New Mexico In Depth
2018 Special Edition: The New Mexico State Legislature
Within New Mexico In Depth’s fourth annual special legislative edition, you’ll find familiar issues: budgeting, including the challenge of funding early education and the courts, tax policy, government transparency, and a discussion about whether the state should legalize cannabis. Additionally, several New Mexicans write about their expectations for the 2018 legislative session. Those perspectives can be found in the righthand column below, which also include a digital version of the special print edition that published in nine newspapers around the state on Sunday, January 14.
New Mexico’s children have arguably taken the brunt as the state has struggled through tough budgets the past couple of years, with cuts to public schools, state colleges and programs such as home visiting and expanded school years.
But with oil and gas revenues re-bounding, could 2018 be the year of the child at the Roundhouse?
In our society, money buys things. That includes at places like the Roundhouse in Santa Fe, where the textbook ideal is an informed citizenry empowered to ask elected officials educated questions about how decisions are made but where the reality often is more muddy.
What money buys in Santa Fe is a pressing question these days in New Mexico, where in the past three years, a former secretary of state has pleaded guilty to embezzlement and a former state senator has been convicted of bribery.
That might best describe two senior lawmakers on the Legislature’s budget committees on the eve of the 2018 legislative session.
After two years of dismal tax revenues, New Mexico is suddenly enjoying a surplus of cash. Estimates are between $200 million and $300 million in new money will greet state lawmakers when they convene Tuesday in Santa Fe.
A few years ago, a tax nerd at the Roundhouse could catch murmurings of “deductions,” “exemptions,” and “credits” — the tell-tale sign of tax talk — while strolling past law-makers in the hallways or overhearing side conversations during committee hearings. Tax reform as a goal has progressed since then. In the past two years, the movement has interested a larger number of public officials, including Gov. Susana Martinez. Last year, competing concepts jockeyed for primacy. A bipartisan bill wasn’t in the cards.
New Mexico’s judges are the lowest paid in the country. Its chronically underfunded public defenders struggle to represent clients in one of the nation’s poorest states. And prosecutors say they need more money to blunt increases in crime. This situation awaits New Mexico state lawmakers when they convene Tuesday for the 2018 session in Santa Fe. But, for the first time in years, thanks to a projected $200 million to $300 million more in revenue than anticipated, the Legislature could spread serious money around New Mexico’s skeletal criminal justice system after recent budget cuts and years of austerity.
One school of thought is that cannabis, or marijuana, is relatively benign and ought to be legalized, regulated and taxed to spur economic growth and end the harm caused by criminalization. An opposing viewpoint is that it’s a dangerous drug that needs to re-main unavailable legally, with criminal punishment of those who break the law. Proponents of legalization in the New Mexico Legislature for several years have tried unsuccessfully to win a majority of state legislators over in a bid to legalize, regulate and tax the production and sale of cannabis to adults 21 years or older. Expect 2018 to be no different as Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, will again introduce a resolution during the four-week legislative session to put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide, a move that would not require support from the governor. Prospects for success
Working in favor of Ortiz y Pino and other legislators bringing similar bills is a shift in public opinion over the past decade, with a majority in New Mexico and nationally believing recreational cannabis should be legal.
A couple of years ago a mother came to Ray Jaramillo, director of a childcare center in Las Cruces. She worked for minimum wage at Burger King, but was offered a supervisory position with better hours and a wage bump to over $9 an hour. She worried the extra money could cause her to lose childcare assistance for her two little girls. Between her and her spouse’s salary, their new earning power would push her family over the line for government-subsidized child-care. She had to figure out whether to take the promotion and risk paying thousands of dollars more each year for childcare, or forgo the extra family income.