Inside the Capitol

Thursday, February 04, 2010

2-8 The Senate Is Supreme

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Congratulations to the state Senate on its glorious basketball victory last week. It isn't often the Senate beats the House in basketball, what with its inferior numbers and advanced age.
There was a time, however, when the Senate was supreme, or so it was proclaimed by Sen. C.B. Trujillo of Taos. Trujillo was a big guy, who served back in the 1970s. He was a dominating basketball player and tried to do the same in the Senate.
In those days, the Senate used to win its share of basketball games. The following day, Trujillo would rise on the floor of the Senate to proclaim "The Senate is supreme."
Basketball victories weren't the only occasion on which Trujillo would shout his battle cry. It also happened when the House and Senate tangled over the general appropriations bill. Trujillo would rise to remind his Senate colleagues that the Senate is supreme.
Trujillo wasn't far off. Sen. Aubrey Dunn of Alamogordo was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee in those days. Dunn always seemed to have a trick up his sleeve when the appropriation bill arrived in his committee.
Just like today, the Senate was more conservative than the House and Dunn seemed to always see that the Senate came out on top, giving Trujillo one more opportunity to stand and shout "The Senate is supreme."
Will the Senate be supreme again this year? Between Republicans and conservative Democrats, it appears the Senate is not going to be open to any reinstated taxes or other taxes of any kind.
Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, charges that the House wants the Senate to be the bad guys by stopping all tax increases.
Maybe Smith has some tricks up his sleeve just like the Aubrey Dunn of old. Does stopping all tax increases really make senators bad people? Does that mean Smith secretly plans to agree to tax increases, thereby making senators good people? You got me.
We now are at that point in a legislative session when many lawmakers and nearly all staff, lobbyists and media begin predicting a train wreck. Nothing appears to be moving. A special session is a certainty.
This session will adjourn at noon a week from Friday. It is very likely that that a special session will be necessary because of the uncertainty of federal funding and state revenue projections.
But plugging the budget gap to the tune of several hundred million dollars now will make it much easier to develop necessary budget adjustments later.
It is likely that House and Senate finance leaders already are talking far behind the scenes about possibilities for end-game compromise. These same people work side by side during the interim between legislative sessions on the Legislative Finance Committee. They aren't strangers. They just don't want to tip their hands too soon.
Since the beginning of this session, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been accusing each other of being in denial about how they will have to give ground in order to get out of our difficult situation.
But there are signs that both sides realize they will have to work together to make things different this year. The number of bills introduced this session is only half the number introduced in the last 30-day session and one-third the number introduced in the short session before that. They know they must concentrate on the big stuff.
And then there was the recent sex-filled piece in the University of New Mexico student newspaper which some lawmakers found offensive -- and likely all lawmakers read.
Forty years ago, a similar situation raised such a ruckus that Sen. Harold Runnels was able to use it to get elected to Congress.
This year mention of the UNM Daily Lobo column prompted comments in a confirmation committee hearing but no one seems to be making it campaign fodder.
MON, 2-08-10

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



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