Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

2-24 How Close Were They?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- We soon will get to see how close House and Senate Democratic leaders were to negotiating an agreement on next year's budget last week as the 2010 Legislature came to a close.
According to House Speaker Ben Lujan, the parties were "that close" as Maxwell Smart would say, holding his thumb and forefinger almost together. Gov. Bill Richardson says he wants to call lawmakers back quickly so they don't lose their momentum.
Nearly everyone else at the Capitol, however, thinks those assessments are about as accurate as Don Adam's ability to solve a case on the popular 1960s show Get Smart, co-starring longtime Santa Fe resident Barbara Feldon as Agent 99.
Feldon likely gave the appraisals by the governor and speaker a look much like the expression with which she greeted pronouncements by Agent 86.
The weight of the evidence indicates House and Senate finance leaders are still waiting for the other to blink. And they aren't likely to compromise until they both realize the Great Recession is so deep it is going to take a united effort to get us out.
A few days ago, the New Mexico Independent blog carried an item titled Special Session: What Can We Do Better? My first thought was that lawmakers finally were getting their heads straightened out and were asking New Mexicans how they could do better in the special session.
Alas, the staff of the blog was asking what it could do to better cover the special session. I should have known it was too good to be true.
Most lawmakers contend that the failure to produce a budget -- the only requirement of a short session -- was because of having too many other issues put on their plate by the governor.
There are solutions to that problem. Since a budget session of the Legislature is not required to do anything other than pass a budget, nothing requires lawmakers to consider anything other than the budget. Just make a hard and fast rule that nothing else can be introduced. Doesn't that sound easy?
So, what if a legislator gives in to pressure from constituents, special interests or the governor to introduce a bill anyway? The bill doesn't have to be referred to a committee.
If it is, the committee does not have to hear a bill. Many bills every session die in committee at the end of a session without ever being scheduled for a hearing. That should happen to more bills.
Memorials and resolutions usually aren't referred to a committee. They are put on the House speaker's or Senate president's table. Some are discussed and acted upon later in the session. Others aren't.
Don't expect this hard-nosed approach to happen however. Even those who whine about having too full a plate have items they want to introduce.
What do you say if an influential business, interest group or individual in your legislative district wants a favor? Or what if you want to introduce a memorial honoring a star athlete or a recently deceased community leader? Everybody does it because it builds relationships and helps lawmakers get reelected.
Sen. President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, of Roswell, came up with an idea this session. He introduced a joint resolution proposing a constitutional amendment limiting the governor to sending only 25 messages to the House and 25 to the Senate requesting consideration of various issues.
It was one of the many issues that died on adjournment without any action being taken in its first committee.
Another problem would arise if a Legislature decided not to consider anything but finance items. Most lawmakers are not on a finance committee.
Would they attend finance committee meetings and sit in the audience? Would they sleep in all day? The answer likely is that they would find ways to get into mischief.
WED, 2-24-10

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



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