The seal of the state of New Mexico in the House

As lawmakers wrangle with deficits, House cuts legislative budget

As New Mexico lawmakers work to rebalance government spending for the current fiscal year and prepare to craft a spending package for fiscal year 2018, state House members have agreed to cut their own funding. In a unanimous vote Thursday evening, the House decided to shave about 2.5 percent from the Legislature’s budget and revert some of its own reserve funds. The move follows lawmakers’ decision during a special session last fall to cut 3 percent of legislative spending. The bill will save about $1 million overall, leaving a budget of about $8.7 million for the 60-day session. The original bill called for a legislative budget of about $24.4 million, funding not just the session but also year-round legislative staff and committees that meet in the months between sessions.

Money flying_sideways

Lobbyists spent $1.7 million in 2016 in NM

The biggest spender among lobbyists in New Mexico last year was not employed by an oil company or a tobacco company or a mining company. Instead, it was a New York-based advocacy group for gun safety that spent $219,500. The reports, filed this week with the Secretary of State’s Office, show that Pedro Morillas, regional director for Everytown for Gun Safety, spent more than any other lobbyist in the state. And he completely outgunned the National Rifle Association, which spent just over $10,000 on New Mexico candidates last year. Overall, lobbyists spent more than $1.7 million in the state in 2016.

Gov. Susana Martinez delivering the 2017 State of the State Address.

Pomp, circumstance and State of the State in photos

As is often the case, the first day of the 2017 legislative session began with lawmakers, lobbyists and reporters catching up and getting their bearings straight. The first day began with lawmakers settling into their new seating assignments and making new leadership official. Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, was elected Speaker of the House, while Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, was elected by the Democratic caucus to serve as the Majority Floor Leader.  

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State Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, left, and Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, shown during the last day of the 2016 special legislative session, are about to take on the most powerful positions in the Legislature when lawmakers convene for the 2017 session on Tuesday.

Stark differences separate Santa Fe liberals stepping into leadership roles

Santa Fe is about to become the most powerful city in the Legislature. Presumptive House Speaker Brian Egolf and new Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth both are Santa Fe Democrats, Anglo lawyers from the city’s east side. When Wirth was elected to the Senate in 2008, Egolf was elected to represent Wirth’s old district in the House of Representatives. Both have strong liberal voting records and both have chaired the committees that deal with the environment and energy in their respective chambers. Conservation Voters New Mexico, which for years has maintained scorecards for lawmakers, gives Egolf a 98 percent lifetime rating.

Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe

Egolf in line to be next Speaker of the House

With a vote this weekend, Democrats made it likely that Brian Egolf will be the next Speaker of the state House of Representatives this coming January. House Democrats, who retook control of the House during November’s elections, met this weekend to vote on new leadership. Democrats chose Egolf as speaker, Sheryl Williams Stapleton of Albuquerque as House majority leader, Doreen Gallegos of Las Cruces as House majority whip and Wonda Johnson of Church Rock as House majority caucus chair. Williams Stapleton will be the first African-American to serve as House majority leader in the state’s history. The formal vote for Speaker of the House will take place in January when the Legislature meets during the regular legislative session.

Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe

Dems name Wirth new Senate Majority Leader

Democrats have made their decision on who will take over as Senate Majority Leader next year after Michael Sanchez lost his reelection bid. The Belen Democrat will be replaced by Peter Wirth, a Democrat from Santa Fe. The Senate Democrats announced the news in a press release Saturday, saying he was elected by acclamation by the caucus. “I am humbled to be elected Majority Leader by my colleagues. Democrats in the Senate are united,” Wirth said in a statement.

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New Mexico Super PACs: Winners and Losers

Gov. Susana Martinez took out her major target in Tuesday’s election, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. But that single victory came at a cost. Republicans lost the state House after two years in control, while Democrats strengthened their margin in the state Senate. The Democrats will control the House by at least a 37-33 margin, with an outside shot at a 39-31 split. Two races are going to recounts.

Bag o Cash

State law doesn’t address concerns in latest GOP complaint against PAC

The state Republican Party is targeting a liberal political action committee for donating directly to Democratic candidates in state legislative races. The Republican Party of New Mexico wrote a complaint to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office citing donations from Enchantment PAC to Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, and Democrat Natalie Figueroa, who is challenging state House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, as “against New Mexico statutes” and “in clear violation of the law.”

Enchantment PAC, which is also funding liberal advocacy organizations like Organizing in the Land of Enchantment, gave $1,000 to Sanchez and $600 to Figueroa during the general election cycle. State law, however, does not address the type of spending the GOP cited in its complaint. Reached by phone, GOP spokesman Tucker Keene referred to the written complaint, which he said the party sent in the mail to the Secretary of State on Tuesday. “Independent expenditure committees are not supposed to spend directly to candidates, they’re required by law to be independent,”  Keene said earlier in a statement.

Rep. Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque

House Majority Leader gets help from PAC in reelection race

A federal PAC is coming to the aid of the state House Majority Leader, even as House Republicans seek to keep control of the state House. That’s the news from the Santa Fe New Mexican, which spoke to Mark Murphy, who is a major donor to GOAL-West PAC. GOAL-West PAC also received attention last year for trying to influence Las Cruces municipal elections. Now, the PAC is seeking to aid Republicans in state House races. Most are on the list of swing districts, like Andy Nuñez of Hatch in District 36 or Christina Hall of Albuquerque in an open seat in District 24.

Roundhouse

Senate accepts House budget changes, ends special session

After a marathon all-nighter in the House that mostly involved debate to reinstate the death penalty, the state Senate moved briskly Thursday morning to adopt the House changes to budget fixes and adjourn. The move brought an end to a chaotic special legislative session, which began last Friday. Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, lamented that the Senate did not hear crime bills passed by the House. Yet he spoke highly of the House’s budget compromise with the Senate, which scaled back proposed higher education cuts that singled out the University of New Mexico. “There seemed to be a little bit of overemphasis on popping UNM a little too hard,” Ingle told reporters after the session.