Editorial: Lawmakers Should Focus Their Efforts on Running Our State’s Central Government

Last week, the legislative finance committee and the governor’s office released dueling spending proposals calling for large overall spending increases – about $ 1 billion – for the next fiscal year.

The challenge for lawmakers in the 30-day legislative session scheduled to begin Jan. 18 will be to spend the historic windfall in a way that genuinely prepares the state for measurable success. It is simply unacceptable that many residents still do not have access to clean drinking water, the Internet and have been or fear being the victim of a crime. It will also be essential to limit recurrent spending so that future legislatures can cope with the inevitable economic downturns.

The legislative and governor’s budget plans differ slightly, but together they show a clear tendency to catch up with the austerity of lean budget years and COVID-related service disruptions. The prudence of spending growth of 13-14% – and whether the new benchmarks they set can be sustained in the future – should be a dominant theme in this short, budget-focused session. Leading Democratic lawmakers say the state has already saved enough for a rainy day, noting that the two plans provide about $ 2.6 billion – more than 30% of state spending – to stay in. cash reserves in the event that projected income levels do not materialize. .

As happened in 2017, when lawmakers took money from every state account just to pay the bills.

It will take a lot of analysis and debate to get a budget that makes essential elements of government – infrastructure, public safety, education – work better for New Mexicans. In addition, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has already promoted a few non-budget items in her next ‘call’ – though many are worth waiting for the vigorous debate that a 60-day session can lead to in 2023.

We agree with teacher salary increases linked to additional teaching days, more funding for lottery / opportunity scholarships to honor the broken promise of free classes for all, the addition of 1,000 law enforcement officers across the state and the rebuttable presumption pre-trial detention reform, which shifts the burden of proof to those accused of certain violent offenses to show that they can be released safely. security.

But now is not the right time for the governor’s insistence on implementing new clean fuel standards or looking for unproven technology in the form of hydrogen development. Ditto for an issue as complicated as electoral reform. Letting 16-year-olds vote in local elections, restoring the right to vote for criminals, or reverting to a one-sided ballot option requires careful consideration and should not be blocked just before an election.

Or is that the point?

The Journal’s editorial board urges the Legislative Assembly and Lujan Grisham to consider the following:

• Pass the legislative budget proposal for teacher increases along with its mandate that all schools in New Mexico provide 10 additional days of instruction.

• Limit the amount that school districts can spend on administrative staff. Permanent reform is imperative to devote more resources to the classroom, especially in light of the Yazzie / Martinez decision calling for a more equitable education system.

• Add financial literacy to New Mexico education standards – allowing districts to offer a stand-alone course or offer it as part of an already compulsory course. Many of the state’s current problems – high poverty, reliance on predatory lenders, low retirement savings – can be attributed to low financial literacy.

• Repeal the state tax on social security benefits. This form of double taxation forces too many NM retirees to struggle and potential transplants to look elsewhere.

• Improve protections for people who find themselves under temporary tutorship or curatorship. The proposed changes to state law would require a judge to hold a hearing within 10 days of a court granting temporary guardianship to decide whether it should continue, and all interested parties could attend. This is a well-verified proposal from a task force appointed by the state’s Supreme Court to protect some of our most vulnerable from bad actors.

• Give serious young offenders a second chance. Abolish life imprisonment without parole for juveniles sentenced to adulthood and make them eligible for parole after serving 15 years. Remember that an earlier version is only an option, not a certainty. But the victims and the families of the victims must be part of the process.

• Increase disclosure and transparency requirements for legislators and lobbyists. The State Ethics Commission proposes to require our citizen lawmakers to publish more information about sources of personal income and business relationships and disclose before voting whether a family member has done so. pressure on a bill. Lobbyists should disclose the bills they are working on and the provisions they are advocating for or against. Given the latest in a long string of lawmaker accusation dramas, reforms are overdue.

• Finally, lower the limit on interest rates on small loans. This is currently a whopping 175%.

But let’s get back to the main objective of this session: The 2022-2023 budget.

State economists predict that next year’s revenues will exceed this year’s $ 7.4 billion operating budget by about $ 1.6 billion, mostly due to strong oil production and gas and increased consumer activity. The state also has around $ 724 million in federal relief funds to spend and expects federal funding of around $ 3.7 billion, although not all of them are immediately available.

Infrastructure, water and broadband are appropriate priorities that can be tackled with one-time spending.

It will be tempting for lawmakers to tackle a lot more, but this is a 30-day budget session. And it is essential that lawmakers honor this core mission, using record revenues to prepare the state for long-term success, not just record spending.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned because it represents the opinion of the journal rather than that of the authors.

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