow, we will most likely see a special session before the summer is over to deal with the “surprise” lower than expected revenues.

Explaining it Another Way

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

Some of you, actually just one person, likes to take me to task time and time again for standing up for small business and insisting that the proposed gross receipts tax and income tax increase negatively impact those most likely to actually help the economy rebound by creating new jobs. This individual argues that a couple of hundred dollars more in taxes really shouldn’t be a big deal to a business making $200,000 in profit. But, nothing could be further from the truth.

First, let’s consider the environment in which these tax increases are being pushed:

Please note that no efficiencies to government bills have been adopted and no true cuts to the budget have yet to be made, however tax increases on the private sector are being considered.  Unemployment in our state is at a 22 year high, and our focus must be on job retention and creation. 

That’s the current reality spelled out in a recent communication from the Association of Commerce and Industry (ACI).  Mind you, no efficiencies or true cuts are being made even though we know at a bare minimum there are $129 million in cuts that could be easily made. We also know that the despite all of the hype, government stimulus money did not create new jobs.  At best, it may have saved some public sector jobs.

We also know that big business isn’t adding to their employee roles. So, that leaves small business to come to the rescue. Only someone who has never run a business could argue, “What’s $500 in additional taxes?” They’ll smugly try to make the case that $500 is not enough to put someone on the payroll. But, that’s because they think jobs are added in the private sector in the same manner as they are in the public sector.  They are not.

In the government arena, if you want to add a $40K a year employee, you have to raise $40,000 a year in addition taxes. In the small business sector, a $500 investment could very easily result in a $120,000 to $240,000 in new salaries.

Let’s explore this a little further with a real life example.  Last week, I spent $500 in travel expenses to meet potential customers for a new and innovative technology.  The meeting went very well. If the deal is closed it will result in a contract that could easily be worth $1M or more.

New people will be added to the payroll to fulfill the contract. They will have paid benefits and won’t need to be supported by the state. The $500 that was not collected in taxes will likely save the state (i.e. taxpayers), tens of thousands of dollars in the form of unemployment benefits that will not have to be paid.  In fact, these wage earners will pay state income and gross receipts tax far in excess of the $500 in additional taxes on my business. If they get to keep their house because they are once again gainfully employed, they will also pay property taxes.

Now, let’s go back to the scenario being pushed in the legislature. They want to take another $500 (or more) away from small businesses. This is a zero sum game. My business has a budget. If you pull $500 from it in the form of additional taxes that money has to come from somewhere. Due to the tight credit market, it can’t come from my retained earnings.  Nor, can it come from any line item that will keep me from fulfilling my current obligations.

So, that means it will come from marketing dollars. It might be one less trip I can take to market my business. Or, maybe ten or more marketing lunches that can never be scheduled. Or, a critical conference that has to be passed up.

Those are all possibilities. The one undeniable fact is that it it will be four, five or a dozen jobs that will never happen because elected officials refused to do the right thing and cut unnecessary spending.

Complement Higher Taxes with Increased Energy Costs

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Are you feeling the economic pinch? Well, when the dust settles from the current legislative session, that pinch is likely to feel more like a bone-shattering squeeze. We’ve got tax after tax after tax being proposed and pushed through, and that’s only the beginning. 

There are other initiatives out there which will be equally successful at separating you from your hard earned dollars:

The greenhouse gas reduction sought by the advocacy group New Energy Economy would apply to oil and gas producers, refineries, manufacturers, coal-fired power plants and others in New Mexico that emit 10,000 tons or more a year of carbon dioxide.

Public Service Company of New Mexico estimates it would have to reduce current carbon emissions from its fleet of power plants by 36 percent to meet the proposed cap.

And the company says that would mean a big jump in electric bills.

In fact, if you follow the money trail, you’ll see that big government lobbyists are behind all of the major wine and dining going on right now in Santa Fe:

However, the latest batch of lobbyist reports that trickled into the Secretary of State’s Office last week showed that the lobbyists who were throwing the biggest parties for the senators and representatives were not from commercial interests. Instead, they represented state employees, community colleges and an environmentalist group. 

As legislators continue to take on the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham, they would be wise to take note of recent elections around the country. Continuously trying to take more from those making less inevitably has consequences.