Wednesday, December 15, 2010

NM Government Sunshine Portal to Launch Thursday

Up and running! The state’s new on-line website where the public can easily discover all sorts of interesting things about state government financing and spending is being launched this week ahead of its deadline. A hands-on demonstration of the official accountability and transparency portal for New Mexico State Government will take place at a news conference on Thursday at 9:30 AM at the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce in Albuquerque, according to a statement released by the New Mexico Legislature.

Participants will include State Senator Sander Rue, Sponsor of SB 195 (New Mexico Transparency Act); Marlin Mackey, Cabinet Secretary of the Dept. of Information Technology; Steve Schroeder, President and CEO of RealTimeSites; and Sarah Welch, NM Foundation for Open Government (FOG).

On the Sunshine Portal, the public can find such things as:

  • Does the government department responsible for creating jobs buy locally to help local business or does it have mostly out-of-state vendors?
  • Are New Mexico investments making or losing money?
  • Which construction company has the most lucrative highway contracts?
  • Do New Mexico small businesses have a fair share of state contracts or do most of the contracts go to the larger businesses?

Soon the public can go on-line to the state’s Sunshine Portal to access this and other relevant information about state finances and operations with search and detailed drill-down capabilities. While the website will be up and running ahead of its July 1, 2011 deadline, the state is calling it a “beta release” that gives the media and members of the public the opportunity to use the website now and offer suggestions for improvements and feedback about any glitches to the Department of Information Technology.

State Senator Sander Rue (R-Albuquerque-23), who sponsored the Sunshine Portal Transparency Act that authorized the new website, said, “With the click of a mouse, the public can more actively participate in its state government. This one-stop shop website allows members of the public to more readily and easily become engaged in how government runs with our tax dollars. I am excited about having more eyes examining the operation of government because I believe that will lead to more government efficiencies and savings. I hope our new website becomes a “favorite” on many computers.”

Features of the website include:

  • Annual operating budgets for each state agency with monthly expenditures by category.
  • The State Investment Council’s monthly summary of state investments.
  • A directory of all employee positions, titles and salaries.
  • The revenue the state has received by type such as: tax, fee, fine.
  • The State’s check ledger: regular updates of the state’s cash balances.

SB 195, which was passed during the 2010 session of the New Mexico Legislature, was co-sponsored by Sen. Sander Rue (R-Albuquerque) and Rep. Nate Cote (D-Las Cruces). The legislation was strongly supported by Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, who worked hard to gain bipartisan support for the measure. Lt. Gov. Denish also signed the bill on March 5, 2010, while serving as Acting Governor.

The Albuquerque-based RealTimeSites software company designed and developed the Sunshine Portal.

December 15, 2010 at 10:31 AM in Diane Denish, Government, NM Legislature 2010, Transparency | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Op-Ed by Sen. Mary Jane Garcia: Democrats Stand Up for Common New Mexicans

SGARC This is an op-ed by State Senator Mary Jane Garcia (D-Doña Ana-36), who is the Senate Majority Whip.

Usually we regret making decisions out of haste, anger and frustration. This year, the Republican Party is doubling their effort to agitate, frustrate and divide the state of New Mexico and our nation. They are doing so in order to achieve their ultimate goals of allowing big business to exploit the working class and protecting millionaires from paying their fair share in taxes. It isn’t a secret that the Republicans have been adhering to a NO all the time policy platform, without any proposal of ideas or solutions, so that they can further this agenda. If elected, Republicans promise to abolish the US Department of Education, eliminate Social Security and Medicaid and return back to the type of Republican leadership that led to the economic meltdown, which is still lingering, and has caused many of our friends and family to lose their jobs and homes.

This year the choice is very clear. Republican candidates sympathize with big business, and promote extremist and inflammatory rhetoric, while Democratic candidates stand for the common New Mexican.

Let me explain what Democrats have been doing to help the common New Mexican. On the federal level, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus funding has brought approximately $123 million to Doña Ana County alone, supporting such projects as: weatherization for low income households, which lowers heating and cooling bills; grants for women, infants and children; special education for disabled infants and toddlers; Farm Service Agency direct loans; police services; cancer, health and clean energy research at NMSU; Unemployment benefits, and employment services; and infrastructure projects -- to name a few. Statewide, New Mexico will receive almost $4 billion in stimulus funding.

I am proud to say that, in the New Mexico Democrat-controlled executive and legislative branches, our policies have: eliminated $260 million in “pork projects” to bolster education funding and Medicaid services; provided revenue streams for colonias and tribes deficient in basic infrastructure; provided strict regulations for “predatory lending” related to loan originators, payday lenders, and foreclosure consulting; enacted “Katie’s Law” which requires DNA samples from criminal offenders; increased penalties for sex offenders, domestic violence and DWI offenders; outlawed human trafficking in NM; implemented full-day kindergarten statewide; implemented Pre-K programs statewide; increased the minimum wage statewide; enacted the College Affordability Act; enacted the Children’s Cabinet; protected Otero Mesa; and established ethics reforms such as the Gift Act, State Investment Council restructure, campaign contribution limits and whistleblower protections. These are just some of the accomplishments we Democrats have recently achieved.

I remember what it felt like when President George Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” on an unpopular war with Iraq, and for eight years allowed Wall Street to run amuck on the American people with the likes of Enron, World Com, AIG and Lehman Brothers. I remember seeing unemployment increase to the three million mark as Bush finished his term. I remember when the national debt increased from approximately $5.7 trillion from the start of his term to $10.7 trillion by the end of his term -- an 88 % increase in debt in eight years due to so-called Republican leadership. I was also in the legislature when Governor Gary Johnson’s main agenda for New Mexico was promoting legal drugs and vetoing a large majority of the ideas and solutions that crossed his desk.

We must not let the naysayers and obstructionists prevail in the upcoming election. Let’s not forget that eight years of Republican policies and leadership brought our country to the brink of “catastrophic failure” comparable with that of the Great Depression. We cannot sit idle on the sidelines during this midterm election. On the contrary, we have to rally, fight back and call everyone we know and remind voters that our Democratic principles have led us out of the darkness before, and these principles will overcome once again. Let’s get out and vote Democrat so we can continue our promise to move NM forward in a way that helps common New Mexicans.

Respectfully,
Senator Mary Jane Garcia

If you'd like to submit a piece for consideration as an op-ed or guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link at the upper left-hand corner of the page.

October 20, 2010 at 10:53 AM in 2010 General Election, Democratic Party, Guest Blogger, NM Legislature 2010, Republican Party, Right Wing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Las Cruces Hosts Key Transportation Summit


Click for photo album

Contributing writer Stephen Jones checks in with another report from Southern New Mexico.

The City of Las Cruces hosted a regional conference yesterday, September 9, addressing the multi-modal transportation needs of southern New Mexico and, specifically, road, rail, and air in the Las Cruces-El Paso corridor. New Mexico and Texas elected and other government officials spoke to participants, area residents and members of other interested groups about regional planning for the transportation needs of the growing region that straddles southern New Mexico and west Texas. The day-long event was co-sponsored by Congressman Harry Teague.

Local and intercity roadway needs were covered, along with current and proposed bus and rail transportation. Mass transportation advocates hope to see passenger rail and other clean transit development in a corridor whose current commuter traffic now exceeds that of the Belen-Albuquerque-Santa Fe Railrunner corridor. The theme of the conference, “Road, Rail and Rockets,” also tied into the Spaceport America project currently underway 45 miles north of Las Cruces.

Demand for Mass Transit On The Rise
There is a growing demand for mass transit options between New Mexico’s second largest city and El Paso, a commuting distance of just under 50 miles. Currently an express bus partially funded by the two states provides service daily between the two points. Ridership has tripled in the eleven months since the “Gold Line” bus service began.

Demand has been growing locally along the corridor between the two cities for a Railrunner type service. Feasibility studies are being conducted by the regional authorities, New Mexico, the two municipalities and BNSF, the railroad that owns the right of way between Las Cruces and El Paso. Passenger rail service would require an upgrade in signaling and improvements of roadbed on the current freight line. New Mexico officials called the planning initiative “furthest along” of its current rail plans for the state.

State Representative Jeff Steinborn, who has been a leading advocate for rail, urged all parties to be ready to “make an application for Federal support and funding.” He was joined in promoting the service at the summit by State Representative Nate Cote and State Senator Steve Fischmann. Texas State Representative Joe Pickett, whose district includes the western part of El Paso, joined the New Mexico legislators in urging the region to become “shovel ready.” Las Cruces Councillor Olga Pedroza urged the region to follow the model of the local El Paseo transit project. The project to develop Las Cruces’ El Paseo Avenue was one of four community projects to win a national grant for development in 2009.

Aerospace, Spaceport, Roads
Las Cruces Mayor Pro Tem Sharon Thomas, who coordinated the regional event, announced that New Mexico State University (NMSU) has also been awarded an education grant by the Federal government for air and aerospace research. The Spaceport Authority also addressed the group and outlined the shuttle services that will carry visitors between Hatch and Truth and Consequences to the space facility. Also noted was the adjoining rail line that might eventually carry travelers between Las Cruces and Albuquerque at some future date. 

Rail and aeronautics were not alone on the agenda. Much of the summit was devoted to outlining current and planned road projects in the regional corridor.

Smart Planning for a Growing Las Cruces
Mayor Ken Miyagishima of Las Cruces welcomed participants to what he termed New Mexico’s “best city.” Mayor Miyagishima also noted his city’s recognized leadership status in education and pointed out the upturn in the city’s current economic outlook. Goods and services revenues are up more than 6% over a year ago, and the city is again gaining in population, leading economic indicators for Las Cruces specifically, and New Mexico generally. Along with Miyagishima, most of the participants stressed urgency in smart planning for future growth.

Among the other local elected officials addressing the summit were Councillor Gil Sorg of Las Cruces, Dona Ana County Commissioners Scott Krahling and Leticia Duarte-Benavidez and Mayor Art Franco of Anthony, Texas. 

The summit is part of a series of regional meetings leading up to a larger transportation conference featuring U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that is scheduled for later this fall.

All photos by Stephen Jones. Click on photos to see larger versions. To see more posts by Stephen, visit our archive.

September 10, 2010 at 01:01 AM in By Stephen Jones, Contributing Writer, Las Cruces, NM Legislature 2010, Rep. Harry Teague (NM-02), Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Task Force Meets to Develop Ethics Course for NM Elected Officials

Legislation introduced by Rep. Nate Cote (D-Doña Ana) has led to the development of an ethics course for elected officials. Rep. Cote has worked with former Governor Garrey Carruthers, a member of the Governor’s Ethics Reform Task Force, and New Mexico State University to utilize recent grant money to establish an ethics training course.

In a written statement released about the project, Rep. Cote said, “This task force will design and implement an ethics education/training program for public officials to adhere to the public trust and stewardship of the common good of the community.” He added, “Ethics training should clarify and reinforce the understanding of a person’s ethical compass. Those of us in public service should always understand and be prepared to do what is right and what is expected of us regardless of the situation we find ourselves in.”

The first meeting of a task force led by Diane Prindebille was held at the New Mexico State University center in Albuquerque.

“Task Force member and author Dr. Raymon Bruce said, “We are set to have a syllabus for training public officials on ethics. It is important that people new to office realize that public service ethics is different from private sector ethics. Our hope is that this course will eliminate a lot of mistakes and teach new officials that they are stewards of the public trust.”

Rep. Cote explained that the ethics course will be a part of required continuing education and orientation. It will function as a preventative approach that may aid elected officers and others who hold positions of public trust from unknowingly making decisions that violate laws, regulations or guidelines, or that otherwise may not be in the best interest of the public.

September 8, 2010 at 08:30 AM in Ethics & Campaign Reform, NM Legislature 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, September 05, 2010

9/15: NM House and Senate Judiciary Members Host Fundraiser for Appeals Court Judge Robert Robles

PLEASE JOIN
House and Senate Judiciary Chairmen
Al Park and Cisco McSorley
House Majority Floor Leader W. Ken Martinez
Senate Majority Floor Leader Michael S. Sanchez
Representatives
Gail Chasey, Antonio “Moe” Maestas and Mimi Stewart
Senators
Tim Eichenberg, Linda Lopez,
Richard Martinez and Bernadette Sanchez
FOR AN EVENING FUNDRAISER FOR:

Judge Robert E. Robles
New Mexico Court of Appeals
Wednesday, September 15, 2010, 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Home of Kulbir Singh Puri
407 Hermosa SE (ABQ 87108)
Food and Refreshments will be Served;
Premier Designs by Jaclyn Cassidy
Votejudgerobles.com
RSVP to montoyapolitics@hotmail.com

Please help us Keep Judge Robles in 2010. 
Contributions Appreciated.  If mailed, please send to: 
Committee to Keep Judge Robert E. Robles, 4080 Montreal Loop NE, 
Rio Rancho, NM 87144.

September 5, 2010 at 09:00 AM in 2010 Judicial Races, Events, NM Legislature 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 02, 2010

State Rep. Nate Cote Works to Retire Primates at Holloman Air Force Base

Note: The tragic Alamogordo champanzee situation is starting to get national attention and is addressed in an article in today's New York Times.

HCOTE State Rep. Nathan Cote (D-Doña Ana) has taken a leadership role in the effort to preserve the Alamogordo Primate Facility (APF) at Holloman Air Force Base; an action that would save approximately 40 local jobs and insure the humane treatment of 202 chimpanzees living at the facility. Employees at the APF are facing a personal and professional loss in January 2011 as the National Institute of Health plans to close the facility and ship the resident chimpanzees to a medical research laboratory in Texas.

Chimp “These primates have lived their entire lives on Holloman Air Force Base. This is where the first chimpanzee, Ham, was trained for space flight, paving the way for Alan Shepard in the 1950s,” Rep. Cote said in a statement released today via the New Mexico House of Representatives. “Many of the aging chimps deserve to live out their lives free from invasive research.”

Governor Richardson has shown his support for the APF saying, “These chimpanzees have already given so much of their lives as part of medical research, and they should be able to live out the remainder of their years in peace not being subject to invasive research. I am confident that there is a more prudent and compassionate alternative to the National Institutes of Health’s plan.”

In a letter to Congressman Harry Teague, Michael Espiritu, President and CEO of the Alamogordo Chamber of Commerce wrote, “I am deeply concerned about the loss of the jobs at the facility. Many of their employees have been long-tenured, faithful and dedicated people who have made a difference in the quality of care for these chimpanzees; descendants of our country’s space exploration and testing program pioneers.”

A letter was drafted to the National Institute of Health describing the devastating economic impact that closing the APF would have on the dozens of highly skilled employees and their families, as well as local small businesses and vendors and it echoed the humane treatment concern as stated by the Governor. The letter also points out that APF was built using millions of taxpayer dollars.

In addition to Rep. Cote, the letter was signed by Representatives Henry “Kiki” Saavedra, Edward Sandoval, Ben Rodefer, Mimi Stewart, Jeff Steinborn, Eleanor Chavez, and Sheryl Stapleton along with Senators Tim Eichenberg, Stephen Fischmann, Sander Rue, Gay Kernan, Tim Keller, Mary Jane Garcia, and Linda Lopez.

You can learn more about this issue and learn ways to take action urging protection of the chimpanzees at the website of Animal Protection of New Mexico. Visit the Help Save Chimpanzee page to learn about The Great Ape Protection Act -- which would end the painful and invasive research on chimpanzees throughout the U.S. and release the 500 federally owned chimpanzees to sanctuaries -- and how you can push for passage of the federal legislation.

September 2, 2010 at 12:20 PM in Animal Protection, NM Legislature 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Guest Blog by Sen. Dede Feldman: 10 Ways NM is Taking Advantage of Health Care Reform

DedeFeldman110 This is a guest blog by State Senator Dede Feldman, who represents District 13 in Albuquerque in the New Mexico Legislature. Senator Feldman has long been dedicated to improving access to quality health care for all. She was selected by the White House to serve as a member of State Legislators for Health Reform, is Vice Chair of the Interim Legislative Health & Human Services Committee and serves as a member of the Interim Health Care Reform Working Group.

With only five months since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law, our state is moving to put the pieces in place, even if it comes at an awkward time when the budget is dire and a new administration is about to begin. We have already received over $40 million in grant funding -- in addition to the $20 million we received earlier to sustain our rural community health clinics. The money couldn’t come at a better time. Here’s what we’re up to.

1. Two state organizations are holding hearings and working to restructure insurance coverage here, beef up the workforce and take advantage of the many, many federal grants which will be available to both non-profits and government agencies from now until 2014, when the law goes into effect fully. One is the Governor’s Office of Health Reform. The other is the legislative working group created by Senate Joint Memorial 1 (SJM 1), which I sponsored in the past session. Debbie Armstrong, who heads up the NM High Risk Pool, chairs this group. It and has elicited lots of public participation and volunteer efforts. 

The next meeting of the working group is Thursday, September 2, in Room 322 of the State Capitol. The public is welcome to give comments. Click for more info about the working group.

2. We have a PLAN! New Mexico is one of only a few states that has a strategic plan. to implement health care reform. The plan, developed by the Governor’s Health Care Group is posted at http://www.hsd.state.nm.us/nhcr/nhcrlao.htm.

3. The Division of Insurance was awarded $1 million on Monday, August 16, to beef up its rate review process to conform to the new federal law. This is particularly significant in light of the BlueCross/Blue Shield rate hike. The Department aims to create a Consumer and Business Services Bureau to review rates, make filings public on its web site and seek legislation to consider companies’ surpluses, overall profitability, investment income and other factors when reviewing rates. Click for a chart summarizing how each state will use the new resources.

4. As of early August, about 3,500 seniors who have hit Medicare’s “Part D doughnut hole” and now must pay full price for their prescription drugs, got a tax-free $250 check in the mail to help pay for them. About 25,000 NM seniors will hit this gap in coverage this year. As they hit the upper limit, they will get a check. The new law continues to provide additional discounts for seniors in the next few years and will close the “doughnut hole “ completely by 2020.

5. New Mexico’s High Risk Pool for people who can’t currently get coverage because of pre-existing conditions opened its doors wider with $37.5 million from the federal government and a new program that will enable as many as 1,000 New Mexicans access to insurance for the first time. Currently about 20 have signed up. Many of these had pre-existing conditions like cancer or heart disease. Others are in the pipeline.

6. New Mexico has received a grant for $1 million for its home visiting program, which will enable nurses and community health workers to go into the homes of first time mothers to help develop good parenting skills. This will prevent domestic violence, special education expenses and get kids off to healthy start.

7. Funds for training nurses, doctors and primary care providers are a key element of the new bill. NM recently received approximately $700,000 for nursing programs, and applied for much more workforce development money. Provision of this support was an addition to the Affordable Care Act by our own Sen. Jeff Bingaman.

8. Doctors who treat Medicare patients will be getting up to $63,000 per practice over a six year period to speed the installation and use of electronic health records in their practices.

9. Community Health Clinics like First Choice, which have been treating the uninsured for years, received $21 million in stimulus funds, which they are using to build additions and meet the increased demand for health care.

10. New Mexico is applying for a $1 million planning grant to establish a strong state health insurance exchange with the help of stakeholders from many sectors.

This is a guest blog by Senator Dede Feldman. If you'd like to submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link at the upper left-hand corner of the page.

August 23, 2010 at 05:01 PM in Gov. Bill Richardson, Guest Blogger, Healthcare, NM Legislature 2010, Obama Health Care Reform | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, August 09, 2010

Sign the Petition: No More Cuts to New Mexico Education!

A petition targeting the Governor of New Mexico, the New Mexico State Senate and the New Mexico State House has been started by Albuquerque activist and long-time educator Suzanne Prescott at Change.org to demand that no more cuts be made to New Mexico education. Please add your name to the petition and urge others to do the same. The petition site has buttons for sharing the petition on Facebook, Twitter and your email list.

The text of the petition reads as follows:

While we celebrate signs of achievement in New Mexico's education system, New Mexico's education system lags behind the nation. New Mexico's families are concerned about New Mexico's future and the future of our children. Unless our educational system can become competitive, New Mexico will fall further behind and will be unable to meet the needs of its children, the needs of its workers and the need for a healthy economy.

In New Mexico there are alternative revenue streams that go untapped even though conservative neighboring states have already closed loopholes and are funneling revenue into their education systems. We advocate no cuts to education until all reasonable revenue alternatives have been tapped.

Support education; make no further cuts to education.

Click to sign this petition. You can also attend a Bake Sale for Education hosted by the Albuquerque Federation of Teachers on August 11 in Albuquerque.

August 9, 2010 at 04:05 PM in Economy, Populism, Education, Gov. Bill Richardson, NM Legislature 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

8/11: ATF to Host Bake Sale (!) to Raise Funds to Avoid Further Education Cuts

Teachers who are members of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation (ATF) -- and whose jobs haven't yet been sacrificed to budget cuts -- will be holding a Bake Sale for Education from 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM on Wednesday, August 11, at the ATF office located at 530 Jefferson Steet NE in Albuquerque. Additional education cuts are set to be considered on August 12, and the union is hoping that all 4,00 ATF members will show up to do what teachers have always done -- when all else fails, try a bake sale.

The public is encouraged to attend and buy some Furlough Fudge Brownies, Cutback Cookies, Corporate Loophole Lollipops and more, all for 25 cents each. The goal is to raise the $70 million needed to avoid further cuts -- one quarter at a time. When times are tough, the tough hold bake sales -- and this time the sale is designed to call attention to the dire straits faced by the states teachers and schools.

School districts across New Mexico have already had to make severe cuts, including APS, which has had to shave $43 million from its budget due to revenue shortfalls in the state budget. Believe it or not, the New Mexico legislature is discussing forcing an additional education cut statewide of more than 3 percent. Of course the real issue at hand is the legislature's lack of political will to find a sufficient, stable funding source for public education.

The additional cuts are projected to total about $19 million for APS, which could mean choosing between:

  • Increasing class sizes by another 6%
  • Furloughing all employees for 9 days
  • Cutting everyone's pay by about 5%

ATF President Ellen Bernstein commented recently on the proposed cuts:

"Right now there is not a school district in New Mexico that can handle another cut without hurting education of children," says Bernstein who hopes the bake sale will get the attention of lawmakers.

"We've rallied, phoned, sent letters, we're doing everything I know how to do ... we cannot sacrifice our children's future basically because lawmakers are unwilling to look at revenue sources," says Bernstein. "The number one thing they need to do is say we won't, during this recession compromise our children's future."

For more information on the bake sale, call 266-6638 or 262-2657.

August 9, 2010 at 09:23 AM in Economy, Populism, Education, Events, NM Legislature 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, August 02, 2010

Sen. Steve Fischmann: Waste Not, Want Not. Smart Energy Pricing is Key

SFISC This is a guest blog by Steve Fischmann who is the State Senator for District 37, and chair of the interim Science and Technology Committee.

Adding new electric generating capacity is expensive. Data from New Mexico's largest electric utility, PNM, shows that it costs $150 per megawatt hour to add new natural gas power generating capacity, $140 to add coal power, $130 for nuclear, and $85 for wind. New generation is so costly that whenever new capacity is added electric rates go up.

By contrast, installation of energy efficiency measures costs about $20 dollars per megawatt-hour saved according to PNM. In other words, electric consumers save somewhere between 75% and 87% when we invest in efficiency rather than building new electric plants. Efficiency also largely eliminates the pollution, health, noise, and landscape impacts that come with new power generation.

Energy efficiency should be an equal partner with renewable development in our policies, but currently gets short shrift. New Mexico Law requires that 20% of our year 2020 power generation from investor owned utilities come from renewable technologies, but asks for only a 10% improvement in energy efficiency during the same time period.

It's easy to see how this came to pass. The cost of wasting energy seems inconsequential for years until consumers are hit with the cost of a half billion dollar generating facility to meet growing demand. We are lulled into complacency. In contrast, the cost of implementing efficiency measures hits immediately. Locked in a cycle of false economy, we balk at making the two dollar efficiency investment today and instead are forced into a ten dollar generation investment tomorrow.

Changing the Way We Charge for Power
We can dramatically improve adoption of energy efficiency without expensive government programs, or raising overall utility rates. All it takes are revenue neutral changes in the way we charge for power. Water utilities in El Paso, Santa Fe, and to a lesser degree Las Cruces have all experienced success using this strategy to reduce water usage. It is time we applied the same common sense to our gas and electric utilities.

Power companies have historically charged lower rates to high usage customers. The theory was that it is less expensive per kilowatt-hour (kWh) to service big consumers. If you look a few years out that theory falls apart. That profligate neighbor down the street who runs the air conditioner with the windows open, and never turns off the lights or the TV, is the same guy who makes it necessary to add expensive new electric generation. In return for his low bills, that guy costs everyone else a bundle. To add insult to injury, the low cost of wasting electricity has given home builders and appliance makers little incentive to design efficient products. That has further inflated our energy bills.

Three pricing strategies for residential customers have the power to drive market based energy efficiency that will result in lower future utility bills:

Inclining Block Rates: An example of this billing model would be charging residences 10 cents per kWh for the first 400 KWH of monthly power usage, 20 cents for the next 400 kWh, and 30 cents per KWH for any additional usage. While total billings would be no higher than charging a flat 20 cent rate, the savings for eliminating high cost usage above 800 kWh makes adopting efficiency measures very attractive. Installing sun shades, CFL lighting, and efficient appliances suddenly becomes a fast payback. And that guy down the street? Odds are he will stop running his air conditioner with the windows open.

Decoupling: This strategy has been implemented successfully in twelve states. Utilities currently earn more money the more power they sell. This has encouraged marketing practices that entice consumers to use more electricity. Decoupling allows regulators to tie utility revenues to the number of residential customers served -rather than kWh delivered- through a monthly billing adjustment. This gives utilities the opportunity to earn just as much money by selling fewer kWh, insulates consumers from big swings in energy costs during unusually hot or cold years, and maintains a stable bottom line that allows utilities to continue reliable service.

Eliminating Fixed Monthly Charges: If my monthly electrical bill is $80, but $20 comes via a fixed monthly charge, my efficiency efforts can only affect the remaining $60 on my bill. The fixed charge penalizes consumers who conserve electricity by effectively charging them more per KWH consumed. It also puts a bigger burden on low income consumers. Since the data tells us energy efficiency is the surest route to minimizing monthly utility bills and long term prices, regulators should require utilities to minimize fixed monthly charges and tie all charges to energy use instead. Better yet, eliminate fixed monthly charges altogether.

The good news is that utilities such as PNM and El Paso Electric are more amenable to implementing inclining rates and decoupling than they have been in the past. The bad news is that they threaten to undo the benefits of these strategies by pushing for higher fixed monthly charges.

The Public Regulation Commission can help contain utility price increases, improve our environment, and put money in your pocket by requiring implementation of all three pricing strategies. Adopting phased in implementation of these strategies in annual increments would give utilities and consumers time to adapt while giving regulators an opportunity to adjust to any implementation surprises. It is the best favor the commission can do for New Mexicans and our economy.

What We Can Do: Please e-mail your PRC commissioner asking that these pricing policies be implemented. You can find the contact information at http://www.nmprc.state.nm.us/.

This is a guest blog by State Senator Steve Fischmann. If you'd like to submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link at the upper left-hand corner of the page.

August 2, 2010 at 04:37 PM in Energy, Environment, Government, NM Legislature 2010, Regulation | Permalink | Comments (2)

State Senator Tim Keller Champions 8/3 National Night Out and Community Policing

TimKeller From Senator Tim Keller:
August 3rd, National Night Out, has a rich history in New Mexico’s International District. Multiple neighborhood associations will be holding block parties or events where neighbors can come together for safer and healthier communities. The International District’s modern history includes large-scale community policing efforts driven by community members who decided to proactively help police make our community safer. Today many areas in our district are continue to improved in no small part because of these community policing efforts.

National Night Out has been a symbolic show of community unity in the face of crime. It has provided meaningful working session for leaders to organize citizen policing efforts with law enforcement. 

As the economy continues on shaky ground, crime will be an ongoing challenge. Knowing your neighbors and your law enforcement officers has proven time and time again to be a very effective crime fighting weapon. I hope others can join the many celebrations in our community this Tuesday.

I will be joining Albuquerque’s International District to host the following events:

  • La Mesa: A potluck starting at 6:00 PM on August 3 at Mesa Verde Community Center.
  • South San Pedro and Elder Homestead: August 3, 6:30 PM to 9:00 PM, at Wilson Park, Anderson and San Pedro SE, with live music, car and bike show and good food!
  • East Central/Manzano Mesa Area: Albuquerque's finest will host the community on August 4 starting at 6:00 PM in a celebration with food and festivities at 12800 Lomas NE; more info at (505) 332-5240.
  • Trumbull Village: Will have a celebration in late Sept or October.
  • Others: contact your local Home Owners Association or Neighborhood Association.

Further details can be found at here.

National Night Out is a community-police partnership held the first Tuesday of every August since 1984 sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch in the United States and Canada. It aims to increase awareness about police programs in communities, such as drug prevention, town watch and other anti-crime efforts. Initially communities held lights-on vigils. Now, many communities hold block parties, festivals and other events to help bring neighbors together.

Democratic State Senator Tim Keller represents District 17 in Albuquerque, which includes the

August 2, 2010 at 03:49 PM in Children and Families, Crime, Events, Law Enforcement, NM Legislature 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Diane Denish Points to Plan in Response to New LFC Budget Projections; Martinez Sticks With Platitudes

Updated financial projections discussed at a meeting of the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) that's currently taking place in Santa Fe revealed that a more than $200 million budget shortfall is now expected in the fiscal year that started this month. Revenues are projected to be about $160 million lower than anticipated, with a $32 million shortfall for the fiscal year that ended in June.

According to an AP article:

Gov. Bill Richardson's administration said Wednesday it will cut spending on state programs and services, including public schools, by about 3 percent to help erase a budget shortfall caused by lower-than-expected revenues in the newly started fiscal year.

Katherine Miller, secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration, said the cuts will start in September and will apply to all parts of state government, except Medicaid and some services to the developmentally disabled. The judiciary and the Legislature will share in the latest round of reductions. 

... A budget law requires the governor to cut spending if revenues and transfers of money from state reserves won't cover spending. The law exempted only Medicaid and some services to the developmentally disabled from the reductions. The administration can take about $130 million out of the state's cash reserves to balance the budget this year and cover the revenue shortfall in last year's budget.

Miller estimated that about $150 million must be cut from this year's nearly $5.4 billion budget.

Additional budget problems may emerge later this year for New Mexico because the Congress is still battling over releasing more federal aid to the states for their rising Medicaid costs and reduced revenues in a still struggling economy.

Denish Weights In:
In response to the new numbers, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Diane Denish released this statement:

"These are historically challenging times and as New Mexico's working families have had to tighten their belts, I believe state government must do the same, Denish said. "Long before these projections I laid out a detailed government-reform plan to save taxpayers $450 million over the next five years without harming education or raising taxes. While my opponent has put forward thin one-liners and platitudes, my plan tells New Mexicans exactly how I propose to cover the budget gap.

"The plan includes cutting political appointees, smart reorganizations, better use of technology and a government accountability officer whose sole job will be to find and eliminate waste," Denish continued. "We can cut government while protecting vital services such as our public schools. It just takes courage and innovative ideas to do it."

Click to read Diane's comprehensive and detailed government-reform proposal (pdf) that is projected to save New Mexico taxpayers $450 million without any cuts to education or increased taxes.

Susana Martinez's Budget Plan Still Missing In Action
Earlier today Susana Martinez’s campaign circulated an op-ed claiming she has released a “comprehensive budget plan.” Um, one problem -- Martinez still hasn’t circulated anything beyond a list of five generic talking points: restrain government spending, end corruption, cut taxes, revive our energy sector and improve the state’s business climate. That's hardly a "comprehensive" budget plan. It lacks even one detail about where the cuts would fall, which taxes she'd lower or how she'd accomplish her other "goals." As they say, the devil is in the details and Susana's not into revealing what those are.

Perhaps Susana's ashamed of her real plans, or maybe she's so uninformed about how New Mexico's government works that she really hasn't worked out any proposals beyond the bumper-sticker phase. Either way, we're still in the dark about how Martinez would address the kind of budgetary problems virtually every state in the nation is experiencing, thanks to eight years of failed policies by a Republican administration.

The state has already implemented about $800 million in spending cuts over the last two budget years, as well as approximately $180 million in tax increases. Luckily, New Mexico has been able to use federal economic stimulus funds to offset reductions in state money for some programs, primarily public schools and Medicaid.

Martinez: The Generic Candidate With Generic Ideas: Whoever is elected governor in November must understand how New Mexico's government operates well enough to propose common sense ways to save money while protecting vital programs and services -- and keeping them running efficiently. Clearly, that person is NOT Susana Martinez. I guess she's okay with being known as the Generic Republican Gubernatorial Candidate. She certainly seems content to keep voters in the dark about what, exactly, she'd do to meet the challenges we face. Sloganeering doesn't cut it.

July 21, 2010 at 05:29 PM in 2010 NM Governor's Race, Diane Denish, Economy, Populism, NM Legislature 2010, NM Legislature 2011, Susana Martinez, Taxes | Permalink | Comments (9)