Thursday, July 22, 2010
Egolf and Wirth Fight to Defend Energy Programs Against Federal Bureaucratic Overreach
State Representative Brian Egolf (D-Santa Fe-47) and State Senator Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe-25), are urging Congress to overturn a directive from the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) that threatens to undermine residential renewable energy programs. Egolf and Wirth are asking New Mexico’s delegation to Congress to join them in opposing what they are calling "a vast bureaucratic overreach into renewable energy programs and states’ rights."
In a letter addressing New Mexico’s U.S. Congressional Delegation, Rep. Egolf and Senator Wirth write, “New Mexico, like many other states, has enacted legislation designed to help homeowners finance the costs of installing solar or other sustainable energy systems. We were the authors of the two new laws, House Bill 572 and Senate Bill 647, in the 2009 session of the New Mexico Legislature. These programs have multiple benefits: homeowners can save money on utility bills and increase the value of their homes; designers and installers of sustainable energy systems gain more business; and we all benefit from a decreased dependence on fossil fuels.”
You've Got To Be Kidding Me
Earlier this month the FHFA claimed that these programs pose an unspecified threat to the financial health of the mortgage banking industry. Rep. Egolf and Senator Wirth call this an overreach in areas that are traditionally the purview of the states: property taxes and energy delivery. Both say that by throwing up barriers for Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) funding, the FHFA has infringed on important areas of states’ rights to self-govern and has extinguished an opportunity to create jobs and improve the quality and health of our natural environment.
“New Mexico’s PACE programs are some of the best ways to get New Mexicans back to work, and I am extremely disappointed that Washington bureaucrats have slowed down our effort to create jobs here in New Mexico," Egolf said in a statement released today. "The carpenters, electricians, plumbers and solar installers who would get work under PACE programs can’t wait any longer. It is time for Washington to get out of the way and let us do what we think is best for our local economy.”
Representatives Antonio Lujan (D-Doña Ana-35), Mimi Stewart (D-Bernalillo-21), Antonio Maestas (D-Bernalillo-16), Gail Chasey (D-Bernalillo-18), Eleanor Chavez (D-Bernalillo-13), and Nathan Cote (D-Doña Ana, Otero-53) are joined by Senators Dede Feldman (D-Bernalillo-13), Steven Fischmann (D-Doña Anna & Sierra-37), and Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D-Bernalillo-12) in urging U.S. lawmakers to reverse the FHFA’s decision in order to save opportunities to expand renewable energy and promote local economic development.
If you'd like to join these legislators in urging our members of Congress to oppose the new FHFA directive that threatens PACE funding in New Mexico, click for contact info:
Monday, February 08, 2010
NM Senate Votes to Override Veto of Sen. Tim Keller's Intra-Government Transparency Bill
Today the Senate voted to override the Governor's veto of Senate Bill 531. SB 531 was introduced by Senator Timothy M. Keller (D-Bernalillo-17) and was passed almost unanimously by both chambers during last year's regular legislative session. Last week the Senate voted to recall SB 531 in order to consider a possible veto override. The motion to override was debated today in the Senate, which finally voted to override the veto by a 34-8 vote (see below fold for no votes). The bill now goes to the House for override consideration. A two-thirds majority of legislators present and voting in each body is required for a veto override to be effective.
SB 531 directly addresses a recent report by the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) that pointed out the difficulties the AGO had faced in trying to obtain Medicaid contractor information. SB 531 would ensure the legislature and other government branches could receive and protect confidential information. This would overcome an obstacle to having contractors provide the information necessary for program evaluation.
“Our agencies and legislature are unable to perform program evaluation because of confidentiality issues that can be resolved if SB 531 is made law by overriding the veto," said Sen. Keller in a statement released today. "I want to be clear; this isn’t about personal politics or rivalry between branches of government. Right now 20% of our budget -- the $1 billion spent on healthcare -- is a black hole when it comes to understanding funding effectiveness. It’s time to put aside traditional government rigidity over disclosure of this information and get to the bottom of what is going on with our Medicaid providers."
“This is but a prudent first step in the monitoring process," Sen. Keller continued. "It gives our state an option to deal with the opaque nature of state contractors and agency performance with issues ranging from prison to hospitals to schools. An override is probably the most efficient and immediate way to address this ongoing challenge. But I’m very open to any ideas or bills that could accomplish the same goal. I will be working with agencies and my colleagues in the next few weeks to make sure we do the right thing to ensure our tax payer money is well spent.”
Senator Keller can be contacted at: www.timkellerfornewmexico.com.
According to Steve Terrell, the Senators who voted against the override are:
Pete Campos (D-Las Vegas)
Carlos Cisneros (D-Questa)
Mary Jane Garcia (D-Dona Ana)
Phil Griego (D-San Jose)
Richard Martinez (D-Espanola)
Cynthia Nava (D-Las Cruces)
Vernon Asbill (R-Carlsbad, the only Republican to vote no)
David Ulibarri (D-Grants)
Photo by M.E. Broderick.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Rep. Ben Rodefer Guest Blog on News that SunCal is Facing Foreclosure
This is a guest blog by State Rep. Benjamin Rodefer (D-Corrales 23).
I'm writing in response to a recent AP article reporting that lenders filed a foreclosure lawsuit against SunCal Cos. in state court in New Mexico last week to collect more than $180 million in outstanding loans the developer used to finance a property purchase on Albuquerque's West Side from Atrisco Land Grant heirs.
New Mexico nearly, within one vote, entered into a 40-50 year financial partnership with this company, one that would have diverted over a billion dollars from the state's general fund. This company was never financially stable nor sound. It was always my strong belief that passing the Suncal TIDD would cause significant and long term damage to our state, its finances, and our ability to provide the very fundamental services our people deserve.
Hopefully much more sensible opportunities for economic development and good jobs creation will come New Mexico's way, allowing us to more wisely invest our limited funds, and better support our people and our economy.
It was a true David vs. Goliath victory back in January to have stopped this taxpayer swindle. It was an improbable victory considering the strong support from the executive and legislative leadership, as well as the innumerable high-paid lobbyists working the Roundhouse on Suncal's huge dollar.
Remember this is the same company that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions trying to buy the votes needed to pass their taxpayer giveaway.
This week's news further vindicates the hard work done by so many to protect New Mexico from such an egregious and possibly fraudulent misuse of tax dollars.
This week's news further illustrates the real difference each of us can make in building a better future for New Mexico.
As a state we face immense challenges, but today is a day we can all breath a sigh of relief. We avoided a monumental financial blunder, one we would have been paying for well through this century.
This is a guest blog by Rep. Benjamin Rodefer of Corrales. To submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link on the upper left-hand corner of the page.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Food for Thought from Stephen Jones: A Professional Legislature
This is a post by contributing writer, Stephen Jones, who is a progressive political activist and a resident of Las Cruces, New Mexico.
I admit when I first arrived in New Mexico the romantic notion of a “Citizen Legislature” seemed quite attractive to me, particularly having spent so much time over the years facing off against well-oiled and high rolling lobbyists in the other kind of legislatures over much needed reform legislation that was good for the communities I was advocating change for, but not necessarily for the special interests the lobbyists were paid by.
Then reality set in. While tuning in and out of the recent session of the New Mexico legislature it occurred to me that a “citizen legislature” is not quite up to its billing. Actually, at points along the way, it seemed a bit like a Broadway musical production put on by the local high school. The experience has convinced me that I ought to rethink the whole “citizen legislature” thing. I expect that at some point New Mexico will need to pull itself out of its 19th Century Territorial past and pay the legislators who gather in Santa Fe like other states do.
Before denouncing me for heresy, let us just begin by considering that, if we don’t adopt a professional legisature, the squishy ethics of that body alone will keep New Mexico’s State Auditors fairly busy for decades to come.
Here’s another thing to consider. New Mexico is the fifth largest state in the nation. Other states with citizen legislatures can fit into one of New Mexico’s counties. Even on horseback, state representatives from Vermont are less than a day’s travel to Montpelier, where the State Capitol is located. By automobile, the entire legislative assembly can make the trip in less than two hours. Most of them just drive back home after the Speaker pounds the gavel for the evening.
In New Mexico legislators must travel long distances to the capital, then house and feed themselves in Santa Fe, one of the nations’ less than economical locations, while the Legislature is in session. Lobbyists, and various and sundry “associations” are more than happy to help out with the food and housing problem. Even when the ethically questionable closeness to these groups and individuals isn't an issue, the coziness that members of the Executive Branch offer our intrepid travelers from the hinterlands ought to raise an eyebrow or two. This situation alone can’t help but lead to legislation by way of a wink and a nod. Couple this with the fact that the citizen legislators themselves have business and professional interests that all too often coincide with pending bills in the capital.
At a time when a State Budget is reeling, it may seem odd to raise the idea of paying our legislators and allotting them funds for a basic staff. I have to admit, this is an issue; however on the other side of this equation is the fact that the folks back home actually do get something for their dollars. For one thing they get a full service representative with actual office hours and a staff to answer phone calls when somebody needs them. They also get a paid advocate for the community back in Santa Fe.
Beyond local advocacy a full time professional legislature would be a counterweight to the Governor’s office and to the other constitutional state office holders. This would, by its nature, create both the oversight and the creative and competitive tension to develop better laws and ensure the level of deliberation needed to assess and pass those laws, rather than having such a heavy reliance on the Executive Branch for drafting and proposing bills into the legislature.
Finally, a full time, professional legislature would be, by its nature, both in competition with the executive offices and a source for office holders to run for those offices that would already be familiar with the workings of the State structure and processes.
For all of these reasons, ethics chief among them, I believe it is time for New Mexico to enter the 21st Century, abandon its cherished “citizen legislature” and follow the overwhelming majority of states in implementing a full time, professional legislature.
Contributing writer Stephen Jones has a background in history, libraries and records management. He has been involved in many civil and human rights campaigns. He has previously lived and worked in Wisconsin and Illinois and served for three terms, in the late 1980's, as State Chair of the Independent Voters of Illinois, a leading progressive non-partisan political and legislative action community organization in that state. He has been a community organizer and he has been involved in numerous issue and political campaigns.
To read more posts by Stephen Jones, visit our archive.
Monday, November 09, 2009
NM Economic and Rural Development Committee Has Long Agenda for Meeting This Week
The Economic and Rural Development Committee of the New Mexico Legislature is slated to meet in Room 322 of the State Capitol in Santa Fe on November 11th through 13th, 2009 according to a press release issued today by the New Mexico Senate. Click for details of the Committee's extensive agenda, including updates as the happen. The public is welcome to attend.
“We still have a lot of ground to cover before the regular legislative session begins in January. During this meeting, the topics we will cover will span the spectrum, going from energy matters to consumer protection, from our state’s business climate, to film production. All of these matters are part of the state’s changing economic development picture, and the information being provided to the Committee members will allow us to develop legislation for considation in the next session,” said Senator Bernadette M. Sanchez (D-Bernalillo-26), Chair of the Economic and Rural Development Committee.
“This meeting will be important for beginning to shape legislative initiatives for the next legislative session. How to move our state’s economy toward recovery from the current fiscal downturn will be on all the Committee members’ minds. We will examine the potential effects of various tax incentives and the effects of the regulatory and licensing processes. We need to review our policies and make them more friendly, and less of a deterrent, to new companies coming into New Mexico,” said Representative Mary Helen Garcia (D-Dona Ana-34), Vice-Chair of the Committee.
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
NM Health & Human Services Committee Looks Toward Legislative Session During November 4-6 Santa Fe Meeting
According to a House press release, the interim Legislative Health and Human Services Committee will hold its November meeting on Wednesday, November 4th through Friday, November 6th in Room 322 of the State Capitol in Santa Fe. The Committee will convene at 8:30 AM on all three days, and there will be time for public comments on each day (see below).
“During this three-day meeting, we will review findings of reports generated in response to legislative requests on various health care issues, including substance abuse, healthcare reform and prescription drug coverage. We will take an in-depth look at behavioral health from the consumer, family, local and Native American perspectives. We will discuss the challenges of providing non-Medicaid behavioral health services to non-Medicaid clients. Finally, we will study proposed legislation from the Governor’s office regarding assisted outpatient treatment, as well as legislation proposed by this Committee, “ said Rep. Danice Picraux (D-Bernalillo-25), Chair of the Committee.
“The feedback we get during this meeting will be used to develop legislation that needs to be introduced during the January, 2010 legislative session. The perspectives of the various behavioral health services stakeholders, as well as the public comments, will help us craft measures that are responsive to the actual experiences of real people involved in giving, receiving and supporting those who are receiving those services. This will also allow us to continue to move toward being as efficient as we can in how we fund and provide those services – something critical in this time of state fiscal constraints,” said Senator Dede Feldman (D-Bernalillo-13), Vice Chair of the Committee.
On Wednesday, the Committee will spend the day reviewing information that was requested by a number of House and Senate Memorials that were passed during the last regular legislative session in January, 2009. On Thursday, the Committee will turn its attention to behavioral health care perspectives from a variety of stakeholders, including provider, consumer, advocate, family and community representatives. On Friday, the Committee will focus on proposed legislation for the forthcoming regular session of the legislature in January.
The Committee will also take public comment at 4:30 PM on Wednesday, 3:30 PM on Thursday, and at 10:30 AM on Friday. The Committee plans to adjourn at 4:00 PM on Friday.
Sunday, November 01, 2009
NM Finance Authority Oversight Committee to Meet in Santa Fe Nov. 2-3
The New Mexico Finance Authority Oversight Committee will meet for two days -- November 2nd and 3rd -- in Room 307 at the State Capitol, Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Committee will convene at 9:00 AM on both days.
“We welcome input from the public at our meeting,” said Representative Patricia A. Lundstrom (D-McKinley & San Juan-9), Committee Chair, in a statement released by the office of the New Mexico Senate.
“Following the recent special session, the Committee will be re-grouping to take a fresh look at funding and policy options for continuing our capital outlay efforts as we move toward the January session of the legislature. Obviously, we need to look at not only traditional funding methods, but at others that have the potential for leveraging our diminishing resources as well as possible future funding sources,” said Senator Mary Kay Papen (D-Dona Ana-38), Vice Chair of the Committee.
On Monday, November 2nd, after convening, the Committee will hear updates on economic development funding and funding issues through state and federal avenues. The Committee will also listen to proposed legislation that could cover future funding of various types of capital outlay projects. The Committee plans a working lunch during which it will focus on proposed legislation related to the Spaceport Authority. The Committee plans to recess at 4:30 PM on Monday.
On Tuesday, November 3rd, after convening, the Committee will spend time in executive session going over various policy issues before taking a look at means of leveraging projects through the use of various tax incentives programs. The Committee plans to adjourn at 12:30 PM on Tuesday.
Details of the Committee’s agenda, as well as the most recent updates can be accessed here.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
State Auditor Balderas Warns More Than $1 Billion of Taxpayer Dollars at Risk
Today, Auditor Hector Balderas testified before the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee that 90 governmental entities have been designated “at risk” for their failure to submit their annual and compliance audits to the Office of the State Auditor (OSA). These governmental entities received notification by letter that the OSA has designated them “at risk,” according to a statement released by Balderas today. The designation of an agency at risk will result in special monitoring by the OSA’s Special Investigations Division (SID) until the agency completes and submits any outstanding audits.
State law requires all governmental agencies to submit annual financial and compliance audits to the OSA. Balderas highlighted that failure to submit timely audits can create an environment where taxpayer funds are placed at risk for fraud, waste and abuse.
“It is imperative that taxpayers monies are properly managed, especially when resources are scarce in the midst of a budget crisis,” Balderas stated. “Over one billion dollars has been received by these governmental agencies at risk. This figure is even more alarming when considering that a special audit conducted by my office found that $3.3 million was embezzled from the Jemez Mountain School District over a period of seven years. During most of that time the District failed to submit audits. Now, all these agencies now have been put on notice that they will be held to a higher standard of accountability."
The governmental agencies receiving the at-risk designation must submit status reports to the OSA by November 2, 2009. The report must contain a detailed explanation of the agency’s efforts to complete and submit its audit, including an explanation of the current status of any ongoing audit work, a description of any obstacles encountered by the agency in completing its audit and a projected completion date for the audit.
“Outstanding audits have historically been a problem in New Mexico,” Balderas added. “State law needs robust measures to deter agencies from noncompliance with audit requirements. I propose state law be amended to withhold legislative appropriations until their annual audits are completed and submitted to my office. Requiring every governmental agency to be fully accountable for every taxpayer dollar must be a priority.”
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Saturday: 1st Annual Albuquerque International District Festival
STEPS and the International District Business Association will host the 1st Annual Albuquerque International District Festival on Saturday, September 19, 2009 from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM at the Talin Market Parking lot, on the corner Louisianna and Central. This day-long celebration of the International District" will feature music, dance, food and community organizations celebrating the International District. All are encouraged to attend. Volunteers and sponsors are needed. Contact Steve Whitman at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Albuquerque's International District was created earlier this year with passage of a Senate Joint Memorial sponsored by State Senator Tim Keller and a resolution sponsored by Albuquerque City Councilor Rey Garduño.
Thursday, September 03, 2009
Tonight: Join Sen. Dede Feldman, Javier Gonzales at DFA-DFNM Meetup
The DFA-Democracy for New Mexico monthly Meetup is tonight at 7:00 PM at the First Unitarian Church at the SW corner of Carlisle and Comanche in Albuquerque. All are welcome to attend. If you care about health care reform and the future of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, this Meetup is tailor made for you.
We are very pleased that State Senator Dede Feldman will be speaking to the group about what's what on the health care reform bills percolating in Congress. Sen. Feldman was a primary speaker at last Thursday's OFA health care reform rally at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque. You can see a segment of her speech in the video at the top of the post.
Sen. Feldman has passionately worked on bills to expand access to quality health care for many years in the New Mexico Legislature. She serves as the vice chair of the interim Legislative Health & Human Service Committee and chairs the Senate Public Affairs Committee. Sen. Feldman was also appointed by the Obama administration to serve on their nationwide State Legislators for Health Reform workgroup. In other words, she knows her stuff on health care reform and she's a strong advocate for meaningful reform that includes a robust public option. If you're confused about the health care reform effort or want to learn how to get more involved, come talk with Sen. Feldman tonight.
We're also excited to have Javier Gonzales on the agenda tonight. Javier Gonzales is expected to be confirmed as the new Chair of the Democratic Party of New Mexico when the State Central Committee meets later this month. I think we can agree that Javier has big shoes to fill in replacing former Chair Brian Colón, who is now running for Lt. Governor.
Mary Ellen and I met with Javier last week and were very impressed with his enthusiasm, openness and ideas about the Party's future. You can learn more about him at his website at http://javiergonzales.com/. Tonight you can meet Javier and decide for yourself. He'll be talking about his views about the DPNM and answering your questions. Don't miss it.
Monday, August 31, 2009
State Senator Tim Keller Honored by NM Business Weekly in '40 Under Forty'
Senator Timothy M. Keller (D-Bernalillo-17) has been named one of forty individuals honored by the New Mexico Business Weekly for its 2009 “40 Under Forty” recognition.
“It was recognition of a kind that you don’t anticipate receiving. I was honored to be selected as one of the ‘40.’ When something like this comes along, it adds to your resolve to work for positive change in your community and the state. It’s uplifting,” said Senator Keller in a release issued yesterday.
Each year, the Business Weekly asks for nominations for its 40 Under Forty. The honorees this year were selected by a panel of honorees from past years. Selection criteria included professional achievements, leadership, and community involvement.
The reception for the 2009 honorees was held at the Journal Pavilion this past week. During the reception, Senator Keller was singled out for his work as an investment banker, entrepreneur, and business strategist and for his experience in international economic development. On the legislative side, his emphasis on better managing state investments, improving economic development incentives and support for small business innovation and growth.
Senator Keller, who was elected to his first term during the 2008 General Election, was born and raised in Albuquerque and graduated from St. Pius High School. He then earned a Bachelor’s degree in Public Service, Art History and Finance from the University of Notre Dame. After leaving Notre Dame, he co-founded a non-profit group, Data Digital Divide, which extends help to land mine victims and displaced persons in Cambodia. He also continued his education – earning an MBA with honors from Harvard Business School.
After completing his MBA, he became a Principal Engineer at Honeywell Corporation in New Mexico. After leaving Honeywell, he established an “English as second language” joint venture. He also became a business consultant and currently works in that capacity for Katzenbach Partners, LLC. He is also a member of the board of the Albuquerque Southeast Team for Entrepreneur Development.
Senator Keller’s achievements in the education field during the legislative session were recognized earlier this month by the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education which appointed him to its Legislative Advisory Committee.
Monday, August 24, 2009
NM Senator Tim Keller Named to Higher Education Position by Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education
Congrats to Senator Timothy M. Keller (D-Bernalillo-17), who has been named a member of the Legislative Advisory Committee (LAC) for the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), according to a press release from the New Mexico Senate. Senator Keller was chosen from among New Mexico legislators by New Mexico’s WICHE Commissioners, and he will serve and LAC for a 3-year term. WICHE’s New Mexico Commissioners are Senator Dede Felman, Patricia Anaya Sullivan, Assistant Dean of New Mexico State University’s College of Engineering and Peter White, Secretary of Higher Education.
Responding to his appointment, Senator Keller said, “I am intensely interested in higher education in our State. Education was one of the specific issues that drew me to the Senate. I see serving on the LAC as a way I can work to expand the higher education building blocks of our educational system. Because of the current fiscal situation, we must find improved ways to strengthen higher education – which is a major point of entry into our workforce, especially in areas where professional, scientific and technological skills are required. The stronger our educational system, the stronger that workforce will be and the better our state will be positioned to build a sound base for a healthy economy.”
Among the 30 bills introduced by Senator Keller during the 49th legislative session, six were focused on educational issues. Among the eight that Senator Keller succeeded in getting passed, one of the four signed into law by Governor Richardson was a community school initiative.
WICHE is a regional organization created under the Western Regional Education Compact which was adopted in the 1950's by an array of Western states. In addition to New Mexico, the member states are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. WICHE was created to facilitate resource sharing among higher education systems of the Western states. It began operating in Eugene, Oregon, in 1953, then moved to its present location in Boulder, Colorado in 1955. WICHE is governed by Commissioners from each state who are appointed by the state’s governor. WICHE’s Legislative Advisory Committee was created in 1995 by WICHE to advise its membership on legislative initiatives that affect higher education.