New Mexico session preview: Lowered expectations


Governor Susana Martinez announced her Executive Budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2015 at Acequia Madre Elementary School in Santa Fe, New Mexico on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014 (AP Photo/The New Mexican, Clyde Mueller)

The New Mexico state legislature meets for just 30 days in Santa Fe in election years. That means legislators have just enough time to deal with the state’s budget, and that many of the hot-button issues that divide legislative Democrats and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez are likely to be pushed off until next year.

“Unless it’s something that’s urgent and would help right away, we should just leave it alone, and do the budget and go home,” state House Speaker Ken Martinez told the Albuquerque Journal.

The compressed timeline doesn’t mean both sides won’t try to advance controversial issues. Martinez plans to push the legislature to repeal a decade-old law allowing illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses, and for an end to so-called “social promotions” of third-graders who don’t meet reading requirements.

Democrats will push to raise the state’s minimum wage, and to attach future increases to inflation with a state constitutional amendment. Some Democratic legislators will push to legalize marijuana through a constitutional amendment, though it’s unclear how many members will be willing to vote on a drug legalization bill in an election year. Amendments don’t require action by the governor.

The budget, which during a recession is always the biggest point of partisan contention, will actually be easier to agree on than in years past. Instead of looking for places to cut, New Mexico lawmakers will have $293 million more in revenue than the state will spend this year.

The Journal’s Dan Boyd takes a look at the remaining points of disagreement:

But disagreements over education funding – whether such dollars should flow primarily through the state’s funding formula or increasingly be spent on Martinez-backed reforms – and state employee pay hikes loom as areas of disagreement.

Gov. Martinez has proposed giving pay raises of varying sizes to about one-third of the state’s 22,000 employees, while the Legislative Finance Committee has endorsed salary hikes of at least 1.5 percent for all state workers.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, a Belen Democrat, said he’ll advocate for a 5 percent salary increase for all state employees and teachers.

The legislature is also expected to consider a new gambling agreement with the Navajo Nation, which wants to build several new casinos near Albuquerque. The state doesn’t have to act on that agreement before the end of session, on Feb. 20.

Democrats hold a 4-seat majority, 37-33, in the state House and a much wider 25-17 majority in the state Senate. Five Democrats are vying to face Martinez in the fall, though her strong approval ratings show she starts her bid for a second term as the heavy favorite.

Reid Wilson covers national politics and Congress for The Washington Post. He is the author of Read In, The Post’s morning tip sheet on politics.

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Reid Wilson · January 21, 2014