Thursday, September 08, 2005

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: SOME WILL FEAST, SOME WILL FREEZE

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
September 8, 2005


Sen. Joe Carraro, R-Albuquerque made some news with his recent proposal to temporarily suspend the 17-cents-a-gallon state tax on gasoline — an idea also taken up by Santa Fe City Councilor David Pfeffer and poo-pooed by Gov. Bill Richardson.

But another Carraro energy proposal, made in the same news release as his tax holiday proposal last week, has gotten virtually no attention.

Carraro is calling for an investigation of Public Service Company of New Mexico for giving huge bonuses to its executives while increasing the cost of natural gas to its customers.

“Carraro said his constituents are complaining that PNM said natural gas bills could increase 60 percent this winter over last winter,” the release said. “They are asking the senator how the regulated company can be allowed to give its executives such huge bonuses at a time the consumer is hurting?

The release quotes Carraro: “I say, the PNM officials could earn their bonuses by lowering monthly bills for New Mexicans not because the bills are skyrocketing. Their company is making a lot of money because of the high price of natural gas, not because of any clever efforts by the PNM officials.”

An April Associated Press story said that bonus and salary compensation for PNM's top five executives totaled $3.1 million in 2004, up from $2.6 million the previous year. PNM chairman, president and CEO Jeff Sterba's salary rose 15 percent to $687,886, while his bonus increased by 84 percent to $910,000 for a total of $1,597,886, the wire service reported.

“All I know is that it causes problems when folks who are struggling because of the high prices of gas see other folks making so much money because of these uncalled for raises,” Carraro said.

He suggested that “outraged New Mexicans” call the state Public Regulation Commission for an explanation and called upon the PRC to investigate.

When the levee breaks: On Wednesday, Andy Lenderman and I had a story concerning U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici’s role as chairman of the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, which over the last few years, has slashed the budget for Army Corps of Engineers flood projects in Louisiana —- though not slashing it as much as the White House has recoomended.

News organizations, most notably the New Orleans Times-Picayune have noted the dramatic decrease in flood project funding, which began about the same time as the government geared up for the war in Iraq.

Domenci’s office responded to the story, saying that even if three major hurricane and flood-control projects in Louisiana had been completed, New Orleans still would have flooded.

A Domenici spokesman pointed to a recent statement by Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, during a media conference call on September 1.

“In fact, the levee failures we saw were in areas of the projects that were at their full project design... So that part of the project was in place, and had this project been fully complete ... (West Bank, Southeast Louisiana, and Lake Ponchartrain) it’s my opinion, based on the intensity of this storm, that the flooding of the Central Business District and the French Quarter would still have occurred. So I do not see that the level of funding is really a contributing factor in this case.”

Strock’s comments raised some eyebrows in Congress.

“What that, in essence, says is that you’re not going to worry about the biggest disasters that could occur, you’re only going to worry about the smaller ones,” Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee told The Washington Post this week.

1 comment:

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