Friday, February 19, 2010
Wilderness Preservation: A Good Bet for New Mexico's Future, by Stephen Jones
This is a post by contributing writer, Stephen Jones, who is a progressive political activist and a resident of Las Cruces, New Mexico.
On President’s Day, hundreds showed up at a field hearing of the United States Senate held at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces to urge passage of S.1689, the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Wilderness Act, sponsored by Senators Bingaman and Udall. The bill has been pending for years, under previous forms, while proponents and opponents wrangled over the future of the Organ Mountains just east of the Mesilla Valley in southern New Mexico. While the vast majority of residents who live in the area support the bill, citing natural preservation and the potential for local economic development, critics on the other side warned that wilderness designation would shut off access, lead to economic stagnation and create a harbor for crime. These critics of wilderness are ill-informed. Natural preservation is, and has proven to be, a vital engine for long-term, sustainable, economic development.
It isn’t hard to see how New Mexico’s wild areas attract financial rewards. Pick up any post card at the El Paso International Airport and you will find that it either touts that city’s college football facilities, or refer to the largest city in West Texas as the “Gateway to Juarez.” Having little else to offer potential tourist dollars to the “Sun City,” El Paso’s official tourist publications brag about the natural attractions of southern New Mexico, and El Paso’s proximity to those attractions, or rather our natural attractions, as a major reason to visit or relocate businesses to their city.
In a study published by Paul A Lorah, Associate Professor of the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, on the relative economic benefit to Western communities of national wilderness designation, Lorah found that of the 113 western counties studied, those adjoining wilderness areas far outpaced those that did not have access to wilderness in every economic category.
Silver City vs. Alamogordo and Hobbs
We need not look to Minnesota to test Dr. Lorah’s hypothesis. We can find the same result in our own back-yard. Even a cursory look at economic figures supplied by the U.S. Census shows us that New Mexico communities adjoining wilderness areas are doing better than those that are further away. Silver City in southwestern New Mexico has been outpacing Hobbs and Alamogordo, New Mexico in every economic category for decades. Silver City, unlike Hobbs and Alamogordo, sits on the rim of the two designated wilderness areas of the Gila National Forest. The presence of the Gila has proven to be an economic engine for Silver City, and will continue to be.
On the other hand, the largest employers in Hobbs and Alamogordo are extractive industries; namely, oil and gas. Besides oil and gas, Alamogordo enjoys the presence of permanent military facilities. This alone should have skewed Alamogordo’s economic statistics to look better than Silver City’s, but it doesn’t. Furthermore, Hobbs and Alamogordo also are closer to major airports than Silver City; Midland, Texas in the case of Hobbs, El Paso in the case of Alamogordo. Both enjoy extensive highway and freight rail access. Gas, oil and a permanent military infrastructure ought to make Hobbs and Alamogordo wealthier communities than the much smaller and remote Silver City, yet they don’t.
Despite these seemingly insurmountable economic advantages of Alamogordo and Hobbs, Silver City outpaces both of the southeastern New Mexico cities in every single economic category. Extractive industries, like mining, once the “bread and butter” industry of the Silver City community, certainly does not account for that community’s growth. In fact the official Village web site says employment in these industries is shrinking, not growing. Census figures place the exact number of Silver City residents working in mining at only 354, a mere 2% of the workforce.
While Silver City’s housing median values are $141,876, up from $83,100 in 2000, in Alamogordo median housing value is far behind at $115,418 and in Hobbs the value is $82,435, half the New Mexico average.
In the current economic downturn, Silver City has a 6.7% unemployment rate, hardly a number to cheer about, but far less devastating than that of Alamogordo at 7.1%, or of Hobbs which stands at a near-depression level of 10.4%, nearly twice the national average.
The only possible explanation for Silver City’s faster growth in income, housing values, and relative strength in retaining jobs over Alamogordo and Hobbs, considering the size and relative advantages of the latter two cities in infrastructure and transportation, is Silver City’s close proximity to wilderness, and the dollars that that wilderness attracts into Silver City.
As for the other two cities, even a cursory glance at the economic trends facing their populations, most particularly in the case of Hobbs, should tell us that they need to look at diversifying their economies beyond oil and gas. Far from being a boon to future business growth and resident prosperity, oil and gas are an economic dead end. Those who tell us wilderness and natural preservation is bad for business and a jobs-killer are just plain wrong.
Just the Facts
Over-development of our natural areas isn’t just bad economics, it also presents a physical danger to existing communities. Construction up to the mountainsides in El Paso helped cause devastating flooding elsewhere in that city two years ago. After building developers filled in natural arroyos, water off the Franklin Mountains used mountainside streets as raceways and overwhelmed storm sewers, resulting in millions of dollars of water destruction to low lying areas un-equipped to handle the torrent further down in the City.
Despite all this evidence, opponents to natural preservation insist that conservation is a bad idea. Resorting to their usual alarmist tactics of spouting nonsense and hyperbole, Tea Party activists tell us that wilderness makes our communities less safe. According to their twisted logic, it will create a haven for burglars and “illegals,” while the rest of us, they say, will have to crawl through razor wire to access their hiding places.
Border interdiction isn’t an issue in the current and proposed wilderness areas in New Mexico now, and it won’t be in the future. Furthermore, as far as issues of security are concerned, Silver City is, by far, the safer place to be. According to FBI statistics, in every crime category from burglary and assault to rape and murder, Alamogordo and Hobbs are nearly twice as dangerous.
The arguments put forward by opponents of national wilderness designation and preservation of natural environments just simply don’t hold water. The only losers, if there are any, are private ranchers who lose government-subsidized grazing rights on public lands once they have become designated wilderness areas, and frankly, there is more enough open land in New Mexico to keep these ranchers’ livestock happy for many decades to come without forcing herds of cattle up wild mountain slopes or driving them through remote arroyos in search of scrub grass.
Opponents also tell us that proposed wilderness areas around Las Cruces “don’t meet the criteria” for wild lands. Either, they say, the wilderness tracts are “too small” or aren’t really wild, because they have been visited by prospectors for the past century. At 259,000 square acres, the proposed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks wilderness more than tops the 5,000 acre guideline outlined by the U.S. Government. The Burden Falls Wilderness in the Shawnee National Forest is a mere 3,600 acres and, prior to restoration, saw a century of organized farming. The Ozark Mountain wilderness areas in Arkansas are dotted with abandoned homesteads, and the largest of the eight units is 22,000 acres, the smallest only 2,200 acres. Few of our national designated wildernesses even come close to 259,000 acres.
Above all, in the case of the Organ Mountains wilderness, it is something that the vast majority of Dona Ana County residents want. Preserving the natural areas in and around the Las Cruces area is a goal many in the area have been working for years. All of the competing interests have come to the table and reached consensus. The bill to make those years of work and compromise a reality is on the table in the U.S. Congress.
It’s time for Congress to pass it.
To read more posts by Stephen Jones, visit our archive.
February 19, 2010 at 09:34 AM in Border Issues, By Stephen Jones, Contributing Writer, Economy, Populism, Environment, Land Issues, Las Cruces, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, Sen. Tom Udall, Sprawl Development | Permalink | Comments (6)
Friday, September 11, 2009
Guest Blog: Taxpayers Being Fleeced in Albuquerque by NAHB
This is a guest blog by Greg Lennes, Las Cruces resident and retired Business Executive.
Taxpayers are being fleeced in Albuquerque. This time it's the National Association of Homebuilders (“NAHB”) seeking their own bailout in Albuquerque. The organization is running a national campaign to reduce or suspend impact fees that are vital to building infrastructure and for an orderly growth in cities.
So let me get this straight. Bad and unscrupulous lending and borrowing decisions were the culprits in the real estate market collapse. Now the NAHB is sending a speaker criss-crossing the country including my city -- Las Cruces -- telling local governments of the evils of impact fees. According to a number of authoritative studies like that of the Brookings Institution (see here), there is no evidence that cutting the impact fees results in any increase in residential or non-residential construction.
Dr. David Swenson, an Iowa State University economist unmistakably said that NAHB's housing and economic model is "a victim of flawed thinking. It's absolutely not possible for a community to grow itself into prosperity by building new homes. It's not the idea that 'if you build it, they will come.' It's actually the idea that if people come, you will build homes for them." The "build first" mentality will ruin the budget of a city. Click to read Mr. Swenson's excellent letter (pdf) on the subject.
The NAHB is throwing around all kinds of bogus data and statistics to convince municipalities and counties of the need to decrease impact fees for a quick-fix. As Mark Twain so aptly stated: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics." So if a city slashes impact fees for essential roads, sewers, water lines, etc., it is obvious taxes will have to go up. This will be a disaster for Albuquerque and taxpayers. The NAHB and its members have to remember the 1930's adage that "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch." Mayor Chavez and the Albuquerque City Council have made a big blunder.
A bill package originally proposed by Mayor Martin Chavez to reduce or waive impact fees for one year was narrowly passed by the Albuquerque City Council this past Wednesday. The vote was 5-4 with support from Councilors Ken Sanchez, Trudy Jones, Sally Mayer, Brad Winter and Don Harris. Opposed were Isaac Benton, Debbie O'Malley, Michael Cadigan and Rey Garduño. The legislation would cut impact fees in half for the next year for most projects, with a full waiver available for development that meets certain "green" requirements. Check out this piece by Marjorie Childress at NMI for background on this issue.
This is a guest blog by Greg Lennes. You can read his previous guest blogs here and here. 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.
This is a guest blog by Greg Lennes. You can read his previous guest blogs here and here. 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.
September 11, 2009 at 11:49 AM in Business, City of Albuquerque, Corporatism, Economy, Populism, Guest Blogger, Housing, Jobs, Land Issues, Las Cruces, Sprawl Development, Urban Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, July 20, 2009
ABQ Councilor Ike Benton Needs Our Help on Re-Election Campaign
Albuquerque City Councilor Isaac "Ike" Benton is running for re-election in District 3. Ike currently serves as Council President. Last month, he was unanimously elected to serve as Chair of Rio Metro, the Regional Transit District Board, where he held the role of Vice Chair during the past two years. Councilor Benton, who served as Chair of the City's in 2008, has been a leading advocate for providing comprehensive transit service ever since joining the City Council in 2005.
An architect by trade, Benton has also been heavily involved in legislation and other efforts related to issues like planning, zoning and sustainability. You can read about some of those here. And if you don't know much about Ike's background, be sure to read this. It's an interesting story.
As Councilor Benton explains in a new message to supporters, he is committed to open and ethical elections and has qualified for public campaign funding. Benton's challenger in the race, County Commissioner Alan Armijo, has decided not to pursue open and ethical financing. Instead, Armijo will have to depend on campaign donations from monied interests to conduct his campaign. You know what that can mean once a candidate gets into office.
According to Ike, he needs our help, not our money:
This campaign is not funded by the dollars of big-shot donors but rather the sweat and blood of the working families that I am honored to represent. I am not asking for your donations but for something much more precious: your time and energy. Our campaign doesn't have the cash coffers to hire a team of field mercenaries. We need our supporters to take the lead on contacting voters in the district, letting them know that with their support I will continue fighting for City Council District 3 neighborhoods and the best interests of the whole city for the next four years.
Join Us... There is Pizza in it for You! Please contact our campaign's Volunteer Coordinator and he will schedule you for an opportunity to help make phone calls, knock on doors, or help with our get-out-the vote effort during the week before the October 6th Albuquerque Municipal Election.
How to Sign Up to Volunteer. Call Peter Rice (Volunteer Coordinator): 559-0541 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Richard Romero Speaks Out on CIP Budget Dispute: Mayor Chavez' SunCal Soccer Park Doesn't Pass the Smell Test
Late yesterday, mayoral candidate Richard Romero released a statement calling on Mayor Martin Chavez to "put an end to his legal wrangling with the City Council and stop fighting for his misguided SunCal soccer park."
Mayor Chavez and the City Council have been embroiled in a battle prompted by the Mayor's insistence that the City Council did not meet a legal deadline in acting on the City's Capital Improvement Program budget. Chavez is incensed because the CIP budget approved by the Council didn't include some of his pet projects, like a massive and problematical $6.48 million swimming hole at Tingley Beach and an expensive soccer complex on land donated by SunCal.
Although the City Attorney's Office has sided with Chavez on the alleged deadline infraction, Council members and their legal advisors insist the deadline applies only to their taking some "action" on the Mayor's proposal -- not to their approval of a finalized budget. They pointed out that only the City Council has the power to approve the CIP budget. Councilors have threatened to initiate legal action against the Mayor if he continues to insist that his version of the CIP budget is the one that should form the basis for ballot questions that will go before voters for final approval this Fall.
In the meantime, Mayor Chavez has proposed a "compromise" that cedes to the Council's views on the Tingley Beach project, but retains funding for the soccer complex and cuts other projects okayed by the City Council to pay for it. Richard Romero points out the folly of Mayor Marty's determination to fund a soccer complex in an area where zero people currently reside -- while cutting out a much-needed park in an already well developed and underserved area on the City's West Side.
“SunCal doesn’t have the cashflow to build this park on their own land, so the Mayor wants the taxpayers to do it for them,” said Romero. “His campaign manager [Mark Fleisher] is a registered lobbyist for SunCal and this $8M sports complex in the middle of nowhere just doesn’t pass the smell test.”
“What the City Budget needs is the $6.6M appropriated by the City Council for the Ventana Ranch Community Park. This project will serve an area where THOUSANDS of KIDS already live. The Mayor wants to eliminate that park and build the SunCal park where NO KIDS live," said Romero. "Who is he looking out for -- SunCal or the existing West Side residents that desperately need more parks and green space?”
The Ventana Ranch project will be taken out of the CIP budget and the SunCal soccer field will be inserted into the budget if the mayor’s legal opinion stands.
“The Ventana Ranch sports complex has already been designed and gone through extensive community input and should be the priority,” said Romero. “It’s misguided for the taxpayers to fund an irrigation line and $8M soccer complex in the middle of nowhere.”
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Westland Development Spent More Than $232,000 on SunCal TIDD Advertising
According to a report filed with the New Mexico Secretary of State, Westland Development of Irvine, CA spent a total of $232,540.64 on advertising and ad agency services during the Legislative Session trying to convince the public and lawmakers that the SunCal TIDDs proposal was the best thing since sliced bread. Click for a copy of the Lobbying Advertising Campaign Report (pdf) dated March 19 and submitted by Westland on March 31st to the Secretary of State.
Despite the big PR push, SB 249, the SunCal TIDDs bill, in the NM House by virtue of a tie vote on the last day of the 60-day Session that ended on March 21, 2009. The legislation would have used state tax dollars to pay for infrastructure at the massive SunCal development site on Albuquerque's West Side for up to 28 years.
The biggest sum paid by Westland outside of TV time went to Albuquerque-based PR firm DW Turner, which got almost $50,000 for creative services during January and February. (No wonder folks connected to DW Turner made a number of positive comments about SunCal on my posts about their TIDDs.) Billboard ad space from Lamar Outdoor and Clear Channel Outdoor totaled $24,200. Comcast Communications got the biggest chunk of TV ad revenues at $55,000, with KOAT getting paid $40,000 and KOB and KRQE receiving $20,000 each for TV time.
No word on how much the developer (and SunCal) spent on the eleven lobbyists they sent to the Roundhouse and other expenses, but it's a good guess they laid out around a half a million dollars total or more trying to get their hands on $408 million in public funds. They can't be happy. I'm sure they have more to spend, though, so watch out if Governor Bill Richardson calls a Special Session. They might just be back.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
NM House Kills SunCal TIDD 33-33; Motion to Reconsider Killed 33-33; Stick a Fork In It, It's Done
Are you pinching yourself? I am. Despite SunCal hiring 11 lobbyists, spending lavishly on extensive direct mail, billboards and ads and spreading generous amounts of campaign cash around the Roundhouse, the SunCal TIDD bill failed in the NM House on Friday night by virtue of two tie votes. SB 249, sponsored by Sen. Linda Lopez, was stopped first by a 33-33 vote that meant it was tabled, according to House rules. Soon afterwards, a motion to reconsider went down in flames with another 33-33 tie vote. Only one motion to reconsider is allowed, so SB 249 is now officially dead. At least for this Session. Amazing.
I don't know yet who voted for or against the bill, but I do know that three reps were excused and didn't vote: Ray Begaye, Eleanor Chavez and Dennis Roch. I also know that Joni Gutierrez was not excused but did not vote on the bill. She did vote yes on the motion to reconsider. And Nate Cote voted no on the bill but had to leave before the motion to reconsider was made.
Maybe all our calls and emails really had an impact. Maybe all those well respected groups and individuals that came out strongly against it made a giant dent in SunCal's credibility. Maybe House members were forced to think long and hard about the consequences of supporting the bill after so much negative information was revealed about its dangers, its weaknesses, its lack of proper oversight, its economic risks for the entire state. Maybe they thought about having to face the voters in less than two years, and having to explain why they voted to dedicate hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of the state's future tax revenues to one area on the West Side of Albuquerque.
Most likely, it was a combination of factors. The precarious financial challenges faced by New Mexico and the nation may well have played a part this year, especially with so many SunCal projects in the West now in bankruptcy.
Last year, the NM House passed the SunCal TIDD. It was stopped on the Senate Floor with a filibuster led by Sen. Cisco McSorley. This year, it was the opposite. The SunCal TIDD was easily passed by the Senate by a vote of 29-9. Even many of those against the bill thought it would pass the House. Thankfully, they were wrong.
You can listen to the entire on the bill courtesy of KUNM. Also check out the marathon live blog from the House provided by the long-suffering folks at the New Mexico Independent.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Urgent: CVNM Call to Action on SunCal-Westland TIDDs
From Conservation Voters New Mexico:
Call to Action:
HB 470 & SB 249, SunCal / Westland TIDDs: Oppose
Right now, our Legislature is considering siphoning off $408 million precious taxpayer dollars in a tax deal called a TIDD (Tax Increment Development District) – to a developer from Irvine, California. That developer is SunCal, a sprawl real estate developer from California that wants our tax dollars diverted for their project. Especially in these tough economic times, we need that half a billion dollars for environmental protection, health care and education in New Mexico, not sprawl development.
The bill, House Bill 470, is imminently up for a vote on the House Floor.
Please call your representative NOW to let them know that you OPPOSE HB 470, the SunCal TIDD Bill. Please click here to find contact info for your representative. Click here to find your House district if you're not sure who your representative is.
Recently, some articles on SunCal and TIDDs have been featured in the Albuquerque Journal. For more information on this issue, please take a moment to read them:
- "The Economic Downturn Is Taking a Nasty Toll on a CA Developer Holding a Big Stake in Albuquerque's West Side": March 15, 2009
- Editorial: "State Has to Get SunCal TIDD Right": March 15, 2009
- "Still Confused About TIDDs?": March 13, 2009
- “TIDD Analysis Leaves Out Concerns”: March 12, 2009
- “Heavy-Duty Campaign for Tax Break from State”: March 08, 2009
Finally, this fight against special interest polluters requires resources. We can't do this without your help. Please make a gift today to help us ensure environmental victory for New Mexico's air, land, and water!
Visit Our Website at CVNM.org to View Our Environmental Priorities, Legislative Schedule, & Daily Wins & Setbacks. Questions or comments? E-mail us at email@example.com or call 505-992-VOTE.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Action Alert: TIDD Financing
From New Mexico Voices for Children: Action Alert!
Issue: Tax Increment Development Districts (TIDDs)
Background: TIDDs allow a land developer to divert a large amount of state gross receipts taxes, which would normally fund programs (like education and public safety) that benefit the whole state, to pay for public infrastructure that benefits just one area of one city. TIDDs are very new to New Mexico and can involve billions of dollars, but the potentially negative impacts are not well known.
Action Needed: Please call your legislators and ask them to enact a moratorium on new TIDDs to give the state adequate time to study the long-term impacts (see below).
What You Might Say: There is simply too much money at stake with TIDDs for us to move forward with anything but extreme caution. Please enact a moratorium on TIDDs and require a thorough study that looks at the long-term fiscal impact for the whole state.
Contact Info: You can call the state Capitol switchboard at 505-986-4300 and ask to be transferred to your representative or senator. You can also visit the NM Legislature website for direct contact info. To find out who represents you in the Senate and House, select 'Find Your Legislator' from the menu under 'Members' on the left-hand side of the home page. Thank you for raising your VOICE for New Mexico's children!
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Clamor Grows for NM Ethics Reform; Negative Facts on SunCall TIDD Omitted in LCS Analysis
The drum beat for meaningful ethics and campaign finance reform continues and is getting louder with each passing day. Impatience and frustration are being expressed by New Mexicans from many walks of life and both sides of the aisle.
This morning, a strongly worded op-ed urging state lawmakers to act now appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. The plea was co-written by Don Chalmers, Chairman of the Board of the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce and Jack Taylor, who heads the Commmon Cause New Mexico Board -- two advocates who are on opposite sides of the fence on any number of issues. Not this time. You really should read the entitled, "Ethics Reform Bogs Down," but here are a few excerpts:
New Mexicans are asking the Legislature for meaningful ethics reform this year, and we couldn't agree more. Apparently, a number of lawmakers are also in agreement, given that they have introduced more than 45 bills related to campaign contribution limits, establishment of an ethics commission, limitations on state contractors' contributions to public officials, fiscal penalties for public officials who have committed crimes related to their office and imposition of state conduct legislation on local governments.
However, we are running out of time to get this done ... we still don't have a single piece of major ethics reform legislation moving through the process fast enough to be considered by both chambers and be sent up to the governor.
As in years past, the major bills are stalled in committee. We know that legislators have a great deal on their plate, but many of these bills were introduced early in the session. They should be heard in committee and moved forward now; otherwise, we will, once again, fail to enact major, meaningful ethics reform.
... Legislators need to do the right thing and take action quickly on ethics reform. This is what their constituents want. This is what the New Mexico business community wants. This is what government reform advocates want. We believe this is probably what most legislators themselves want.
Distorted SunCal Analysis
Unfortunately, despite the serious criticisms about inaction being fielded by NM legislators -- especially on the Senate side -- the foot dragging and mockery of reform advocates and measures continues unabated. Meanwhile, evidence of the corrosive clout of big-dollar donors and slews of highly compensated lobbyists becomes more and more obvious.
Check out this story, also published in the Journal today, which reports that this year's analysis of SunCal's $408 million TIDD proposal -- prepared by the Legislative Council Service and distributed to legislators -- just happened to omit the negative findings that were included in last year's analysis of SunCal's TIDD. You can't make this stuff up:
A 2008 legislative analysis of a so-called TIDD deal for SunCal Cos. said the firm's planned development on Albuquerque's West Side might not generate nearly as much tax revenue as SunCal claimed.
Last year's analysis also said that according to one of SunCal's own studies, most of the demand for industrial space in the giant new development would come from firms already doing business in the Albuquerque area rather than new, out-of-state firms — a top concern of critics who warn the tax break amounts to "cannibalism."
The issue could have a "potentially huge impact for the state," the 2008 analysis said.
Neither of those criticisms was detailed in this year's Legislative Finance Committee analysis given to lawmakers considering the controversial deal, which was approved by the Senate in late February and is pending in the House.
"I absolutely think it (this year's analysis) does not tell the whole story," said Sen. Eric Griego, D-Albuquerque, a TIDD critic who questioned whether the LFC was pressured on the new analysis.
LFC director David Abbey told the Journal on Tuesday that he was indeed pressured on the TIDD issue.
David Abbey refused to identify where the pressure came from and claimed it had no impact, but I find that very had to believe. It's no wonder that the powerful forces trying to stuff this ill-advised boondoggle down the throats of New Mexico taxpayers don't want all the facts known:
The LFC's 2008 analysis, prepared by agency chief economist Norton Francis, said a study done for SunCal assumed most of the industrial growth would be from "intramarket" demand.
"This is activity that would have generated revenue for the state that is moving to an area where half of the revenue is redistributed to the development, a potentially huge impact for the state," Francis wrote.
The analysis added that according to a separate state study, the amount of permanent gross receipts tax revenue generated in several of the areas in the TIDD "will be less than 20 percent of the amount calculated by the (SunCal) study."
TAKE ACTION: Please add your voice to the growing clamor for ethics reform and against the SunCal TIDD. Contact your Senator and Representative, Senate and House leaders and, if you have time, other members of the New Mexico Legislature who have been fighting the will of the people. Let them know in no uncertain terms that they need to start serving the needs of ordinary New Mexicans, not just the demands of corporate campaign donors and lobbyists. Click for contact info.
To see our previous posts on this topic, visit our archive.
Monday, March 02, 2009
Guest Blog: The New Mexico SunCal TIDD is Wrong!
This is a guest blog by Greg Lennes of Las Cruces about SB 249, the SunCal TIDD sponsored by Sen. Linda Lopez, which passed the NM Senate last Thursday by a vote of 29-9. Greg also sent this message to all members of the New Mexico House.
Our State Senate has failed New Mexicans. As Ben Franklin once concluded: "easy to be bought, if there was but a purchaser." This describes the leadership in the Senate with Senators Tim Jennings and John Arthur Smith.
The obnoxious Tax Increment Development District (TIDD) now goes to the House of Representatives where Henry Kiki Saavedra, Chairman of the Appropriations and Finance Committee, can't wait to bailout private companies SunCal and Westand Development with a $408 million bond issue for 28 years. This political trifecta has sold their souls to the SunCal and Westland lobbyists: Mark Fleisher, Arthur Hill, Allison Kuper, Dick Minzer, Robert Rivera, Marla Shoats, Joseph Thompson, Daniel Weaks, Vanessa Alarid and William Steadman. SunCal even feted Mr. Saavedra at an expensive picnic.
SunCal and Westland Development are promising to create 11,500 new jobs within the TIDD. Let's see what these companies did in California -- 30 bankruptcies, unpaid debts of millions to contractors and no new jobs. Taxpayers are being used to finance this land scheme. New Mexico is one of a few states that uses state taxes to bailout a development. In an overwhelming number of developments, the costs of the public infrastructure are shared between the private developer and the local government. However, Suncal will be free from this onerous expense.
To make matters even worse, the state is not guaranteed any presence on the TIDD Board and has no oversight of the use of the Gross Receipt Tax (GRT) funds. In addition, SunCal, which has a poor track record with its numerous debts and bankruptices, does not have to worry about that matter. TIDD's are political subdivisions of the state and will be taking on the debt in order to repay the developer. This borders on corruption.
Any state legislator who votes for this disgraceful bill will be held accountable. Recently it was calculated that the average per-capita income for all New Mexicans was $29,929, although rural per-capita income lagged at $26,081. The question is are we going to help Bruce Elieff, CEO of SunCal with an estimated worth of $300 million, or New Mexicans who are really suffering and deserve beneficial treatment?
This is a guest blog by Greg Lennes. You can see a previous guest blog from him here
Note: Here's a list of the nine Senators who voted NO on SB 249:
Tim Eichenberg, D-Albuquerque
Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque
Steve Fischmann, D-Las Cruces
Mary Jane Garcia, D-Dona Ana
Eric Griego, D-Albuquerque
Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque
Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque
Michael Sanchez, D-Belen
Tim Wirth, D-Santa Fe
Two Republicans Were Absent:
Sue Wilson-Beffort, R-Albuquerque
Stuart Ingle, R-Portales
The rest of the Democratic and Republican Senators all voted in favor of the SunCal TIDD.
You can learn more about the deceptions and damages associated with the SunCal TIDDs here: www.tiddlies.com/. (h/t Peter)
The SunCal TIDD bill (SB 24) goes next to the House Business and Industry Committee. Please contact the legislators on the Committee to let them know your views on this tax giveaway. Also contact your member of the House. Click here to find your Representative and his or her contact info.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Guest Blog: What Really Happened Today on the Domestic Partnership Bill and How Your State Senate Really Works
In this post I'm passing along an email I got from someone calling themselves "Scott." It speaks truth. After all, this was also the day of the big SunCal TIDD giveaway, supported by all the righteous Senators who get clumps of money and other largesse from the California developer that packs the Roundhouse with their slimy lobbyists. It was also supported by cowed Democrats who are evidently afraid to stand up to the crooked element that continues to pull the levers in the Roundhouse.
On the final day of the 2008 state legislative session, State Senator Cisco McSorley went to the mat for New Mexico’s taxpayers and communities – courageously filibustering a $629 million public subsidy to a massive sprawl development (SunCal) on Albuquerque’s west side.
You can imagine that the project’s proponents and their favorite legislators weren’t very happy about this turn of events, and they unleashed a veritable fury of efforts over the subsequent months to ensure that such a horrific example of democracy in action couldn’t possibly happen again.
SunCal fought to keep their supporters in office during the primary elections. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a massive PR campaign (it’s difficult to tell exactly how much money, since they haven’t filed reports as required by the Secretary of State).
Senator McSorley wasn’t cowed by their power, money or influence. He stood on principle in defense of sound public policy, against tremendous and intense pressure. He remained steadfast. He fought for us.
Payback is a bitch.
Today, in the State Senate, the leadership of the Senate made sure he paid a dear, dear price for his commitment to protecting New Mexico.
Today, Senate leaders – having stalled and delayed the domestic partnership bill for which Senator McSorley has fought valiantly for years – engaged in an egregious act of political payback.
Today, Senate leaders made sure that SB12 (the domestic partner bill) wouldn’t be heard on the Senate floor until after the SunCal subsidy was passed, even though SB12 has now lingered on the Senate floor calendar for over a week.
After promising advocates for domestic partnerships that SB12 would be heard on Thursday, Senate leaders pushed the developer handouts ahead of SB12 on the agenda. Then, to add insult to injury, they helped defeat the domestic partners bill – or at least stood by and watched, which is just as bad.
Today, they tried to force Senator McSorley to choose between equal rights for New Mexicans and a massive bailout of a bankrupt developer.
It would be epically poetic, if it weren’t so pathologically twisted.
No matter what happened today, Senator McSorley should be applauded. And Senate leaders should be ashamed.
-- Anonymous, because I am not as courageous as Senator McSorley
p.s. a special shout-out to Senator Eric Griego, and also Senators Stephen Fischmann and Dede Feldman, for their efforts to educate the State Senate and the public about the nightmare at hand in approving these massive subsidies.
Senator Griego was fierce and unwavering on the Senate Floor today – fighting an uphill battle on behalf of his constituents and all New Mexicans, aided in no small part by Senators Fischmann and Feldman. It’s comforting to know that Senator McSorley has some conscientious company, however small a percentage of the State Senate they might comprise.
See this post for more on today's vote.
Monday, February 23, 2009
Today: Urge Support for Bill to Limit TIDD Financing
Time Frame: This morning!
Issue: Limiting state tax increment financing to new economic activity
Background: The state is poised to promise more than $1 billion in future tax revenue as a development incentive to just a handful of tax increment development districts (TIDDs) in Albuquerque and Las Cruces. This is tax revenue that normally would have gone into the state's general fund and benefited the whole state through programs like education, health care, and public safety. One of the main arguments for doing this is that the new developments will bring lots of new economic activity to the state. The counter argument is that most of the TIDDs' economic activity will actually come from other areas of the state – in essence, cannibalizing an existing source of tax revenue.
Sen. Steve Fischmann has introduced a bill that would remedy the situation. SB 576 would allow the TIDDs to only collect future state tax revenue that comes from new economic activity.
We realize that TIDDs are a complex issue, but explaining it in detail here would take more space than the typical action alert. You can read more about our stand on TIDDs on our FAQ sheet, which you can download here (pdf). You can also read Sen. Fischmann's bill here (pdf).
Action Needed: SB 576 is scheduled to be heard – along with a group of other TIDD-related bills – this afternoon in the Senate Finance Committee. We need you to contact senators in the SFC this morning and urge them to support SB 576.
What You Might Say: Please support Sen. Fischmann's bill to limit a TIDD's future tax revenue to only revenue from economic activity that is new to the state. SB 576 will safeguard our state general fund, ensuring it will be able to sustain the statewide programs that are critical to our children and working families.
Contact Info: You may call the Capitol switchboard at 505-986-4300 and ask to speak to one of the following senators: Sen. John Arthur Smith, Sen. Carlos Cisneros, Sen. Rod Adair, Sen. Pete Campos, Sen. Caroll Leavell, Sen. Howie Morales, Sen. Steven Neville, Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, Sen. Mary Kay Papen, Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, or Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort.
You can also visit this link for direct contact info. To find out who represents you in the Senate, select 'Find Your Legislator' from the menu under 'Members' on the left-hand side of the home page.
Note: Other TIDD bills scheduled to be heard this afternoon in the Senate Finance Committee include:
- SB 249 TAX INCREMENT DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS (LOPEZ): Bond authorization for SunCal ($408 million)
- SB 467 WINROCK TAX INCREMENT DEVELOPMENT PROJECT (ORTIZ y PINO)
- C/SB 19 LAS CRUCES DOWNTOWN TAX INCREMENT DEVELOPMENT (PAPEN): Bond authorization for the already-established Las Cruces TIDD ($8 million)
- TIDD reform bill: SB 201 TAX & REV TAX INCREMENT CHANGES (SANCHEZ B.)