Thursday, December 31, 2009

New state contract database to shed some light on spending

The new state contracts database unveiled Wednesday by Lt. Gov. Diane Denish will give the public some information on where taxpayer money is heading.

But it won't tell the whole story. It leaves out a major chunk of state spending -- i.e. the $5.5 billion state general fund budget. Several other states put their entire checkbook online, and many here hope that happens someday. Already, a measure to do that passed the Senate but died in the House.

But in a year that some would say has seen less and less transparency in state government, the new database is a step in the right direction. And, if nothing else, it saves anyone who is interested the hassle of requesting documents about the contracts, and waiting for days for the hard-copy information. In this day and age, that kind of information should be available online.

Happy New Year.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Appointment at Workforce Solutions riles some

The story I wrote this morning about a Gov. Bill Richardson chief of staff being appointed to the Department of Workforce Solutions has my voicemail and inbox filling up fast with irate readers.

The story involves Teresa Casados, who now works in the Governor's Office, moving to the DWFS and replacing Teresa Gomez, who is moving to another position in the same department.

Casados will earn $46.32 in her new post, I learned yesterday. I found out today Gomez makes $40.95.

I have an e-mail into the Governor's Office asking why the switch was made and whether this is an exemption to the state's ongoing hiring freeze.

Here's what the Governor's Office had to say.

"Teresa Casados is a strong manager whose leadership skills will be an asset to the Department of Workforce Solutions. Her salary will be similar to the salary she made as Deputy Chief of Staff at the Governor's Office. The position is exempt and fills a critical need, as do all deputy secretary positions."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

John Sanchez to make campaign announcement today

Sanchez, the 2002 GOP gubernatorial candidate, plans to make an announcement about a "statewide office" today at 2 p.m.

It's no secret he's been thinking about running again recently. The only question really is whether it's for governor or lieutenant governor. Many insiders say it is the state's number two spot. But we'll wait until 2 o clock to be sure.

UPDATE: Sanchez is running for lieutenant governor. He said in a statement that many had encouraged him to run for governor, but that he wanted to avoid a divisive GOP primary race.

“I believe that my business and political experience will strengthen the Republican ticket in 2010, and that I will bring energy and enthusiasm to the election process, and that once elected, that I will be effective in a vital role, of new leadership for New  Mexico,” he said.

Sanchez joins Albuquerque Sen. Kent Cravens, Santa Fe radiologist J.R. Damron, former state Rep. Brian Moore and Albuquerque nurse Bea Sheridan in the June primary.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Gov's office won't release list of fired exempt employees

I just got back the records request I made on the exempt employees who were let go and will be out of work Jan. 8.

To be clear, my request asked for "any or all correspondence, including but not limited to e-mails and traditional mail, written memos or other communication, to or from anyone in your office related to the 59 people who were notified this week they are being laid off."

All I got back were a bunch of e-mails I and other reporters sent on the topic. Oh, and the press releases sent to us media on the lay offs. Nothing else that gives any clue as to who was laid off. No letters to people who were fired. No letters to the department heads of people who were to be fired. Nothing outlining who would be chosen to get the boot or how.

Does anyone else find it hard to believe that e-mails from reporters on this subject are the only documents out there on this topic?

I have an e-mail into the Governor's Office asking for an explanation and will let you know when I get one.

Update, 5:47 pm. 

Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said the office turned over all documents and records in this case.

He said it's "not necessary, nor is it appropriate or dignified to identify individuals who are losing their jobs" but gave no legal reason for withholding the information.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gov: ban cell phone talking and driving without a headset

Gov. Bill Richardson said today he wants to ban talking on hand-held phones while driving in the state.

He plans to support legislation in 2010 that would prohibit driving without a headset, like several cities in the state have already done.


“Driver distraction is a major cause of accidents, and the use of cell phones while driving is increasingly a problem,” Richardson said in statement.  

“We’ve all seen drivers swerving around the road while talking on the phone and texting, putting the safety and lives of New Mexicans in danger.”


Thom Turbett, president of SafeTeen New Mexico, said in a statement that people who use cell phones and drive are four times more likely to get into accidents. “Technology has created a situation that is causing much greater risk to everyone who drives,” he said. 


The proposed legislation would make it a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $200. 

Going into his last session, the move seems like a pretty sure win for Richardson. While not everyone likes it, bans are generally popular across the country.

Just who all was laid off in state government, anyway?

I keep getting that question from readers. Wish I could answer. The Governor's Office has refused to name any of the 59 exempt employees who will be looking for work come Jan. 8.

There's no doubt the information is public, being that the salaries are paid with public money. Channel 4 reports here that they also are working to get the list of employees.

The Governor's Office is in the process of responding to my request as well. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Vigil-Giron to be out of a job is reporting here that former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron is among the 59 exempt employees who will be out of work come Jan. 8 under a plan by Gov. Bill Richardson to trim state spending.

Her name is the second to be known publicly of those who got pink slips, even though the rest are paid with public funds. The governor's office has refused to release the names of others.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Denish opposed to raising food tax

As more and more people talk about the possibility of raising the state's tax on food, Lt. Gov. Diane Denish said today she's against the thought.

“Like many other states, New Mexico is facing tough times and we have to make some tough decisions in order to close our state’s budget shortfall," she said in a statement. 

"A lot of ideas have been put on the table, but one thing I will not support is an across-the-board tax on all food. When families are pinching and scraping to get by, taxing the basics like milk and bread is just not right," she said.

"We need a solution to the state's budget problem, but it should not come at the cost of making tough times even tougher for regular New Mexico families.  We must start the upcoming legislative session by identifying ways to make government smaller and more efficient, such as overhauling the capital outlay process and ending the practice of double-dipping.”

Others have said raising the tax on junk food is a wiser plan; it's unclear if Denish supports that idea.

Gov. Bill Richardson, meanwhile -- who first proposed cutting the state's food tax -- remains mum on what he'll support in the upcoming session.

"The governor has not and will not comment on any of the potential tax  increases, other than what he said previously about his deep reservations about any changes to the personal-income and capital gains tax cuts as well as tax credits that have created thousands of jobs for 

New Mexicans in areas such as film and renewable energy," a spokesman said.

Monday, December 7, 2009

New employee furlough plan changes one day

In the wake of  input and criticism from state employee union members, the Gov. Bill Richardson administration has decided to change one of the dates for planned furloughs.

Under the new plan offered by Gov. Bill Richardson, employees wouldn’t be off Dec. 31, but rather March 5, spreading out the pain of unpaid time off.

The plan still would include other furlough dates before or after holidays late this year and early next year.

The original plan called for employees to stay home Dec. 24, Dec. 31, Jan. 15, April 2 and May 28, all around holidays.

Under the new plan, employees would stay home and government offices would be closed on Dec. 24, Jan. 15, March 5, April 2 and May 28.

More details here.

Manny's odd, odd castle

I'm no architect critic here, so I won't even try to sum up all the oddities about Manny Aragon's South Valley castle shown below in the video by the folks at the New Mexico Watchdog. (I don't have that much time, anyway.)

In short, though, I had always wondered whether the urban legend about the replica of the state seal in one of the rooms was true. At 8 minutes into the video, I saw it was. (The video is pretty long, but worth that wait, on that point alone.) To me, the giant seal -- like the one that used to hang above Manny in the state Senate -- is the oddest part of the whole castle thing...although there are some other strange things about the building, including the nicho in the shower and the way so many different architectural styles are used on the same house. It's also unclear if anyone actually lives or lived in the building, as it looks like it is still under construction in places. . . 

(Manny of course doesn't live there anymore.)

To be honest, I'm not totally sure what the point of the video is, with the random quotes from Manny's career sprinkled about, but I bet it's the first time anyone has published video of the often-rumored casa, so that's a coup, Albuquerque style, I suppose.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Richardson creates special committee to reduce spending

In the wake of news that the state's budget crunch is only getting worse, Gov. Bill Richardson today appointed eight people to look at how government can further cut spending. Meaning, more cuts are coming.

The group, called the Committee on Government Efficiency "will thoroughly review all areas of state government and analyze potential savings through streamlining, consolidating and eliminating certain areas," according to the Governor's Office.


 “Over the past year, I’ve taken necessary action to responsibly cut state spending and balance the budget,” Richardson said in a statement. “I’ve established this committee to help identity additional areas for savings and increased efficiency by conducting a top to bottom review of state government.”


The group will make recommendations to lawmakers for the 2010 session and former Gov. Garry Carruthers will serve as chairman.

I haven't put in a request yet for how much it will cost the committee to operate, but maybe I will. . .

First gubernatorial forum coming up

It's never too early, I suppose, for debates and forums. So the Rio Grande Foundation is hosting one next Wednesday night at the Albuquerque Museum. All candidates for the 2010 governor's race have been invited, but its unclear who all will attend.

The group says the event, an informal question and answer period, is a chance to "kick the tires" and get to know the candidates.

Admission is $5. RSVP to

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

59 exempt employees let go

Gov. Bill Richardson's office says nearly 60 people have been notified they will be out of a job come Jan. 8.

The move saves $8.3 million and is part of the state's effort to trim the budget. It comes as most other employees will be furloughed for five days.

“While the governor has worked hard to cut spending with minimum impact to state employees, the reality is that we have to trim the number of exempt employees,” Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said in a statement. “We value and appreciate the public service these employees provided to the state of New Mexico.”

No word yet on who was laid off or what positions are affected, besides the Securities Division director I mentioned in today's story.

Exempts exiting?

Gov. Bill Richardson said last month he would eliminate at least 84 exempt positions in state government, (many of which are said to be vacant) but said has nothing since then on who would be let go, how or when.

It looks like that process has started. A Richardson spokesman wouldn't say anything about it Tuesday, but expect more news on that front soon.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Politico: Denish is the "anti-Bill Richardson"

The online political news site Politico says today that Lt. Gov. Diane Denish is working to set her own agenda ahead of the 2010 gubernatorial race, one that will show off a different style fro Gov. Bill Richardson. The article dubs her the "anti-Bill Richardson."
That doesn't mean she's anti-Richardson, exactly, but the story talks about her move to separate herself from the governor, while at the same time trying to appeal to Democrats she needs to get elected next year.

There is one similarity, of course: Denish is in Washington D.C. talking to the media there, something somebody else used to do a lot of.