Monday, March 30, 2009

Broadband: Abq RFP Cancelled

There was fair hoopla when the City of Albuquerque put out a request for proposal to bring wireless broadband to the entire city, especially area less well off economically. The cost have been $30 million, I was told. So it might have a clue (or clueless) when
“I don’t know,” was a common answer from city of Albuquerque staff to questions from the more than 50 people at a May 2007 bidders conference for the proposed wireless broadband network across Albuquerque. “I would have to check that,” was another response. A fair proportion of the 50 people had come from out of town.
Not quite four months later, on September 28, 2007, a city inter-office memo quietly appeared canceling the proposal.
About six weeks ago I happened to wonder what became of the project. I started my inquiries with Deborah James, said to be public information officer for Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez. I started with Ms. James because PIOs get paid to answer questions from people like me. Ms. James has a reputation for non-response, an accurate reputation, it seems. Something like five emails elicited one response. That was a phone call during which Ms. James promised to have someone call me.
Eventually I sought another source. About 36 hours of email back and forth, most of it due to some compatibility issues, brought the cancelation memo via email. The memo said the city's idea was to send "little or no" money. But "the proposals presumed a capital investment that could run into the millions." Also, "the proposals required an investment or solution that did not meet the technical guidelines of the RFP."
The memo said, "The original scope of services is outdated."
That, quietly, was that.
The private sector wireless guys are happy.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Job Losses: February 2009

In February New Mexico had its second best month for year-over-year job losses in 48 years. The 1.7% wage job loss between February 1960 and February 1961 beat the 1.4% (12,200 job) loss between February 2008 and February 2009. The Department of Workforce Services summarizes, "This (the national situation) all means that the New Mexico economy is doing about as well as can be expected under the circumstances, but recent performance is worse than we have experienced in a very long time."
Two of the 13 major job groups gained jobs during the year. Education and health services was up 4,500 with 2,600 new jobs, or 58% of the growth in metro Albuquerque. Government was up 2,400 with 79% of the growth, or 1,900 jobs, coming in Albuquerque. That combined gain means the total losses came to 19,100 jobs in all the other industries, the ones in the private sector. The government gains, DWS says, tended to come in tribally owned casinos, hardly the basis for a dynamic economy.
Metro Albuquerque has lost wage jobs since October 2008. The February year-over-year loss was 4,800 jobs or 1.2%.
The Las Cruces and Santa Fe metro areas bucked the trend by adding wage jobs between February 2008 and February 2009, though very few in both cases.
Las Cruces was up 0.3% or 200 jobs. Santa Fe added 300 jobs, a 0,5% gain. In Santa Fe, the film industry dragged the information sector to a 200-job loss for the year.
With an eight person increase in unemployment (from 199 to 207), Mora County joined Luna County to kae it two counties with more than 10% unemployment. Grant County, with 8% unemployment, is in third place in unemployment rate ranking. Copper ming layoff have more than doubled Grant County unemployment in the past year.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Politics: House Speaker Ben Luan

By all indications, Speaker Ben Lujan did not have a happy 2009 session. Only ten of his 35 bills passed. Nine died in Senate Finance, which is chaired by his not-so-good buddy Sen. John Arthur Smith. Lujan didn't even get the money for some sort of program named after him at Highlands University. Here is that proposal:
It was HB 214, sponsored by Richard Vigil. It died in House Appropriations & Finance. The text says:


Section 1. APPROPRIATION.--Five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000) is appropriated from the general fund to the board of regents of New Mexico highlands university for expenditure in fiscal year 2010 for the Ben Lujan leadership and public policy institute to continue collaborative programs, to explore New Mexico policy issues and to develop a curriculum for use by New Mexico schools dealing with youth entrepreneurship.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Legislature: Tax Bills

Our friends at the New Mexico Tax Research Institute get paid to track taxes. They do a newsletter that is available at their website, The newsletter lists all the tax-related bills filed during the current session. However, the newsletter does tell how many bills it lists. So I counted. There are 179 tax bills this year. That's 9.2% of the 1,942 bills, resolutions and memorials introduced in the two houses this session.
Yes, the figure includes duplicate bills, etc. Still it has to be a proxy measure of the dysfunctional nature of our tax system in New Mexico.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Economy: Goods News, Other News

The good news is about potash production near Carlsbad. It came toward the bottom of an economy story in the weekend Wall Street Journal. On March 9, Intrepid Potash, Inc., of Colorado has its two Carlsbad-area mines operating again. The mines are "only" running for 18 hours a day instead of 24. But, hey, they're running. Intrepid had rolling shutdowns at the two mines through February to adjust to inventory accumulation at dealers, "caused by a global drop in demand and an autumn season marked by bad weather," the Wall Street J report said.
The "other" news comes from Clovis, in the form of a dairy story posted Friday (3/13) from the News Journal ( Here is the beginning of the News-Journal story. "With unprocessed milk prices at the lowest many dairy farmers in Roosevelt and Curry counties have ever seen, they are borrowing against the equity in their operations or going out of business. Milk prices are half of what they were a year ago. 'Everybody’s losing their tail,' said Michelle Heavyside, whose family runs Greenfield Park Dairy on Cacahuate Road. 'But you know, you just have to hope and pray for the best.'
"Albin Smith, who owns dairies in Curry and Roosevelt counties, said the prices are lower now than when he came to New Mexico in 1976, and costs are probably three times higher. Dairy farmers are taking out loans against their equity to pay bills, he said."
A dairy industry friend sent us this report a while back. "As you know New Mexico isn't really business friendly particularly the Environment Department, they are constantly changing the rules/regs (without input from the stakeholders) and they don't care if those changes actually protects the environment or not (because they don't use sound science in determining what needs to be done)...and every time they change the rules/regs it cost our producers money and not little money either, usually it's hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"You know agriculture, we can't pass along any of costs we just have to suck it up...and with milk prices dropping and it looks like it will stay low for a long while (we're looking at approximately $11.50/cwt...break even is approximately $16.75-$17.00)...our producers are really taking a hit. Dairy did well the beginning of 2008, but the year before they were operating 9 months in the red.......end of 2008 and most of 2009 looks like it will be that way again.
"We're actually losing dairies, we lost 6 in 2007...because of the business climate here, and if our producers expand they're expanding to Texas...Texas appreciates agriculture. "
Dairy troubles will hit the southeast especially hard. I think Chaves County may be the number one dairy county in the county.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Consumer Choice: Dumping the Land Line

New Mexico is eighth in the percentage of households that only use cell phones with 21.1% of our households having dumped the landline or never having gotten one. The report was released yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection. The source seems unlikely, but an explanation exists. The CDC does health surveys via telephone. Cell phone numbers aren't available for the surveys.
My family dumped the Qwest land line service about two years ago after repeated service interruptions and poor quality from Qwest. Part of the problem, Qwest told us, was that the old wires in our neighborhood and with our 50-year-old home were prone to flaking out when wet. It rained a lot that spring, as I remember.
Ever skeptical of Qwest, I compared Qwest's 14-state service area against the ranking of states with only cell phone households. Qwest states accounted for ten of the top 20 states with households only using cell phones including five of the top eight. Not bad. Qwest states ahead of New Mexico are Utah (2), Nebraska (3), Iowa (5) and Idaho (6). At 26.2%, Oklahoma, not a Qwest state, leads in households using only cell phones.
In fairness to Qwest, it should be noted that the CDC report did not break out the cell phone use by company. It is likely that a decent proportion of the cell phone-only households use Qwest. We don't; we use Verizon.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Job Losses: January 2009

In January, New Mexico lost wage jobs at a 1% year over year rate. The state was down 8,600 jobs over January 2008. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5.1% in January, up from revised estimates of 3.7% a year ago. Ten of the 13 major job groups lost jobs for the year.
Construction led the way, dropping 5,500 jobs for the year, not quite 10% of the January 2008 employment of 57,000. Education and health services and government were the gainers for the year, up 6,700 jobs together. The Department of Workforce Services reminds us that employees of Indian casinos are in the local government sector.
The year over year job loss was 3,400 in metro Albuquerque, the fourth month of declining employment. Metro manufacturing was down 1,100 jobs, a 4.9% annual rate of loss. January was the 20th month consecutive month for job losses by Albuquerque manufacturers.
Las Cruces continued the effort to hold up its end of the economic performance bargain with a slight gain (but still a gain) of 400 jobs, or 0.6%, for the January to January year.
Santa Fe added 500 jobs over the year, a 0.8% gain. Santa Fe lost jobs for several consecutive months over the summer.
The state still has only one county—Luna— with unemployment over 10%. Luna County unemployment has gone from 12.9% in January 2008 to 15.9% in January 2009. Mora County is working on joining the 10% club with a January unemployment rate of 9.8%.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

New Journalism: KRQE TV

Some time back a former TV anchor in Las Vegas, NV, remarked to me that the Albuquerque and Santa Fe media were passive. If someone would blow off a question, the locals just let it drop. In Las Vegas, she said, there was a pact, an unwritten professional standard, I suspect. In Las Vegas the blown off question would be repeated by the next media representative to ask a question. This went on until an answer appeared or, I suppose, until the object of the questions got frustrated and departed.
Under new news director Forrest Carr, KRQE TV has a new and refreshing approach. This is not to say that others haven't changed, too, I just haven't specifically checked. Carr spoke last week at the annual Women in Communications reverse news conference. Media people are the speakers and the audience ask questions. The topic was billed as being the economy, a topic which seemed of little interest to the audience.
Carr described KRQE's approach as "viewer advocacy." My poor note taking prompted a request for clarification. Was "viewer advocacy" the phrase, I asked via email. Yes, Carr said, capitalizing the V and the A. Here is more of his reply, "We do not advocate anyone's viewpoint, but
we will fight hard for the right of common people to be heard, and to
get a response from the powerful. Our mission, essentially, is to
champion democracy through giving voice to everyday people and helping
them hold the powerful accountable. We believe public officials,
especially elected ones, have a duty to answer public questions about
the public's business. Therefore, we often make the level of response
we get from the powerful in pursuit of the public's business a feature
of our reporting."
Gov. Bill Richardson's "level of response" on some matters has prompted further inquiry from KRQE to the his apparent annoyance. Oh, well, Governor.....

Monday, March 2, 2009

Economy: Bank of America

Bank of America provides one of those under the radar examples of the national economic mess affecting New Mexico. That's because there is a fair sized group of BofA shareholders in the state. I don't know the size of the group, but it is more than three or four. That's because the bank BofA bought, Sunwest Financial Services, was a public company. Actually Boatmen's Bancshares of St. Louis bought Sunwest in what I believe was a plan to accumulate properties and sell to someone bigger. Boatmen's sold to BofA, so Boatmen's doesn't count.
Sunwest had an employee stock purchase plan. I don't know the number participating, but Sunwest, as I remember, topped out at about 2,500 employees. Also, Sunwest has been around a long time, so employee shareholders and regular investors had time to grow in numbers. Since the BofA takeover in the mid-90s, it is reasonable to assume that BofA employees have continued to participate in employee stock purchase opportunities. It is also reasonable to assume that the former Sunwest shareholders are retired, perhaps for years, or are approaching retirement.
BofA's dividend grew and grew over the years, hitting $148.48/share/year last year or 64 cents/share/quarter. That was a nice check for a lot of folks. Now the dividend is a penny. A goodly quarterly chunk of change has disappeared from the New Mexico economy. Wealth, too. In late 2006, the stock price was well over $50.00. The stock closed today at $3.63.
I worked for Sunwest from 1981 until 1997 and wrote the financial news releases until the Boatmen's purchase.