Money woes, political distractions kept ethics on the sidelines this session

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State legislators passed a budget, created a REAL-ID driver’s license fix, cracked down on DWI and child porn and advanced bail reform. But did they do anything to reverse the tide of indicators that New Mexicans have lost faith in state government?

Guests on the KUNM Call In Show argued Thursday that lawmakers’ achievements this session were limited by New Mexico’s budget crisis—and political distractions— making it difficult to focus on anything else.

“Everything has to come back to the budget,” said Matthew Reichbach, editor of New Mexico Political Report. Many proposals supported by a majority of lawmakers don’t make it through the process because the state often lacks the money needed to implement them.

Milan Simonich, a reporter with The Santa Fe New Mexican, said that lawmakers didn’t even get the opportunity to fully debate and discuss this year’s budget.

“The budget should have been the primary focus,” he said, but instead lawmakers were distracted by issues more closely related to election-year politics, including a slate of crime-related bills proposed by Gov. Martinez.

Simonich said he wasn’t sure that an ethics commission should have been a priority at the Roundhouse.

“My question with all of this is why do we need it?” he said. Citing the prosecution of Dianna Duran and the resignation of Sen. Phil Griego as proof, Simonich said that the current system is perfectly capable of monitoring and prosecuting ethics violations.

Jason Espinoza, president of the Association of Commerce and Industry, said the business owners who belong to his group were hoping for an ethics commission and other good government reforms

“What businesses need is predictability and transparency,” he said. “Business owners want to see changes.”

Another barrier open government proposals faced during this past legislative session, according to panel members, was the upcoming elections.

“A lot of this had to do with campaigning, not policy,” Simonich said of the failure of many bills to pass through the legislature.

In the end, said Susan Boe, the executive director for the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, it comes down to economics. People may care about transparency and ethics, but their pocketbooks come first.

“I think the number one issue that faced us during the last legislative session was the economy, and the budget and how we’re going to allocate dwindling state resources,” she said. Boe called on lawmakers to give the public more access to the budget making process, since budget decisions directly impact all New Mexicans.

This session was, at times, according to panel members, fiercely partisan.

“It was kind of tough going up there some days because it was just so brutal. It was like a slog getting through this 30 days,” said Reichbach. Still, he pointed to some important legislation passed during the session, including archiving the webcasts of the House chamber and committee meetings, as well as a bill that would improve public access to information about money in politics.

“I got beat up a lot this session, but at the end of the day we were able to get good wins, and that makes it all worth it,” Espinoza said.

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