For Democrats the rubber needs to meet the road, even if the road leads to Vetoville.

Balancing the Budget on the Backs of Employees and the Working Poor.

[Consider yourself forewarned: this is a long post – but so is the state budget a many paged document…]

Joe Monahan has the best take on the unfairness of the budget message from Governor Martinez for FY 2018 (including supplemental repairs to the current FY 2017 shortages). (Click her to get to New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan.)

And Joe has the best analysis regarding the Democrats’ failure to communicate’ to the public that it just ain’t fair to keep beating up on already over-worked and under-paid public employees and working families in New Mexico.

This review of the three leading local media organizations’ coverage of the governor rolling out her budget message gives you an idea of:

1)      What is wrong about the Governor’s approach to the budget needs of New Mexico;

2)     The problem with the heretofore weak leadership and direction from the opposition party; and

3)     What might be a “Hail Mary Pass” approach which could save public employees and working families and the poor in general.

Monahan sums up the approach and frame of mind of the Governor in a simple paragraph, which speaks to number one above:

“The stinker in her plan is to reduce the amount state government contributes to the pension plans of state workers. The vast majority of them receive only modest salaries and have seen no pay raises in years. Martinez is at her punitive worst in trying to balance the budget on their humble backs. Lawmakers ought to push back on that one.”

– From New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan.

Looking at number two above, Monahan gives his readers the following assessment of what has been problematic for the past six years, and (despite the House being back under the control of Democrats and increased numbers of Democrats in the Senate) may continue to be a problem for the very people responsible for the Democrats’ gains – labor, working people advocacy folks and environmentalists:

“Let’s face it. The Democrats do not have the unity nor the fight in them to put this Governor on the spot by proposing a complex remake of how the state allocates its resources or raises revenue. Also, to what end? Martinez would veto any such plan and the votes are not there to override her veto.”

– From New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan.

The last sentence of that last quote about overriding a veto is a recognition of what is so wrong about the leadership of the Democrats in New Mexico the past several years.

It is the embodiment of that old, worn out, loser’s statement “you can’t fight city hall.”

(If you listened to President Obama’s farewell address to the nation last evening, you might wonder which party the leaders in New Mexico belong to. President Obama, despite enormous opposition from Republicans and some Democrats, never gave up, and never stopped trying. He kept standing up to the bullies even by himself at times, and came with another way to address their attacks on working and poor America – the 99%.)

What the Democrats need to do over the next sixty plus days is to first remember that they ARE ‘city hall.’

And then they need to act. Regardless of what the Governor decides to do.

Otherwise they might as well adopt her budget proposal and fold their tents … which would be a slap in the face of the people who gave millions of dollars and countless hours electing them to the powerful legislative positions they hold.

Monahan seems frustrated about number three above, which is understandable, because it assumes the past six years of hiding under their desks will be the response of the new legislature; scaredy-cats when it comes to confronting the Governor, and waiting for her to go away:

“There is still hope for a comprehensive plan to fix our lack of revenue, repair the damage done from years of tax cutting mania and to revamp higher education for the downsized state we face in the years ahead. But that hope now rests on the ’18 campaign trail, not at the Roundhouse presided over by a lame duck Governor and uncertain Democrats.

So, is there any glimmer of hope?

Actually, yes. And it resides primarily with the people responsible for electing the Democrats to power once again – you.

But it will require making it a bit uncomfortable for any leader who tries to advance the same ole, same ole surrendering approach.

If you look at both the New Mexican and Journal reporting about the budget you can read some hope in between the responses of both the two labor representatives (Charles Goodmacher of NEA and Carter Bundy of AFSCME) and the new Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth.

Let’s look at news coverage regarding Wirth’s response to the Governor’s proposal first:

“Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, a Democrat from Santa Fe, said Tuesday the governor’s plan to close the deficit is the first she has presented in eight months.”

“Leading Democratic legislators, in turn, called the governor’s proposed cuts “devastating.”

“Wirth said the Senate agrees with the extent to which the governor has proposed restoring reserves but raised concerns about her call to sweep money from the reserve accounts of local school districts.

““Calling these local school reserves a ‘slush fund’ is disheartening,” Wirth said in a statement.”

“The Legislative Finance Committee is expected to present its budget plan later this week. How sharply it differs from the governor’s proposal could reveal how difficult agreement on the state’s fiscal blueprint could become.

– All the above from the Santa Fe New Mexican.

“Top-ranking Democratic legislators and union leaders quickly criticized several parts of the governor’s solvency plan, most of which would require legislative approval during the 60-day session that starts next week.

“Incoming Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said Tuesday he was concerned by the governor’s proposal, adding it was “disheartening” for the governor to refer to the school reserves as a slush fund.

“But he said he was glad to see Martinez put forward a solvency plan, as she had faced criticism from Democratic lawmakers for not doing so before last fall’s special session.”

– From the Albuquerque Journal.

Interestingly there was no reporting on the reaction of the soon-to-be Speaker of the House, Brian Egolf, in the New Mexican or the Journal.

He did get quoted in another media outlet, NM Political Report, but seemed to shy away from any discussion of the budget:

“Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, who is slated to be the next Speaker of the House, said his party’s goal is to work toward more jobs and a secure economy. Egolf did not address the specifics of Martinez’s plan.

““The Governor today has acknowledged the need to tackle the state’s deficit,” Egolf said in a statement. “Job creation and economic growth are the top priorities for the incoming leadership in the House of Representatives. We are ready for the difficult task of finding common ground to turn our state’s economy around.”” 

– From The NM Political Report.

But the response of the Democrat’s party leader was pretty lackluster, reading like it was written by another highly paid consultant out of DC, lifted from any one of hundreds of similarly uninspiring press statements they cut and paste for clients across the country:

“Democrats accused Martinez of doubling down on an approach to the budget they say has cut government “to the bones.”

“New Mexico deserves a realistic approach to the budget that invests in our state, instead of Governor Martinez’s irresponsible approach,” said Debra Haaland, chairwoman of the New Mexico Democratic Party.”

– Both from the Santa Fe New Mexican.

But there was a least a bit of a spark in there someplace, which leads to the admonition from the labor representatives for scapegoating and punishing state employees and people in need of services.

As referred to earlier, labor was among the three major advocacy groups investing heavily in the last election to put Democrats in control of the House and strengthen the Senate in order to turn the economy around and protect working families and other vulnerable constituencies in the state.

These three groups, especially the labor representatives, need to make House and Senate members aware the people are not going to accept lip service about the unfairness of, and then surrender to, the message laid out in the Governor’s proposal.

Both Goodmacher and Bundy seem to be off to a good start in addressing the attacks by the administration on state employees.

This is Bundy’s response which should alert legislators they are expected to act not acquiesce:

“Carter Bundy, a political representative for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, called the pension contribution changes “a pure pay cut” and expects many lawmakers will object.

““Gov. Martinez wants to take $100 million or more out of the pockets of middle class and poor New Mexicans so she can keep giving tax breaks to out-of-state corporations,” Bundy said.”

– Both from the Santa Fe New Mexican.

“Carter Bundy, the political and legislative director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union in New Mexico, said the union will fight the proposal to require more than 20,000 state workers – plus teachers – to funnel more of their paychecks into their retirement plans. Taxpayer-funded contributions would decrease by 3.5 percentage points.

““She is proposing taking money out of the pockets of middle-class and poor New Mexicans and giving it directly to big out-of-state corporations and billionaires,” Bundy told the Journal.”

– Both from the Albuquerque Journal.

Here are Goodmacher’s comments:

“Districts rely on the money to finance operations as state and federal dollars roll in throughout the year, said Charles Goodmacher, director of government and media relations for the National Education Association of New Mexico.

““These cash reserves are in place because districts don’t start the year fully funded,” he said, describing the governor’s claims that the dollars amount to a “slush fund” as an “unreal statement.””

– Both from the Santa Fe New Mexican.


Here are two more quotes from the coverage of the Governor’s Budget Message that bear reading and remembering:

“The state workforce was at 21,905 full-time positions in October, down 18 percent from mid-2008. Rather than a sign of distress, the Governor and her allies see this smaller government in a positive light. She may see her lasting legacy not as presiding over a failed economy but as the Governor who downsized state government and never raised taxes. If so, that could mean the workforce continues to shrink and that layoffs, which have already begun to trickle in, could continue if revenue projections falter even mildly.

– From New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan.

““Martinez on Tuesday proposed closing the gap by sweeping up about $268.5 million in funds from various government accounts while also ensuring about $59 million in recurring savings.””

– From the Santa Fe New Mexican.

They represent the political motivation of the Governor, and the battlefield she sits atop of, and seems in control of absent legislative leadership challenging her.

When the LFC budget is revealed today or tomorrow, the public should be able to see how strong the Democrats’ response will be addressing the needs of state workers and the people of New Mexico.

Will they assume an aggressive battle posture, or act like the lords of Scotland in the movie Braveheart, afraid to challenge what is so wrong?

If the LFC budget is composed of more cuts and insufficient revenue changes, then personal relationships with legislators aside, advocacy organizations which represent workers and families, not the political class, need to tell the Democrats that it’s time to stop talking and walk the walk.