March 31, 2016

Odds and Ends: Bad economy numbers, drought expanding

—Bad NM economy numbers

Earlier this week, the ranking member of the Joint Economic Committee released a report on “snapshots” of the economies in each state. New Mexico’s, well, wasn’t good.

thumbnailOn jobs, the report finds that businesses have added just 100 jobs over the year. Since the national low point of private-sector employment in Feb. 2010, New Mexico added 33,400 private sector jobs, or 5.5 percent through Feb. 2015. This is less than half the 13.3 percent nationally.

Unemployment went from 6.5 percent in January to 6.4 percent in February; this is down from 6.5 percent in Feb. 2015.

State average hourly earnings actually fell 1.0 percent from Feb. 2015 to Feb. 2016, when adjusted for inflation; the median household income (in 2014 dollars) fell from $50,600 in 2007, before the recession, to $46,700 in 2014.

One bright spot? Exports. Exports were up 4.1 percent from the 12 months ending in Jan. 2015 when inflation-adjusted.

March data will be released on April 15 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on jobs, unemployment and earnings data. With bad indicators on extractive industries, which were a strength for the state over the past few years, the numbers may be even worse.

—Our stories from today

And stories from yesterday:

—Senator wants to clarify if opting out of PARCC is legal

howie moralesState Sen. Howie Morales is asking the Attorney General if it is legal to opt their children out of the PARCC exam.

The Silver City Democrat wrote a letter to AG Hector Balderas Thursday.

“Using a school’s grade to leverage administrators to pressure parents negatively impacts the educational outcomes of New Mexico’s schools,” Morales said in a statement. “PED should not put a wedge between schools and parents who are exercising their right to direct their child’s education.”

—Drought expanding again

It looks like that El Nino that was supposed to fix the drought situation ended up being kind of a bust.

The latest New Mexico Drought Monitor update shows that 99.64 percent of the state is at least “abnormally dry” and 22.34 percent is at least in “moderate drought.” So far, no portions of the state are in “severe drought.”

One year ago, 18.75 percent of the state was in severe drought and 62.11 percent was in moderate drought.

—NMFOG declares open meetings victory

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government declared a victory after a decision in the New Mexico Court of Appeals.

983855_935142729859783_7879884175995472816_nThe decision said that even when a meeting is closed for attorney-client privilege, the public body must still meet some substantial portions of the Open Meetings Act, including posting a public agenda and letting the public into the meeting (even if they must leave for the closed portion of the meeting).

This came after a lawsuit from the New Mexico Press Association over settlements by the State Investment Council.

“The Open Meetings part of this decision is a great victory for transparency and for the people of New Mexico,”Santa Fe attorney Daniel Yohalem, who represented FOG and the NMPA, said. “The Court of Appeals has put a stop to a major ploy used by state boards and local governments to avoid taking action in the public’s eye.”

— Former lawmaker and advocate against asset forfeiture calls out feds

This week Brad Cates, a former New Mexico lawmaker, former director of the Justice Department’s Asset Forfeiture Office and current Third Judicial District Attorney candidate, called out the feds for reviving a program he called “a cancer that eats at the very heart of the integrity of the American judicial system.”

Blue LightsHis statement was in response to an article from The Washington Post that reported the U.S. Justice Department would resume the practice of seizing assets from suspects before any arrests or criminal charges.

Cates, who had a hand in creating the federal program in the 1980s, has recently been outspoken against civil asset forfeiture and advocated for legislation that made New Mexico the first state to outlaw the practice of taking property before an arrest or conviction.

In a statement, Cates said the process goes against a basic standard in government.

“As the DOJ should know, a fundamental requirement of any American judge, lawyer, or law enforcement official is to avoid even the appearance of impropriety,” Cates wrote. “It looks wrong, it smells wrong, and it is wrong that the very officers and lawyers who take the property without due process should in turn ‘equitably share’ the booty amongst themselves.”

Cates is also involved in a court proceeding asking the courts to stop the City of Albuquerque’s asset forfeitures related to DWI arrests.