Examining the Martinez administration’s ’37’ tax cuts

As the 2017 regular legislative session ends, New Mexico finds itself in familiar territory—with no money in a slow-moving economy. The same tired rhetoric of no tax increases—a pledge made by Governor Susana Martinez since she has taken office—has led to deep cuts in essential services like education, public safety, and health care. Because we often hear the administration touting the 37 tax cuts made since Governor Richardson left office in 2011, obviously the executive believes we can cut our way to prosperity. But in reality, these cuts helped put our state in the red. Raphael Pacheco, MBA, is a Research and Policy Analyst and the State Priorities Partnership Fellow for NM Voices for Children.

Competitor: ABQ ‘rigged’ new body cam agreement for Taser

A Georgia-based police body camera manufacturer is alleging Albuquerque officials used an “inappropriate and illegal” process to reach a tentative agreement with Taser International Inc. for cameras and online video storage at the state’s largest law enforcement agency. Ted Davis, president and CEO of Utility Associates, Inc., filed a formal protest this week saying Taser’s initial bid of $4.7 million should have been disqualified last year because it did not meet the city’s requirements spelled out in a request for proposals. Chief among Davis’ allegations is that Taser low-balled its initial bid by not including specific prices for cameras and other required equipment — a claim reviewed by a New Mexico In Depth using public records related to the RFP. “That should’ve been it,” Davis said in a telephone interview with NMID from his office in Decatur, Ga. “It should’ve been over at that point.”

Utility Associates would have won the contract because it scored second highest behind Taser among the city’s seven-member selection committee.

A look back at what happened during the session

After the 2017 general legislative session adjourned, Gov. Susana Martinez vowed to veto any tax increases and to call legislators back to the Roundhouse for a special session soon to redo the budget. Democrats said their package would avoid any further cuts to education, which has seen several slashes in recent years because of declining revenue to the state. The governor’s office says a state government shutdown could happen as early as next month. This story also appears in this week’s edition of the Alibi. In a post-session press conference, Martinez blamed lawmakers, saying some “failed to do their jobs this session.” Her tone capped a tense few days between her office and the Legislature.

Administrative next step to capital outlay reforms

Reforming New Mexico’s process for selecting and paying for public works projects, which is nearly universally criticized as inefficient and wasteful, will continue through administrative steps despite the lack of an appetite this year to enact reforms into law. Those of us who believe the state’s capital outlay process can be improved will not be deterred from pursuing statutory changes in the future, such as requirements for better vetting, complete funding and prioritization of those projects that directly improve the safety, well-being and health of New Mexicans. Pete Campos is a Democratic State Senator from Las Vegas representing District 8. We will move forward with administrative reforms, including efforts by the Department of Finance and Administration and the Legislative Finance Committee, as well as the New Mexico Municipal League and the New Mexico Association of Counties. Those entities have been working diligently to improve the process, mindful of how important capital outlay projects are to local communities, our state’s economy and the health, safety and well-being of New Mexicans.

Outside the news conference

Earlier this year, the president of the United States referred to journalists from news organizations such as the New York Times, CNN and NBC News as the “enemy of the American people.” Shortly after that, reporters from those outlets and others were barred from the White House press gaggle. As Sunshine Week dawns, New Mexico journalists can commiserate with colleagues across the country who are under fire from hostile politicians. More importantly, we can assure them that there is life outside the news conference. Sarah Gustavus is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande Chapter board and the producer of New Mexico In Focus. It has become a New Mexico tradition for gubernatorial administrations to blacklist journalists who expose stories politicians would rather keep quiet.

Starting a conversation on taxes on the 1 percent

On Saturday night, March 11, 2017, I started a long overdue conversation on the floor of the House. For the past 14 years, New Mexico tried an experiment—we cut personal and corporate income taxes to see if jobs would flow into the state. The experiment failed.  Jobs and people left the state. Revenues tumbled.

With proposed State Department cuts, private diplomacy more important than ever

At the arrivals area in Dulles airport last Thursday, Ebrima and his two girls, Sarah and Aminata, stood nervously. Almost a year and one really long hour of waiting at the airport later, they were about to see their mom and wife, Fanta Jawara. Fanta, an American citizen, had been held in a Gambian prison, notorious for human rights abuses, for most of this period as a political prisoner. As the door opened, they rushed Fanta, and embraced her tightly. No eye was left dry at the terminal.

NM Auditor: Conflict of interest found in Corrections Dept. audit

A former deputy cabinet secretary at the New Mexico Corrections Department was put in charge of the financial relationship between the department and a television production company for which she had worked only months before, according to a new report from the state Auditor’s Office. It appears that Alex Sanchez waived at least $20,000 in fees owed by Lucky 8 TV, LLC, to the Corrections Department in June 2016 after having left  the company’s employ just three months earlier, the report shows. The state Auditor’s evidence for that claim is an email Sanchez sent employees of the company in which she noted the waived fees for the filming of Lucky 8’s prison reality series, “Behind Bars: Rookie Year.”

The Corrections Department could not provide any evidence or documentation that anyone other than Sanchez determined the amounts to be billed to the production company. This piece originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted here with permission. Additionally, Lucky 8 was allowed to begin filming a third season of its show last year even though the company still owed the state $42,000 from the previous two seasons, the audit found.

AG Sessions’ remarks leave questions about ABQ police reform

Comments from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week that he intends to “pull back on” federal oversight of police departments drew mixed reactions from officers and civil rights advocates in Albuquerque, where a police reform agreement between the city and the Justice Department is nearing the midway point of its third year. Reform proponents told New Mexico In Depth they were troubled by Sessions’ remarks, and they are ready to step in to ensure that APD adheres to constitutional policing if the federal government steps away. The president of the Albuquerque police union, meanwhile, said officers were pleased with the tone of support from the attorney general. The rank and file hope his comments could signal a softening of what they see as the agreement’s more onerous requirements. So far, though, the agreement and its effect on APD personnel have continued unabated since Donald Trump took office on Jan.

Trump invites bids to build wall, cites importance of ‘aesthetics’

President Donald Trump built his campaign on the promise of a wall across the U.S.-Mexico border. Just a month after his inauguration, the Department of Homeland Security announced plans to begin construction. And last Friday, the department took a step to make sure it will look good. In a little-noticed update, the department now says it wants a wall that will be “nominally 30 feet tall,” and, importantly, that bids will be judged on “aesthetics,” as well. The new language, perhaps coincidental but likely not, appears to be a bureaucratic translation of Trump’s oft-repeated promise to build a “beautiful” wall from 30 to 55 feet high.