News & Views Blog

Jump To Archive
 

Mystery in Santa Fe: The Case of the Missing Fingerprints
February 10, 2016

By Carroll Cagle

What happened to the fingerprints – and why?

The possibility that the current legislature will enact a plan dealing with the matter of driver’s licenses for non-citizen immigrants now hinges on whether fingerprinting will be required, or not.

A bill requiring fingerprinting for those non-citizens (variously called illegal immigrants or undocumented immigrants) passed the Republican-controlled state house of representatives.

But when the bill emerged from its first hearing in the Democrat-controlled state senate, the fingerprinting requirement had disappeared.

We take you behind the scenes to help understand why.

The federal government in 2005 passed the REAL I.D. Act as an anti-terrorism measure (See more on this below).  It requires that all states upgrade their driver’s license procedures as protection against terrorists using previously-lax systems to get a license, which could then be used to board airline flights or enter federal facilities and thus cause death and destruction.

Immediately upon passage, that federal law was poised to collide with a state law enacted in New Mexico only two years prior, in 2003, allowing illegal or undocumented immigrants to get N.M. driver’s licenses.

When this legislative session began, it seemed that the state senate might finally agree to a house measure that would make New Mexico REAL I.D. compliant. 

When the senate stripped the fingerprinting requirement for the undocumented, the reason likely was not the fingerprinting, per se – but that the fingerprints could, and would, be checked on national databases to find out if the person were wanted anywhere, including some other state, for crimes.

In the legislature, a number of key power players have day jobs as lawyers defending people charged with crimes – otherwise known as criminal defense attorneys.  The most notable is Michael Sanchez of Belen, the most powerful senator as senate majority leader.

The fact that criminal records might turn up is never mentioned as a reason for opposing the fingerprinting requirement – only the indignities of requiring such a thing.

Going even deeper into the case of the disappearing fingerprint requirement, consider this:  the original house version in N.M. requiring fingerprinting was borrowed directly from how Utah does it.

Applicants in Utah who are wanted in other states have their names and fingerprints referred to those other states.  Recently, the FBI stopped cooperating with Utah, claiming that fingerprint references couldn’t be applied to driver’s license applicants.

This is an entirely new policy, as the FBI has had working agreements with most state law enforcement agencies across the country – and previously did not ask the source of the referred fingerprint checks.

The FBI is part of the Justice Department, where the new attorney general is on board with the Obama Administration’s executive orders shielding millions of immigrants from deportation.  These executive orders have been challenged in federal court as an unconstitutional abuse of power, and have experienced setbacks as the challenges work their way through the courts.

Aside from the state senate effort to delete the fingerprinting requirement, the senate version also allows any New Mexican – including lifelong U.S. citizens – to “opt –out”  of the proof-of-identity requirements imposed by the federal REAL I.D. Act.

This opt-out provision  is likely to cause many legal residents to foolishly choose a non-REAL I.D.-compliant driver’s license because it has a lower requirement for proof of identity, only to later discover they can’t board an airplane in 2020.

Once again, to provide the relevant background:

The federal REAL I.D. Act of 2005 was enacted in response to a recommendation made by the 9/11 Commission, which stated:

Secure identification should begin in the United States. The federal government should set standards for the issuance of birth certificates and sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses. ……. At many entry points to vulnerable facilities, including gates for boarding aircraft, sources of identification are the last opportunity to ensure that people are who they say they are and to check whether they are terrorists.

The REAL I.D. Act prohibits federal agencies and departments from accepting driver’s licenses and state issued identification documents that do not meet standards set by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

 After all these years, that still means those of us in New Mexico.


Medicaid dreamers jarred awake by the noise of falling oil prices
January 26, 2016
By Carroll Cagle

When a number of Democratic state senators sat out in front of Republican Governor Susana Martinez last week, sporting socks that were intended as a brash and rude reference to the governor’s holiday pizza party problems, it was apparent that the relationship between the two political parties had sunk to new depths.

The ungentlemanly display occurred during the governor’s state-of-the-state speech opening this year’s legislative session.

The Republican executive branch and Republican house are bracing for intense battles with the Democractically controlled Senate over contentious issues such as the driver’s license mess and tough-on-crime bills.

The G.O.P. anti-crime plans will be opposed by a many Democrats including especially the criminal defense attorneys in their ranks. Democrats resist the idea of taking driver’s licenses away from illegal immigrants because the pro-license forces might bring more votes for Democrats in the future, and because they think doing so would be mean-spirited (even though federal anti-terrorism law says: no citizen, no license).

Forgotten in all this acrimony was a shining moment in 2013 when Governor Martinez – a conservative on most spending matters — decided to accept the carrot of vastly expanded federal funding for Medicaid expansion. Her decision cheered the same Democrats who can find little to like in the governor’s initiatives.

Accepting the Medicaid funding carrot from Washington in 2013 has resulted in thousands more New Mexicans signing up for the medical program for low-income families, and thus also resulted in a gusher of federal cash for Washington’s share.

The big problem this legislative session is that what used to be other gushers — those of tax dollars from oil production — are sputtering at the same time.

While the oil taxes are only a share of N.M. state government’s tax revenues, they are a large-enough part that when oil prices plummet as they are now, Santa Fe feels it.

Not so long ago, the executive and legislative branches were contemplating how much “new money” they would have to divvy up this session, but now they are faced with having no new money and even a possible need to cut back.

Both the executive and legislative budgets were prepared late last year with the idea that the price of oil would be about $50 a barrel – already way down from $100 a barrel only a year or so earlier but still enough to allow some new spending dreams. But last week, oil dropped briefly below $30 a barrel, and the taxes will go down correspondingly.

This creates a problem for Medicaid funding, since the program expanded by the deal with Washington resulted in 100,000 additional New Mexicans signing up. The current total of Medicaid recipients in N.M. is 822,000 people. During the 2017 fiscal year for which this legislature must budget, Medicaid enrollment in New Mexico is projected to go up even further, to 922,000 – about half of the state’s entire population.

Medicaid is, and always has been, jointly paid for by the federal and state governments. With Washington paying 70 per cent.

Under the deal dangled by Washington as part of the rollout of Obamacare, states like New Mexico that agree to expand Medicaid initially get 100 per cent of the extra costs paid for by the federal government.

But that ends for the 2017 year now being budgeted for. At this point, the federal share drops to 95 per cent. In 2020, the federal share is set to drop to 90 per cent.

Therefore, the administration is requesting from the legislature an increase of $85 million for next fiscal year — to a total in state funding level of $1 billion. Will the money be there now because of the slowdown in tax revenues coming in?

Even the Republican’s top finance chair in the state house of representatives, Larry Larranaga of Albuquerque, the house’s top appropriations chairman, calls the Medicaid funding situation a “runaway train.”

New Mexico is not the only government to see reduced tax revenues from oil starting to crimp spending.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin “…expanded social spending to improve Russian living standards,” but Putin now says, in an echo of N.M.’s situation, “that the price of $50 per barrel of crude used to calculate Russia’s 2016 budget was too optimistic, and ministers have in recent weeks warned of spending cuts….”

Another major oil producer, Venezuela, is causing some international bankers to even worry that the country might default on its debts.

New Mexico’s reliance on petroleum is not nearly as great as those two nations, but even so, there is a definite squeeze play now between the need to come up with more money for Medicaid, at the very time that the revenues (not just from oil but other sectors across the economy) are looking increasingly anemic.

Back to Top


Legislative money analysis: Part two of two
What the oil price slump might mean to the funding of state programs
January 20, 2016
By Carroll Cagle

When it comes to spending decisions, the 30-day legislative session that began yesterday has hanging over it the cloud of reduced tax revenue coming in from the state’s oil industry.

We provided details of that drastic downturn in yesterday’s post. Today we look at how fears about income (revenue from taxes) are affecting plans for outgo (spending — known in the legislature as appropriations).

One clear indicator is a proviso in the proposed budget put forth by the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC), the powerful entity made up of members of both house and senate, and both parties, that dominates the legislature’s spending decision-making process.

It is true that the LFC, like the executive branch, proposes a slight increase in funding for next fiscal year – but its spending notions are coupled with a big “maybe.” The LFC’s budget says this:

“… $77.6 million of (the proposed increase in spending) intended for compensation increases (i.e. a tiny pay increase for all state employees) is contingent on the state generating as much general fund revenue as projected, a caution reflecting the significant risk to the revenue forecast posed by depressed oil and natural gas prices.”

Another indicator of how both the legislature and the executive are casting a wary eye on revenue from the oil patch of southeastern New Mexico is reflected in this coverage of the revenue-estimates picture from the state capital newspaper, The New Mexican.

“Hall's [the LFC’s] co-chairman, state Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said the consensus revenue forecast put together by the Legislature and economists for Gov. Susana Martinez calls for $230 million in new money for fiscal year 2017. But that forecast was put together in early December — and oil prices have declined significantly since then.

“With oil and gas drilling and exploration being such a large economic sector in New Mexico, a $1 decline in the price of crude oil cuts an estimated $10 million from the government’s treasury.

“Smith expects the forecast for new money to be cut by $80 million to $100 million during the 2016 session.”

As we mentioned in yesterday’s post, the term “new money” is used in the capitol building to refer to revenue to state government (in the form of taxes) coming in at higher amounts than the previous year. “New money” is like a raise, and there never seems to be any shortage of ideas about what that extra cash from the taxpayers should be spent on — in the form of expansion of existing programs, starting new ones, or taking care of alleged “unmet needs.”

That there should be any “new money” at all this session – whether it is the $230 million thought recently to be available, or it ends up being $100 million less than that –is somewhat surprising given the steep decline in global oil prices seriously affecting New Mexico’s oil industry, and an overall New Mexico economy that is flat at best. (The LFC says a revenue decrease is detectable not just from the petroleum sector but more broadly, with broader gross receipts taxes down 13 per cent in the first three months of the current fiscal year which began last July 1.)

But seeing as how the overall appropriations level is going to be about $6.5 billion, a “mere” $100 million of new money is not a big deal in the capitol, in proportion to the total.

Every year, including this one, the fights over money in the Roundhouse are not over the big picture, but around the margins.

The LFC has a budget proposal and so does the administration of Governor Susana Martinez, via the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA).

Although the LFC wants to give all 20,000 state employees a one percent raise, the governor and her team want to focus on raises for the state police and prison guards, as well as $4 million in targeted tax cuts.

For teachers, the executive does not want to spread the extra money – such as it is – around to all, but rather to increase the starting pay for new teachers from $32,000 to $34,000 and to reward teachers measured as “highly effective” with modest amounts of extra income.

Aside from the tax-and-spend matters mandated for the lawmakers by the state constitution in this session, the vital and highly contentious matter of getting agreement on driver’s licenses that can meet the anti-terrorism needs of the federal government is going to dominate time and energy as well.

Then, in addition to the license issue struggle and the financing, this promises to be a “Law and Order — Santa Fe” episode. Expect several bills in response to an upsurge of violent, crazy lawlessness by repeat offenders and drunk drivers during 2015.

(No finance bills can be considered if the governor authorizes them via a “message” to the legislature.)

All this must happen before the required adjournment time of noon on February 18.

Back to Top


Legislative money analysis: Part one of two
Legislators find their spending appetites curbed by far-off China and Saudi Arabia
January 19, 2016
By Carroll Cagle

The 112 legislators who show up in Santa Fe today from all around New Mexico are there for the every-other-year budget session.

But they are finding that the fun of spending “new money” for new programs and expansions of existing favorite ones has pretty much evaporated.

The party poopers include countries half-way around the world, China and Saudi Arabia.

What we mean:

1.    The legislative sessions in even-numbered years like this one are for 30 days only and are limited to money issues – i.e., decisions on income (revenues from taxes) and spending (appropriations). Spending recipients include the public schools and universities, Medicaid, transportation, health services, state police and prisons, and a myriad of others.

2.    “New money” is how legislators describe projected increases in revenue from taxes, over the previous year’s amount.

3.    A major source of tax revenue flowing into Santa Fe always comes from the oil and gas industries in SE and NW New Mexico.

4.    But that tax influx will be seriously crimped by a precipitous decline in oil prices — with key reasons being a sharp slowdown in the massive Chinese economy coupled with the unexpected refusal of major oil producer Saudi Arabia to curb its production. As past price slumps began, the Saudis customarily would cut production, so as to limit oil availability and thus keep prices from falling too much. But not this time.

If anyone doubted that there is such a thing as a global economy, the dynamics cited just above show clearly that there is — and that oil pricing is not set by our own New Mexico producers but, rather, by supply and demand throughout the world. And finally, that those faraway events by distant nations affect both our state’s petroleum industry – and the teachers, Medicaid recipients, state police officers, etc, whose funding is affected by petro taxes.

Even grizzled oil patch veterans who experienced the big price bust of the 1980s probably did not expect plunging oil prices of the magnitude felt in recent months.

The Wall Street Journal’s industry reporter puts it this way:

“Oil prices have tumbled from more than $100 a barrel in mid-2014 to just above $30 a barrel (last week) as a global glut of crude and concerns about demand weighed on the market.”

How long will this oil-industry price slump continue is a big question, too. The same Wall Street Journal reporter writes that“….Analysts widely expect prices to stay subdued this year….” And even more foreboding, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) comes with this sobering prediction: “Brent crude oil prices will average $40 per barrel in 2016 and $50 in 2017.”

Next: In tomorrow’s post we will lay out some specifics of how the oil price decline is affecting state government spending plans.

Back to Top


The real story behind the driver’s license mess – and what New Mexico must now do
January 14, 2016
By Carroll Cagle

There has been a lot of confusion – in the media and by the legislators who will have to fix the problem – about the crazy driver’s license problem in New Mexico.

One thing both the media and the politicians did get right is that New Mexicans are confused themselves   -- about how did we get in such a mess, and how do we get out of it --  and also very irritated.

By the hundreds, New Mexicans have been waiting in line to get passports – just so they will be able to board airline flights, or so their businesses will have access to big customers at the air force bases and national labs.

But much of the commentary from all quarters has been wrong, and continues to be.

Everything is based on the federal REAL ID Act which Congress enacted in 2005.  That law requires that no one in any state that issues its driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants may use that license to board an airline flight or access most federal facilities.  Seeing as how it has been more than a decade since Congress passed that law, one might think New Mexico would have gotten ready by now, but no.

Even to this day, many Democrats in the state senate say they have a plan that will keep giving state driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.

What is the situation right now vis-à-vis the enforcement of the federal law?

Enforcement at the airports is the final step in the last phase in a complex process.  Why? Because it is by far the most difficult operational change in the entire enforcement plan.

The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) wanted two more years to have time to train their personnel, and to begin promoting awareness among the traveling public.  According to U.S. Department of Transportation data, there were 900 million passengers who boarded domestic airlines in 2014. 

While some passengers flew multi-leg trips, with only a single ID check at the first airport, about 450 million passengers went through the TSA security checks familiar to frequent fliers. 

 As many as 30 percent of travelers on U.S. domestic flights already present passports or alternate IDs like TSA Pre or military IDs when going through airport security, based on news accounts.  Note that TSA accepts a variety of IDs issued by the federal government as acceptable photo identification, including “green cards” issued to legal permanent residents.   A large scale REAL ID awareness campaign will begin at airports in July, 2016, according to the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, in his statement released on Friday, January 8, highlighted five noncompliant states subject to enforcement effective today, January 11, 2016.  Using Department of Transportation data again, that equates to 23 million people with driver’s licenses not acceptable as IDs to board airplanes, roughly 10 percent of all legal residents of the United States with current driver’s licenses or state issued IDs. 

So that means if TSA begin to check IDs in April, 2016, as had been feared by many, one out of ten people boarding an airplane would have to present a passport or alternate form of ID.

Before today, only Minnesota (and briefly, New York State) had actually encountered enforcement. That enforcement includes national laboratories, secure federal facilities (entire areas with fencing) throughout  the United States, secure federal buildings, and, effective this week, military bases.

New Mexico has enjoyed a “grace period.” That grace period ended Monday, and the military bases in New Mexico have been directed to start enforcing the alternate ID requirements today against visitors wishing to enter military bases for social visits, business, or deliveries.  

Some news accounts accurately reported that enforcement at secure federal facilities started last July. Enforcement at military bases started Monday (January 11).  DHS Secretary  Johnson’s actual statement on January 8 identifies New Mexico as among five states and American Samoa as subject to enforcement effective now.

While the non-Defense Department federal facilities are enforcing REAL ID today – for example, national labs, secure research facilities operated by contractors and nuclear facilities – New Mexico has been able to ignore that because it had an extension followed by the 120 day grace period.

Soon, expect to hear reports of enforcement on the military bases in New Mexico with regard to which driver’s licenses are acceptable for admission, and that it will be a rocky road until consistent policies are put in place.

If the New Mexico legislators move forward to a compromise in this session, airport enforcement will be a non-event.  

 If they squander this opportunity, there will be a lot of problems for New Mexico residents in 2018.  It is most important that REAL ID compliant driver’s licenses become available to New Mexico’s legal residents by October, 2016, when DHS will reconsider New Mexico’s status, and so that there is time for most residents to receive REAL ID compliant credentials before the October, 2020, deadline after which everyone boarding an airplane must meet the requirement.

Governor Susana Martinez understands the urgency.  It is up to the public to pressure the recalcitrant senators to get on board before it is too late for New Mexico to meet the deadline.  The supposed two-year “reprieve” in reality provides, just barely, enough time to finally comply after all these years of delay.

Please do not lose sight of the fact that the REAL ID Act became law in 2005 as an important way to insure identification security in the U.S. – as an anti-terrorism measure.  For excellent, thorough and relevant information go to:  www.idsecuritynow.org.

Also, travelers are encouraged to check the REAL ID compliance status of their state on the DHS websiteand review TSA’s list of acceptable forms of identification.

Back to Top


Have you noticed that there will be elections this year?
(Part two of two)

January 12, 2016
By Carroll Cagle

State house of representatives

Almost as watched as the state senate outcome will be the general election outcome in the house, where Republicans will fight tenaciously to retain the margin of 37-to-33 over the Democrats that they finally gained only two years ago.

Being accustomed to running things after 80 years, the Democrats are finding they really, really, do not like being in the minority and will be working hard during the 2016 re-match so that the speaker of the house in the 2017 session will blissfully once again be a Democrat – and the same goes for all committee chairmanships.

Secretary of state

A unique feature of the 2016 N.M. elections is that the secretary of state’s office will be up for grabs. That is because of the high-profile fall from grace (and power) of Dianna Duran, the first secretary of state in New Mexico’s history to resign from office.

She did this after Attorney General Hector Balderas charged her with illegally siphoning off campaign funds during her 2014 re-election bid, and apparently using the $$$ to support a growing and unhealthy addiction to playing the slots in several of the state’s many Indian casinos.

Republicans must have been dismayed – and still are – that, after Duran became the first Republican secretary of state in 80 years, that she couldn’t even make it through two four-year terms.

Maggie Toulouse Oliver, the county clerk in Bernalillo County (Albuquerque), a Democrat whom Duran defeated in 2014, says she will try again this year and vows to restore voter confidence to the operation so tarnished by Duran (who ended up facing some jail time and other requirements in addition to resigning).

Congress

Veteran politicos, for the most part, seem to think the three U.S. house of representative members from New Mexico will be sent back to Washington yet once again this year.

Members of the U.S. house serve two-year terms. The U.S. Senate features six-year terms, and neither of the incumbent Democrats, Tom Udall or Martin Heinrich, are up for re-election this year.

The New Mexico house delegation is made up of:
 

  • Two Democrats — Ben Ray Lujan of Santa Fe and north-central New Mexico, and Michelle Lujan Grisham of the Albuquerque metro district.
  • One Republican — Republican Steve Pearce of the southern district.

In addition to dealing with the many national and international problems (terrorism, and cumulative national debt approaching $20 trillion, etc), New Mexico’s congressional delegation has the familiar task of keeping money flowing to the multitude of federal institutions and programs in the state.

Federal spending in New Mexico has long been a mainstay of the state’s economy – yet, due to that big national debt and curbs on the ability of all members of congress to indulge their spending appetite, what used to be an easier task now is often harder.

Back to Top


Have you noticed that there will be elections this year?
(Part one of two)

January 8, 2016
By Carroll Cagle

That’s a tongue-in-cheek question in our headline, of course.

Very, very few people in New Mexico or the nation could have missed the noisy sounds coming from the 2016 presidential election campaign. All this began way earlier and more intense than previously.

Donald Trump, alone, has become a big topic of conversation in every coffee shop and supermarket checkout line around.

Plus, the attacks by Islamist terrorists in Paris and San Bernardino (among other places in the world) have sent shockwaves into the electorate and propelled national security to the top of the important-issues list.

But at the state level, the elections in New Mexico this year are important in many ways. The primary election – when voters registered in one party or another choose their nominees for the general election will be June 7, and the general election November 8.

President

By the time June 7 rolls around, it could be that both the abundant Republican field and the narrower Democratic contest already will be sorted out in the presidential race. So any prospect that New Mexicans might make a difference in the national race is highly unlikely (although we have been a couple of times in recent races due to nail-biting closeness of the electoral college arithmetic).

Yet, the unusual, volatile and colorful campaigning so far might still energize voters here. That will be especially true between our June 7 primary and the November 8 in general election, if a polarizing figure like Trump is either the Republican presidential nominee, or runs as an independent.

New Mexico State Senate

While the slug-fest for president captures more eyeballs — as the advertising and political professionals sometimes refer to the size of TV audiences — of more importance to New Mexicans in practical ways is what will happen in the battle for control of the New Mexico state senate.

With a couple of mild and brief exceptions, this 42-member body has been under Democratic control for more than 80 years, going back to the election of FDR and the beginnings of the New Deal in 1932.

In general, Democrats in Santa Fe tend to pass bills favorable to unions and environmentalists, and regulations and tax measures unfriendly to business. The Republicans, who tend to want to weed out entangling regulations and curb higher taxes that they say hamper job growth and a healthy economy, over time have been edging closer to majority control in the state senate.

In legislative bodies, all it takes for total control is to have one more than half of the membership in that body, in this case 22. Now, there are 24 Democrats and 18 Republicans in the senate.

Thus, it will take only a gain of five seats for the Republicans to take control. This is a big deal because in 2014 the state house of representatives finally shifted to Republican majority, after the same decades-long dominance by the D’s. With a Republican house and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez heading the executive branch, a shift to the R’s in the senate would mean all three major power blocs would be Republican, a dramatic and historical shift.

Yet, gaining five seats will be a harder job for the Republican than one might think. Many of those 24 Democrats seem to be in safe districts, and even in potentially vulnerable districts where the Republicans and other organizations make a mighty effort to dislodge an incumbent, the pro-Democratic forces will throw money and manpower into keeping them in familiar hands.

As hard as gaining five or more seats might be, the forces of change also must watch their flanks to guard against losing any in their own ranks.

How the presidential race provokes voter turnouts in either party also will be a factor.

State senators serve four-year terms and all 42 seats are up for election in 2016.

The second part of this report will focus on the state house of representatives and the secretary of state’s office.

Back to Top


Archive

2015: January-June | July-December

2014: January-March | April-August | September-October | November-December

2013: January-December

2012: June | July | August | September | October

2011 & 2010

2010 News




Sign up for our Newsletter

   
Latest Tweets

Stay Connected: