Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

3-5 Bumps in Road Won't Be Fatal

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- As the 2007 Legislature approaches its March 17 deadline, several bumps in the road lie ahead. But none of them are likely to block the path toward an on-time finish.
This is the point in the session when train wrecks traditionally begin to be predicted but they seldom actually happen. And this year, a train wreck is even less likely because we have a governor who can't afford the time for a special session.
Gov. Bill Richardson has some initiatives he would like to see passed so he can brag about them on the presidential campaign trail. But the worst thing he could do is have a stormy session that would cast doubt on his well-publicized negotiating skills.
So the governor must use those skills to get what he can from a Legislature that realizes its hand has been strengthened by Richardson's need for peace at home.
That focus on the need for peace was dramatized by House Speaker Ben Lujan, a close ally of the governor, when House Democrats held firm and picked up six Republican votes to pass the big general appropriations act.
During the friendly debate, Lujan observed, "We still have a love affair going on."
Richardson's first legislative session was characterized by most as a honeymoon. Lawmakers approved sending constitutional amendments to voters calling for shifting control of education to the governor's office and designating more of the state's big permanent fund for schools.
During the campaign that secured passage of passage of those two votes and a subsequent special session, Richardson used the remainder of his honeymoon good will. The next three years were marked by what many lawmakers called bullying tactics.
Richardson showed a side of himself that few had seen while he was in Washington. The first signs came when Richardson strong-armed Democrat opponents out of his gubernatorial path. The second sign was when he required letters of resignation from all his political appointees.
It became apparent at that point that Richardson's management style was going to be similar to that of former President Lyndon Johnson, not the hail fellow he had been as a member of Congress or United Nations delegate.
That style also emerged in many ways in Richardson's dealings with the Legislature. Indications this year are that the governor's style may be returning to the sweet-talking ways of a master negotiator.
One evidence of a return to a balance of power is the Legislature's introduction of bills in each house restoring over $50 million in cuts made by Richardson vetoes last year to hundreds of pork projects.
The governor said at the beginning of the session that he would approve those projects this year if lawmakers pass the cornerstones of his legislative agenda.
Those gubernatorial priorities include a raise in the minimum wage, tax cuts for low and middle incomes, an energy transmission authority and a five-year transportation program, all of which failed to make it through last year's session.
Those measures are still alive. Richardson asked that they all pass by mid-session but when they didn't, he said he was content with their progress.
Adding to hope the love affair will continue is good progress for Richardson-backed bills providing military tax breaks, a new Homeland Security Department, eminent domain reform and school computers.
But bumps in the road include gubernatorial desires for bigger teacher raises, more pre-kindergarten programs, renewable energy initiatives, stem cell research and approval of an Indian gaming compact extension.
None of these measures are hopelessly dead. Some will pass, but some are bound to fail to make it through the legislative process to the governor's desk.
Sufficient time becomes a problem at the end of every legislative session, but lawmakers have been working weekends recently to do what they can to get everything considered.
MON, 3-05-07

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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