Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

1-18 Expect More Civility and a Little Action


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- And they're off. Gov. Bill Richardson delivered a brief opening address Tuesday and the 2008 Legislature was on its way. Predictions vary widely as to what will happen.

      We do know that Gov. Richardson hasn't been around recently to work on selling his ideas to lawmakers. We do know that the budget is tighter so it will be more difficult to fund priorities. There will be much less money left over from the current budget so there will be much less pork for local projects.

      And one of Gov. Richardson's chief critics in the Senate has now been elected president pro tem. What will that mean?

      Here's my guess. Lawmakers will get a little, but not much, done and they'll do it with a minimum of strife. Despite some hot-button issues on the agenda, lawmakers will buckle down to business because this is an election year.

   And it's not just any election year. Once every four years all 112 legislators must seek reelection if they want to stick around. Most of them do, so they will be on their best behavior.

   Even the stubborn Senate will find some room for compromise. Back in the days when Sen. Manny Aragon was running the show, the rowdy Senate calmed down once every four years. Aragon was president pro tem back then and Jennings was majority floor leader.

   It was Jennings who was the mature, even-tempered influence. He proved himself working with Republican Gov. Gary Johnson, who drove Democrats and many Republicans crazy. Bet on him to deal sensibly  with Richardson and get a few things accomplished.

   Less certain is how Gov. Richardson will fit into the equation. He claims not to be running for any office right now, so will that mean he's bored and will want to pick fights? And if he is running, will he want to push lawmakers to pass resume-building legislation as he did last year?

   For now, we must take the governor at his word. He told legislators that he realizes his top priority of health care is complex and he doesn't want to burden them with many other requests. He stressed bipartisanship and civility in his address and he congratulated Sen. Jennings on his election as Senate president pro tem.

   Lawmakers began their session by indicating positive feelings toward the governor. When he said it was good to be back, he received a standing ovation. When he said he appreciated their support of his candidacy, he received enthusiastic applause. And when he complimented Sen. Jennings, they responded.

   So they're getting off on the right foot, as they usually do. But this time it looks even better. Not as good as when Richardson first assumed office five years ago. But this ranks second.

   The critics who noted his absences during the session last year when he first started running, essentially have quieted. Everyone realizes he was put through quite a wringer and see no need to pile on now.

   It won't be a honeymoon, as it was during his first session, however. With a tight budget, the governor's two huge spending initiatives, a commuter train and spaceport, are sure to come under scrutiny again. Both impact on highway funds, which lawmakers like because they are spread around the state. But now the fund is about a half-billion dollars short.

   For their part, lawmakers tried to make themselves look better when their leaders voted  before the session to not build their proposed $30 million addition to the state capitol. They claimed it was to give the public bigger hearing rooms but it mainly would house an increasingly large staff.

   Ethics reform again will get short shrift. A little something will pass but not the comprehensive proposals a task force has been developing for two years.

   And there isn't likely to be time for a health care package to be developed. We're more likely to see long term goals and a task force.

FRI, 1-18-08


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



Post a Comment

<< Home