Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

1-28 Legislative Storms Looming

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Expect at least three stormy sessions of the 50th Legislature as New Mexico moves into its centennial year of statehood.
For eight years, all three branches of New Mexico's government have been under firm control of the Democratic Party. But that has changed. Republicans now control the executive branch and are close to a tie in the House of Representatives.
The smaller house committees will have equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats. In the Senate, Democrats have a slightly bigger majority but the president pro tem was elected by a conservative coalition.
As a result, controversial legislation passed during the last eight years is all back on the table. Despite the need to concentrate on jobs and the economy, a huge amount of social and political issues will get in the way.
Topics such as the death penalty, human rights, environmental concerns, regulation of industry, Hollywood, space flight, government reorganization and politics will take center stage over balancing the budget.
When the House Republican leader says on the first day of the session that electing a new House speaker would have risked the passage of some great legislation that would have hampered a negative campaign next year, we know not much is going to happen.
In a House committee shake up, the appointment of Rep. Brian Egolf of Santa Fe to chair the House Energy and natural Resources Committee, signals a battle looming over Gov. Susana Martinez's effort to get more tax breaks for the oil and gas industry.
Egolf promises to be fair and notes that he has only one vote on an evenly divided committee. But as chairman, he also has the power to schedule when and if bills will be considered.
Witness the removal of liberal Albuquerque Sen. Cisco McSorley as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee because he wouldn't schedule bills he didn't like.
On the other side of the coin, the nomination of Harrison "Jack" Schmitt to head the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department foretells many battles with environmentalists.
Schmitt, a former astronaut and U.S. senator, is skeptical about global warming being caused by man. Views such as that presage a tough confirmation hearing.
The Silver City native seems to be so controversial that people even argue over whether he was the last man on the moon. Recently reporters have settled on saying he was one of the last men on the moon.
It's a matter of semantics, as I understand it. Gene Cernan, the commander of the moon landing, got to step out of the ship first. He also stepped back in last, making him the last man on the moon. But Schmitt can claim to have been the last man to set foot on the moon.
So much for that sort of thing. I'll have more to say about Schmitt, a friend for the past 60 years, when his stormy confirmation hearing comes around.
The legislative hopper is filled with bills to reorganize state government. The idea began as a money-saving initiative last year but now it has become a game of who gets the power. Everybody wants power so everybody has introduced bills to restructure government in their direction.
The original legislation from last year mandated that cabinet secretaries cooperate with the Legislature's restructuring effort. One would be hard pressed to find a single instance of cooperation.
Little savings from any of the restructuring seems evident. Administrative costs are a small part of any budget.
But we're finding many interpretations of administration. Martinez believes that in education, administration is anything that happens outside the classroom and says that's about 30 percent of the budget..
This session will be followed by a special session on redistricting sometime late in the year and then a 2012 session during an election year in which all lawmakers will have to defend their seats. The GOP will be aiming to win both houses of the New Mexico Legislature.
FRI, 1-28-11

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



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