The New Mexico State Capitol, or Roundhouse, via Wikicommons.

Budget crisis pushes session to breakneck start

Very little legislating typically occurs during the first week of New Mexico’s 60-day legislative session. Instead, the first days are more commonly dedicated to speeches, organizational meetings of various committees and perhaps a few proclamations recognizing prominent New Mexicans or the successes of high school sports teams.

But with the state in a budget crisis, this year’s session has started with a sprint, especially in the Senate. “We’re moving rather rapidly,” Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said after his body approved four bills on the session’s second day to balance New Mexico’s budget in the face of a projected $69 million deficit. Those measures have moved to the House of Representatives for further consideration. Not until legislators balance this year’s budget can they begin work in earnest on a budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

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State insurance superintendent warns against ‘swift changes’ to Affordable Care Act

The State Superintendent of Insurance told the U.S. House Majority Leader that the Affordable Care Act is flawed, but still warned against drastic changes that would hurt New Mexicans. This came in a letter from Superintendent John Franchini sent to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., last week. “While we agree that there are significant opportunities for improving the ACA, we caution the new administration in making any swift changes that will destabilize the market or upend the gains made to coverage for New Mexico residents,” Franchini wrote. “Importantly, tax credits and cost-sharing reductions serve a vital function in diversifying the risk pool of individuals who purchase insurance.”

The call against “swift changes” comes during a debate between Republican members of Congress and President-elect Donald Trump’s team over how quickly to repeal the ACA and whether to do so in tandem with a replacement plan. #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; width:100%;}
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Gas tax increase posed as a solution to failing roads

Moderately low gas prices and an increasingly dire budget situation in the state has lawmakers eyeing new sources for revenue. Gov. Susana Martinez has adamantly opposed any new or increased taxes, but some lawmakers are looking to grab several more cents from drivers at the gas pump. At least two state senators and one Albuquerque city councilor have introduced legislation to increase gas taxes to help pay for road repairs and infrastructure. The move appears to be a trend in several other states. New Mexico state Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, chairs the Senate Finance Committee and is considered one of the most fiscally conservative Democrats in Santa Fe.

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.

Global temperature anomalies averaged from 2012 through 2016 in degrees Celsius.

Albuquerque: Two degrees high, and rising

The numbers from around the globe are in, and it’s official: 2016 was the hottest year on record, again. According to independent analysis from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2016 was the third year in a row to break temperature records. The New York Times collected AccuWeather data for more than 5,000 cities, including Albuquerque, to illustrate temperature and precipitation changes. Albuquerque’s average temperature last year was 2 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, while precipitation fell 2.8 inches short of normal. Globally, the average temperature has risen by 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1880s.

Santa Fe Archbishop John C. Wester.

Santa Fe archbishop urges lawmakers to approve funding plan for early education

Santa Fe Catholic Archbishop John C. Wester, providing an example that being on the right side of a political party is one thing but staying on the right side of the Lord can be another, urged state lawmakers Wednesday to support a controversial proposal for funding early childhood education. Wester appealed to legislators during the annual prayer breakfast to back a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to use 1.5 percent of investment revenues each year from the state’s $15 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund. This plan would provide an estimated $140 million annually for early childhood education, defined as applying to children from the prenatal stage to age 5. The archbishop said using the fund for early childhood education would boost the quality of life for young people in a state with one of the highest rates of child poverty. “We see the high crime rate, the poverty rate, the violence, the addictions — these things are all directly connected to early childhood,” Wester said.

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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The House debating a three strikes law expansion in the 2016 special session

Budget woes and beyond: Legislators have work to do this session

The biggest issue for legislators this session is New Mexico’s perilous financial situation—and how they plan to fill a projected $67 million budget deficit. Gov. Susana Martinez has proposed moving  $268.5 million from state agencies into the general fund budget. Of that $120 million would come from local public education reserve funds. Martinez’s plan also would require state employees to pay roughly 3.5 percent more into their retirement plans. This piece also appeared in this week’s edition of the Weekly Alibi.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, joins his fellow Democrats on Tuesday during a press conference after the State of the State address during the first day of the state Legislative session.

Dem response: ‘The state of our state is unacceptable’

State Sen. Joe Cervantes, giving the Senate Democrats’ response to Gov. Susana Martinez’s State of the State address Tuesday, set the tone for the Democratic agenda for the new legislative session, rattling off dour economic statistics and saying it’s time for the state to stop relying on the booms and busts of oil and gas revenue and focus on job creation. “The state of our state is unacceptable,” he said, succinctly summarizing his caucus’ position. Cervantes, a lawyer from Las Cruces, spoke in measured tones, saying that most governors use the opening speech of a session to say, “The state of the state is strong.” He said Martinez was to be commended for not doing that. “She could not look at any of us and tell us with a straight face that the state of our state is strong,” he said.

Gov. Susana Martinez takes the podium Tuesday to deliver her State of the State address during the first day of the state Legislative session at the Roundhouse.

Martinez calls for unity

One week after accusing lawmakers of failing to make tough decisions as New Mexico slid into financial crisis, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez struck a conciliatory tone in her annual State of the State address Tuesday, calling on legislators to work together as the state faces a projected deficit that will top the agenda for the 60-day legislative session ahead. Rattling off issues on which Republican and Democratic lawmakers had reached agreement in the recent past, Martinez urged bipartisan compromise during the session’s opening day. But with the governor also calling on lawmakers to reinstate the death penalty for some crimes and reiterating her opposition to raising taxes, her pleas for cooperation with Democratic majorities in both the state Senate and House of Representatives will be quickly tested. Related: Dem response: ‘The state of our state is unacceptable’

This year’s session may be the last big opportunity for Martinez to advance some of her big-ticket legislative proposals. Only a 30-day session, which are typically dedicated to the budget, will remain before the two-term governor leaves office at the end of 2018.