The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Legislators could be set to spend

 

January 16, 2019



SANTA FE — After several years of tight budgets, political barbs and bottled-up bills, this year’s New Mexico legislative session has all the trappings of a Roundhouse geyser that’s set to explode.

Consider the following: There’s a new governor in town, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has vowed to pursue an aggressive policy agenda; an expanded Democratic majority in the state House; and a court-ordered mandate to improve the state’s public education system for at-risk students, including Native Americans and English-language learners.

And don’t forget an unprecedented amount of “new” money — an estimated $1.1 billion — that’s expected to be available for the coming budget year, due primarily to booming oil production levels in southeastern New Mexico.

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, said Lujan Grisham has indicated she plans to be more involved in the legislative process than her predecessor, former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

“This is a new day,” Wirth said. “Not everything is going to go screaming through, by any means. But I think, overall, there’s real excitement about the new energy the governor is bringing.”

Lujan Grisham has said she wants to go “big” during this year’s session, proposing an expansion of prekindergarten programs statewide, salary increases for teachers and state workers, new renewable energy standards and a sizable increase in the state’s $7.50-per-hour minimum wage.

“The people in this … state are ready to reimagine what New Mexico can be, and they are willing to step into the arena and make it a reality,” Lujan Grisham said in her Jan. 1 inaugural address.

Add it all up, and the 60-day session that started Tuesday could end up looking a lot like 2003.

That’s the year lawmakers passed laws setting up a new pay system for teachers, cutting personal income taxes for upper-income New Mexicans, outlawing employment and housing discrimination based on sexual orientation, and allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain New Mexico driver’s licenses.

There was also a new Democratic governor in 2003, former Gov. Bill Richardson, who had taken over the reins of state government from an outgoing Republican chief executive.

Senate Minority Whip Bill Payne, R-Albuquerque, said majority Democrats will face weighty expectations this year, after reclaiming control of both the Governor’s Office and both chambers of the Legislature for the first time since 2010.

“There’s going to be a lot of pent-up demand for activist legislation,” Payne said. “This is a Democrat-run show right now.”

 
 

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