Thursday, February 24, 2011

Watch out, New Mexico, Utah has big film incentives

As lawmakers here are wringing their collective hands over what to do about incentives for the state's film program, legislators in Utah are expanding its program, the Motion Picture Association of New Mexico says in a press release.

Here's the scoop:

In a 57 to 12 vote, the Utah House decided on Tuesday to both raise the 20% credit to 25% and make the program essentially permanent.

"Utah has looked at what we have done here in New Mexico and wants to emulate our program," said Santa Fe based producer Alton Walpole. "They recognize that this industry creates good jobs and attracts investment that creates a positive overall economic impact."

The Utah legislation, HB 99, also adds digital media companies to the eligible applicants column for the incentive.

"As a state that adopted incentives early, we got a head start in building infrastructure and developing a skilled work-force," said Walpole. "This has made New Mexico one of the top destinations for production and new media markets like digital effects. With other states rushing to duplicate what we’ve achieved here, attempts to cap or reduce our incentives send exactly the wrong message about our long-term commitment to this industry. In this competitive environment it’s vital that our lawmakers protect our strategic advantage by continuing to support and even improve New Mexico’s program."

The release of course is aimed at putting even more pressure on lawmakers here to think twice about reducing the incentives for filmmakers in New Mexico, again raising the point that movie producers could easily choose another spot for their next flick.

But it also highlights the difference in how states are approaching film programs and incentives. See this story on how the makers of the Avengers movie have pulled out of Michigan after its governor proposed essentially eliminating film tax incentives there.

Do Martinez' ads violate campaign law?

That's the question the good government group Common Cause New Mexico is asking today, after Gov. Susana Martinez started airing ads urging people to call their lawmakers to support a movement to repeal the state law allowing drivers' licenses for immigrants. More on that here. (In short, Martinez wants to do away with the law, but is being blocked by Democrats in the Legislature and so has taken to the airwaves with leftover campaign cash.)

Here's what Common Cause said in a statement urging Attorney General Gary King to look into the matter:
Following a careful review of New Mexico’s Campaign Reporting Act, Common Cause New Mexico (CCNM) has come to the conclusion that Governor Martinez may have violated this act when she used leftover campaign funds to pay for radio spots lobbying for a bill favored by her administration. CCNM has urged the Attorney General’s office to investigate this matter.

"The Campaign Reporting Act places strict limitations on how campaign funds can be used,” said Steven Robert Allen, executive director of CCNM. “Funding this kind of lobbying advertisement seems to be a clear violation of this statute."

Secretary of State Dianna Duran has said the spending is fine; King's office shas aid the SOS looks at the matter first, although some speculate he now will take a look as well. . . The question of what can be done with leftover campaign funds is an interesting one, as many big campaigns in recent elections have had money left over.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

SOS Duran referring "matters of concern" to state auditor

Secretary of State Dianna Duran says she has referred several "matters of serious concern" to State Auditor Hector Balderas.

"Over the past month and a half since taking office, my staff and I have identified a number of irregularities in contracts and purchasing processes conducted by the previous administration which appear to violate the New Mexico Procurement Code, and we have asked the State Auditor’s office to investigate those matters," Duran said in a statement.

Duran also said some documents appear to be missing from the office, but didn't specify what kind of information.

"Unless those documents are recovered, their disappearance could impair an independent audit that will be conducted later this year," she said.

In addition, Duran said that it looks like "data on a number of hard drives on office computers has been deleted. The data, if not recoverable, is significant to the core operations of the Office of the Secretary of State."

Former Secretary of State Mary Herrera left office last year amid a cloud of controversy, and this surely adds to it. The next question is what Balderas will do with the information.

UPDATE, 7:12 p.m.
Here's what Herrera has to say, in a statement:

The office of Secretary of State received a clean audit with zero findings for fiscal year ending June 30, 2010. I requested an exit audit for the last six month in writing to the NM State Auditor and Director of Department of Finance and Administration, no response was received.
We left the office well organized and all files were order.
We provided the new Secretary of State and her Deputy with a transition in December.
The new Deputy was invited to the office for a week for additional transition, we received no response.
Secretary of State elect was allowed to interview the employees, immediately after the transition.
Chief Financial Officer remained on the job for an additional week in January, to train and transition the new Financial Officer with budget issues, outstanding purchase orders, contracts, RFP’s, files, etc.
The overall budget reflected a 50.8 percent balance, we complied with the law.
All files were there, we have been in contact with the new administration answering any questions this year, if Secretary of State Dianna Duran still needs our help to understand the files or data, we are available to assist her.

The (public) salary list UNM didn't want you to see

Kudos to the Albuquerque Journal for posting this info on salaries that UNM officials had said they would only make available on paper.

UNM had an antiquated approach to public information that was (not so easily) gotten around by the Journal. Here's the lowdown, from a column today by Thom Cole.

The administration makes a 448-page printed alphabetized list of full- and part-time UNM main campus and branch employees available for a two-hour checkout at Zimmerman Library.
A Journal editor checked out the list last Saturday, copied it ($43 in charges), then handed it off to our computer folks for scanning. The result is a list that is searchable but not sortable.

A measure this session would make information that's already available in a database form available electronically. Here's hoping it passes -- for all the state government information out there, not just salaries.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Bingaman to retire and move to Santa Fe

After 28 years in Congress, Sen. Jeff Bingaman won't seek a sixth term in 2012, he said this afternoon at a press conference.

At the end of his term, Bingaman will have served 30 years in Washington.

"I believe it will be the right time for me to step aside and allow someone else to serve the state," he said.

"It's not easy to get elected to the Senate. It's obviously not easy to make the decision to leave the Senate," he said.

Bingaman didn't really give an exact answer when asked why he was retiring, beyond that 2012 seemed like the right time.

He will move to Santa Fe, but doesn't have a plan sketched out for himself, he said.

"I’m not sure what we’re going to do. I’m not counting anything in or ruling anything out. I'm hoping to find other challenges to pursue but I haven’t settled in on what they are yet."

Bingaman's decision, so close to the retirement of Sen. Pete Domenici, leaves a great void of seniority in New Mexico's Congressional delegation. It also means another big Congressional race is just months away. Check out Saturday's New Mexican for our coverage and analysis on what Bingaman's choice means.

Update, 9:45 a.m.
Check out our coverage here and stay tuned for what are sure to be many more stories on who will seek the seat.

WaPo: Bingaman to retire

The Washington Post is reporting that U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman will retire and not seek re-election in 2012.

The move is not a total surprise, given the time Bingaman has spent in Washington, and his age. The interesting part comes now as the guessing begins about who will run to replace him...Diane Denish? Steve Pearce? Marty Chavez? Patsy Madrid? Heather Wilson? (See this on Wilson.) The list goes on . . .

Update, 11:16 am
State Auditor Hector Balderas was the first to come with a reaction to Bingaman's decision, making me wonder if he wants the spot.
Balderas called Bingaman a "national leader on energy policy, an advocate for our national labs, a responsible steward of our public lands to a champion for those without access to health care."

Here's part of the lengthy statement Balderas sent out:

"One of his greatest unspoken legacies will be that he has served as role model to young elected officials like myself on how to comport oneself in public life—focus on making people’s lives better and do so with humility. I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Bingaman the next two years in improving the quality of life for all New Mexicans."

Update, 11:59
I have confirmed with Bingaman's office that he won't seek re-election. I will update from his Albuquerque press conference this afternoon.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Martinez picks new head of State Personnel Office

Gov. Susana Martinez has chosen Eugene Moser to lead the state Personnel Office. Many know Moser from his time at the LFC, where he was a principal analyst. He most recently was head of HR for the city of Albuquerque.

The position typically is a low profile spot in the administration, but a key one. Under former Gov. Bill Richardson, SPO director Sandra Perez spent more time than she wanted to defending various hiring practices at the state, including those of exempt employees. That scrutiny has diminished some, but lawmakers are still keeping an eye on the size of the state's payroll, while they consider changing benefits for state employees to help balance the books.

"Mr. Moser has demonstrated the leadership needed to effectively manage the State Personnel Office and help me in my mission to recruit the best talent into New Mexico government and make state government more efficient," Martinez said in a statement.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Many involved say Martinez weathered the gas crisis well

Over the weekend I looked at how those involved thought Gov. Susana Martinez handled the recent gas outage. Many said she did well, given what she knew. You can read my piece here.

How she handled the situation was of course much different than how the New Mexico Gas Company did, and many I spoke to recognized the difference. For a recap of what the gas company learned, check out this piece by fellow reporter Staci Matlock.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Schmitt out as energy secretary

Gov. Susana Martinez sent this statement tonight after Harrison Schmitt decided to withdraw his name as the state's Energy, Mineral and Natural Resources secretary.

"Senator Schmitt is a former NASA astronaut who underwent a complete background check by the Department of Public Safety as part of his nomination process," Martinez said.

"Senator Schmitt was willing to allow a private investigator access to his personal information, but he was not willing to waive that investigator’s liability for any improper actions or use of that information. While one can understand Senator Schmitt’s concerns, complying with the Legislature’s request is necessary to restore public confidence in state government. That’s why I am requiring all of my cabinet secretary designees to comply with that request and this has led to Senator Schmitt withdrawing his nomination."

The decision leaves many questions about just what a private investigator would want to do with anything they found, and of course, there's the question of just what they might find. . .

Martinez is on the hunt for a new secretary.

Lopez says Schmitt refuses background check

This just in from Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Linda Lopez, who says that she will oppose Gov. Susana Martinez' choice for the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department because he refused a background check.

Here is Lopez' statement.

Three days ago, at his request, I met with the Secretary Designate of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, Harrison Schmitt. Mr. Schmitt’s reason for requesting the meeting was to inform me of his refusal to allow a Senate conferee background check, which is a check all designated cabinet secretaries and high level appointed officials undergo as part of the Senate’s confirmation process.

First, I sympathize with Mr. Schmitt’s and all conferees’ discomfort when it comes to the background check process. It is an extensive review that includes a search for any prior criminal convictions and of the Federal Civil Court Records; verification of appointees’ assertions related to financial circumstances or improprieties such as bankruptcies, tax liens, and outstanding loans; and a review of disclosure statements related to potential conflicts of interest and ownership in business entities.

However, the New Mexico State Senate is constitutionally charged with confirming top state government officials because of the tremendous influence and authority and power provided to those individuals in their official government capacity. The forty or so individuals we confirm to these top positions are responsible for expenditures in the billions of dollars, investing the state’s multi-billion dollar pension funds, and promulgating regulations that impact citizens across the entire state of New Mexico.

The New Mexico Senate adopted background checks in 2007. They are part of a procedure that all high-level appointees must undergo as they put themselves forward into positions of public service and public trust. The review process is in place to protect the public and to provide the citizens of our state with an increased sense of confidence in their government. As such, there can be no exceptions to the background review process.

At the Senate Rules Committee hearing on Monday, February 14, we will discuss Mr. Schmitt’s refusal to adhere to the confirmation process. This will not be a hearing of Mr. Schmitt’s qualifications for service, nor to receive public input related to his appointment.

At this time, Mr. Schmitt’s refusal to comply with the background check process has left me with no choice but to oppose his confirmation.

Martinez: FEMA damage assessments ongoing

Gov. Susana Martinez has penned an executive order that makes available up to $750,000 in state emergency funds for the recent natural gas crisis.

In addition, her office says damage assessment teams from FEMA are conducting a detailed accounting of the uninsured costs incurred by state and local entities. A FEMA representative has been in Santa Fe since Monday, and the administration says it was in contact with FEMA from the get go of the disaster.

The news release comes amid a whisper campaign that Martinez didn't reach out to the feds soon enough, something her office says isn't the case.

"We continue to express our gratitude to those who are offering a hand as we work through the process of recovering from the natural gas crisis," Martinez in a statement. "In order to facilitate the quickest possible recovery and reimbursement process for local governments, we have been responding to their requests and working with FEMA from day one to evaluate damages and follow necessary steps to make state and federal funds available. With the worst of the natural gas crisis now behind us, we must do everything we can to aid our local communities as they process the damage and ensure that such an outage never happens again in the future."

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Forum Thursday for people affected by storm

Members of the state's Congressional delegation will hold a forum Thursday in Espanola to get information out about the assistance available to people affected by the recent snow storm and gas outages.

The forum is from 10 to noon at the Mission Museum. The agencies expected to attend include the USDA's Rural Development and Farm Services agencies, U.S. HUD, the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Housing Assistance Council.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Pawlenty/Martinez in 2012?

That's a possibility, according to, which today says that former MN Gov. Tim Pawlenty has mentioned Gov. Susana Martinez as a potential running mate in 2012.

Here's part of the article, which checks out the potential GOP field for next year.

At least one 2012 candidate has openly talked up the strength of the vice presidential field. During a visit to Washington last month, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty pointed to (Nevada Gov. Brian) Sandoval, Martinez and (South Carolina Gov. Nikki) Haley as strong potential running mates, along with Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno.

"There will be no shortage of great talent" for the vice presidency, Pawlenty said.

Martinez has said she's focused on New Mexico, but stay tuned. Stranger things have happened with New Mexico governors.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Bill is first to get tri-partisan support

A measure by Rep. Nate Gentry that would essentially unseal records of former Gov. Bill Richardson has tri partisan support, Gentry said in a release.

Rep. Andy Nunez, who recently switched his party registration to be an independent, has signed on to the bill, along with Republicans and Democrats.

The bill is not yet online, but here's the gist from Gentry.

"Under a 1967 law, an elected state official who has left office may submit items, including documents to the State Records and Archives Center and restrict access to those items. State officials leaving office have placed moratoria on access to these items for up to 8 years. House Bill 368 ensures that the public will continue to have access to public documents even after they have been archived."

Gentry said the bill is not aimed at Richardson.

"This bill isn’t in response to a single elected official but instead to close this loophole that prevents the public from knowing what happens in their government."

It will be interesting no doubt to see where this one goes.

Bills would boost transparency

A handful of measures this session would make it easier to get access to public records, including by making them available electronically. Check out my roundup here.

There is one I forgot, however, a reader pointed out this morning. (And there are probably others...)

SB 128 deals with certifying that copies of public records are true and correct, and instructs a records custodian on how to "set forth" a request for records to identify what records may be responsive to a request.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Bill would make public records. . . public

If you've been following the debate over whether former Gov. Bill Richardson had the legal right to have his e-mails and other office documents sealed at the State Archives for eight years, you'll find the bill the Rep. Nate Gentry is carrying interesting.

The measure aims to undo the apparent loophole that protects the records. He's going to talk more about it a press conference Friday.

One of the things Richardson said when asked about sealing his records was that all former governors have done that. That's not so, says former Gov. Dave Cargo.

Yep, it's cold. State workers going home.

Gov. Susana Martinez has declared a state of emergency and says all non-essential state employees can go home. Many are heading home to houses without heat, due to the ongoing natural gas emergency.

See our website or the NM Gas Company page for updates on shortages. There is other information on the state's page. Martinez at a press conference urged everyone to turn down the furnace and turn off all appliances that are not in use.

Exempts still under scrutiny

Remember all the fun debates last year about political appointees?
They're baaaack. (Well, sort of.)

Sen. John Ryan, who last year worked to highlight the huge number of exempts, said he's pleased that Gov. Susana Martinez has said she'll limit the number.

There are other measures, however, dealing with the topic. See my story in today's paper here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Several gun bills in the hopper

New Mexico doesn't have a proposal to make an official state handgun like Utah currently does, but there are several measures this session dealing with guns.

One measure would prohibit residents of other states from buying handguns here.

A separate bill would allow concealed carry permit holders to carry at schools, universities and liquor establishments.

Among other things, that measure would:

House Bill 136 (HB 136) would allow individuals with a valid license to carry a concealed handgun to carry more than one concealed handgun at one time. The bill would also allow a concealed handgun permitee to carry concealed handguns on school premises, preschool premises, university premises and into all licensed liquor establishments. The current law limits the individual with a license to carrying only one concealed handgun at a time, and does not allow him to legally carry a concealed handgun onto any school, preschool, university or into any liquor establishment unless the establishment does not allow consumption on premises or is a restaurant meeting certain requirements. The bill also allows those individuals with valid concealed handgun licenses to carry their handguns on buses and into state parks and recreation areas.

A third bill aims to streamline the process for getting a concealed carry permit, eliminating the need to be refingerprinted each time. It also eliminates a refresher course for people renewing their gun permits.

Expect big debates on these and other measures.