Friday, January 15, 2010

Audio: Governor pushing for consensus legislation

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson works the phones ahead of the the 2010 Legislature. (Photo: Peter St. Cyr)

Earlier this week we were invited to visit with Gov. Bill Richardson, in his fourth floor office at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe, for an exclusive radio interview.

We found him relaxed, but confident. In fact, the governor, who is in the last year of his eight year administration, insists he still has the political capital he needs to push his legislative agenda during upcoming 30-day legislative session.

He refuses to be considered a lame duck and reminded lawmakers he still has "a veto pen," and the support of his constituents.

We've been broadcasting portions of the interview on 770KKOB since Tuesday and have included segments which feature our conversation about his budget proposal, temporary taxes, spending cuts, education budgets, double dipping, a plan to replenish the state's cash reserves and capitol budget cuts.

Richardson told us his budget-balancing proposal has sensible cuts and won't stop the progress his administration has made over the last seven years. He doesn't want any tax increases to come on the backs of hard working New Mexicans or impact public school classrooms.

At the end of our visit, Richardson even made a voluntary confession. You might guess what it is about...but to hear his admission, you'll have to listen to the complete interview here, or touch the play button on the bar below.

Plan to listen to the final segment scheduled for Monday on 770KKOB at 8:40 am.

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Report: Efficiency can save state $129 million annually

Facing a nearly $500 million deficit, Gov. Bill Richardson will consider recommendations, by a committee he appointed last month, to make sweeping changes in state goverment, which are all aimed at saving taxpayer money and making New Mexico's government more efficient.

The report, from the Committee for Government Efficiency, which was was submitted to the governor yesterday, identified a total of $129 million in annual budget savings, and calls for merging some state departments, doing away with more than a dozen boards and commissions and changing the public school funding formula.

"These are solid recommendation that make a lot of sense as we look for new ways to reduce spending and cut bureaucracy," Richardson said in a statement released on Thursday afternoon. "I'm ready to pursue many of these ideas immediately during the upcoming legilsative session and by executive order."

In addition to its immediate recommendations to downsize the government, the committee also made long-term recommendations to reduce both the state payroll and the number of the state's colleges, universities, and school districts.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, told the Associated Press some of the committee's recommendations are "heavy-hitters" and would require further study after the legislative session.

"It seems to me that given this legislative session we're going into, people just want to raise money so we can go back to business as usual and pass up this opportunity," Smith said. "We look at the down side because there's no money, but this is a tremendous opportunity for government to redefine itself."

Workforce reductions possible

Smith wants the legislature to look for places to pare back costs and that could lead to a reduction in workforce.

Currently, the state employees the highest number of government workers per capita in the country. In fact, there are 24.5 employees per 1,000 residents, which is 72 percent higher than the national average of 14.3.

But many of those workers are employed by corrections and higher education institutes.

Compared to Arizona, which has about triple the population and only three public universities, New Mexico, the has six four-year universities and at least 18 two-year colleges.

Carter Bundy, who is the political and legislative director for AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, said he believes that state's rural status is the primary reason for the high ratio of government employees.

"If you look at the list of state that have a (high) number of employees per capita, they're virtually all rural states," Bundy told the Albuquerque Journal. It reflects the reality that we have a lot of people in a lot of different places to serve, and we don't the get benefits of economies of scale."

Bundy also reminded the Journal that New Mexico has "fewer classified state employees per capita than it did in 2002.

The committee's recommendations also include merging the Public Education Department with the Higher Education Department and joining the Homeland Security Department with the Department of Public Safety.

The committee suggested a state Commerce Department could be created by joining existing departments of economic development, labor, tourism, regulation and licensing, workers compensation, border authority and the spaceport authority. Additionally, the Environment Department and the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department could also be combined.

The recommendations also call for changes to Medicaid benefits and public school funding that could save New Mexico an estimated $110 million.

Considered for elimination would be 18 boards and commissions, including the Governor's Finance Council, the Green Jobs Council, the Governor's Blue Ribbon Water Task Force and some more obscure entities, such as the Interior Design Board and the Storage Tank Committee.

Many boards and commissions have outlived their original purpose or are no longer effective, the committee report suggested.

The committee's members, mostly veterans of state government finance and budgeting, were praised for their by the group's chairman former Gov. Garrey Carruthers.

"This is a very knowledgeable group of people who know state government and know where to look to find significant savings," Carruthers said in a news release. "We look forward to continue to work with Governor Richardson and the Legislature to streamline government and make it more responsive to New Mexicans, particularly during these tough economic times."

The group included New Mexico Tech President Daniel Lopez, former Finance and Administration secretary Willard Lewis, UNM Executive Vice President for Administration David Harris, Chris Krahling, a former architect of the government reorganization in the Jerry Apodoca administration, former DFA budget director John Gasparich, and current DFA Secretary Katherine Miller.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Rael beats crowded field to the airways

Lawrence Rael has launched his first television ad campaign in his bid for the Democrat Party's 2010 nomination for lieutenant governor.

A news release from his campaign team says they are buying time to air the the 30 second ad on Albuquerque's commercial stations and on cable outlets throughout the state.

Updated: We've learned the total ad buy is around $7,700.

The messaging, in the ad, focuses on Rael’s ability to build relationships for a better New Mexico and is tied to his Ask Anyone email campaign, which features voters sharing their personal stories about Rael.

“What we wanted to show was the unique power of his leadership, from his personal warmth to his integrity and commitment," Steve Wedeen, of Vaughn Wedeen Kuhn said about the spot he produced. "We wanted to show Lawrence up close for the voters to see.”

Rael, who retired from as the Executive Director of the Mid-Region Council of Governments, faces four other candidates, including former Democratic Party of New Mexico chair Brian Colón, state Rep. Joe Campos and state Senators Linda Lopez and Jerry Ortiz y Pino.

Colón's camp said it is also making plans for a "substantial ad buy early in the campaign."

Each candidate is vying for at minimum of 20 percent of the delegate vote at the New Mexico Democrat Party's 2010 state convention on March 13th at the Buffalo Thunder resort for an automatic ballot position in June primary election.

Four Republicans have announced their candidacies for lieutenant governor — state Sen. Kent Cravens of Albuquerque, 2006 Republican gubernatorial candidate J.R. Damron, former state Rep. Brian Moore of Clayton, 2002 Republican gubernatorial nominee John Sanchez. Albuqureque nurse Bea Sheridan has withdrawn from the race.

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Suit challenges state's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions

Three Republican lawmakers have joined a group of businesses and industry associations who are challenging the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board's (EIB) authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

The group seeks a judgement that could determine if the EIB has the authority, under New Mexico law, to impose a cap on greenhouse gases. The plaintiffs have also requested that the court order the EIB not to conduct further administrative proceedings on a proposal supported by New Energy Economy, Inc. (NEE)

In late 2008, NEE filed a rulemaking petition with the EIB seeking to have the state board adopt a statewide cap on greenhouse gas emissions that is, according to those suing, significantly more restrictive than proposals being considered by the U.S. Congress.

The suit was filed in the Fifth Judicial District of the State of New Mexico in Lea County by state Senators Carroll Leavell and Gay Kernan, state Rep Donald Bratton, the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, Dairy Producers of New Mexico, El Paso Electric Company, New Mexico Rural Electric Cooperative Association, PNM, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc., New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau and New Mexico Petroleum Marketers Association.

The group insists greenhouse gas emissions are a national and global issue, which Congress is already considering legislation that would include "a single set of regulations for all states."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also is addressing greenhouse gas emissions. NEE’s effort, which would only apply in New Mexico, would damage the state’s already beleaguered economy, place the state at a competitive disadvantage and significantly increase costs for New Mexico residents and employers, including manufacturers, the agriculture industry, universities, military bases, mineral processing operations, small oil and gas producers, and utilities.

Under the state’s Environmental Improvement Act and Air Quality Control Act, the New Mexico legislature delegates authority to the EIB to adopt regulations and standards in a number of environmental management programs.

The lawmakers who joined the challenge claim:
The legislature has not granted the EIB the authority to consider rules or regulations to regulate greenhouse gas emissions as proposed in the NEE petition. The EIB lacks authority under state law to adopt air quality regulations without first establishing the applicable air quality standards.

They contend:
Neither the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency nor the state have adopted an air quality standard for greenhouse gases. With no national or state air quality standard, the EIB cannot impose a unilateral cap on greenhouse emission in New Mexico.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Richardson wants state to be leading renewable energy exporter

U.S. Senator Tom Udall, Schott Solar North America CEO Gerald Fine, and NM Tech President Dan Lopez, watch as Gov. Bill Richardson signs an executive order to create a green economy in New Mexico. (Photo: Lea Harrison)

Governor Bill Richardson, acting on recommendations from his Green Jobs Cabinet, signed an executive order that could help the state become that leader in renewable energy exports.

“A comprehensive green economy is critical to the future of New Mexico and will lead our state into a new era of economic vitality and stability,” Richardson said. “Today I am outlining a clear path to ensure our state capitalizes economically and environmentally on our abundant renewable resources and assets.”

The governor's Green Jobs Cabinet recommended five goals for the state, which include:

  1. To become a leader in renewable energy export.

  2. To become the center of the North American solar industry. This includes everything from research and development to manufacturing to the installation of solar elements in our buildings.

  3. To lead the nation in Green Grid innovation.

  4. To continue being a leader in green building and energy efficiency.

  5. To have an educational system that prepares New Mexico students for jobs in green technologies.

A wide scope of directives

Richardson’s executive order, signed at SCHOTT Solar's manufacturing plant in Albuquerque on Tuesday, lays out a wide scope of directives to reach these goals, and involves several state agencies, including the Economic Development Department, the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department, the New Mexico Environmental Department, the Indian Affairs Department, the New Mexico Department of Agriculture, Department of Workforce Solutions, Public Education Department and Higher Education Department.

After signing the order the Richardson announced the release of the New Mexico Green Jobs Guidebook. The Guidebook provides an overview of green occupations, their education requirements, and resources available at New Mexico colleges and universities.

Expanded Tax Credits

Richardson announced he will seek legislation to expand the state’s Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit during the upcoming legislative session. The expansion will double the available credit for solar generators to one million megawatt hours. The Production Tax Credit expansion is critical for ensuring that there is an in-state market for the products from our growing cluster of solar manufacturers like SCHOTT, Emcore, and Signet Solar.

The Green Jobs Cabinet report is available one line here.