Inside the Capitol

Thursday, April 14, 2011

4-20 Budgeting and Redistricting

WED, 4-20-11
SANTA FE � The near shutdown the federal government was necessary in order to produce $38 billion in budget cuts. But that was chickenfeed compared to what Congress and the president face when they get started on next year�s budget cutting.
That�s when the real hurt begins. Counting special sessions, New Mexico has been through four or five legislative sessions of budget cutting, each one more painful than the last. The next promises to be even more painful.
Congress began reducing its deficit by not cutting much of anything. It did exactly as New Mexico had done by looking in cubbyholes for leftover stashes of money. Tea partiers tried to add in some of their social issues, such as planned parenthood but the bill ended up a basically non-controversial conglomeration of leftover money.
Since the easy part almost caused a government shutdown, it is scary to imagine what the heavy lifting will cause. But remember last century when President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress balanced the budget and decreased the deficit to the point there was a light at the end of the tunnel. The guy who erected a federal deficit counter on Times Square, took it down because it wouldn�t run backwards.
Of course that Congress had an easier time. Our foreign entanglements weren�t nearly as expensive and we taxed the super-rich back then.
Calls for a special session of the Legislature have been heard to fix the cuts to public school funding that became evident after the session. That is not likely since a special session will be necessary to act on redistricting as required after each decennial census.
Other additions to the special session also have been suggested for some important bills that died at the end of the regular session because of filibusters.
It isn�t likely to happen. Lawmakers don�t like extraneous issues diverting them from their task of redistricting our legislative and congressional delegations and the Public Regulation Commission. Not all legislators are on committees dealing with redistricting but since every lawmaker is affected by the redistricting results, it is difficult to focus on anything other than protecting one�s territory.
Back in 1981, when New Mexico gained a third congressional district, predictions were that we would gain a fourth seat by 2011. Some New Mexicans countered that we would get a fourth seat by 2001. But it didn�t happen. And it won�t happen in 2011 even though some reports have mistakenly quoted the old estimates.
New Mexico just keeps plodding along, lagging well behind its burgeoning neighbors. Maybe in 2021.
The redistricting of legislative seats will cause some pain. Previous redistricting has removed seats from eastern New Mexico and added them to Albuquerque, Rio Rancho and Las Cruces. It is sure to happen again. Most of eastern New Mexico has grown but at a lower rate.
Besides extraneous items that may clutter the special session, Gov. Susana Martinez�s veto of an appropriation for expenses before the redistricting session may become an issue. Democrat leaders say the money was to fund hearings around the state to give people an idea of what was coming in their area and to get their feelings.
Martinez�s advisers may have figured part of the money would be used for computer experts to devise the best deals for Democrats.
Democrats, by the way, say they are more unified than ever. This, despite a major challenge to House Speaker Ben Lujan and a Senate president pro tem elected by a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats.
It happens. When Democrats have confortable margins, they tend to develop factions. Republicans are no different. Back in the 1980s, Republicans, with the help of a few straying Democrats, gained total control of the Senate. But they hadn�t held it long when cracks began opening between the leaders and those who felt they weren�t getting their share of the new found power.
Democrats know they�re in trouble. It�s a preservation thing.


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