Inside the Capitol

Thursday, January 12, 2012

2012 Legislature may feature more cooperation


SANTA FE – The 2012 Legislature may be very different than the 2011 version now that Gov. Susana Martinez has a year of chief executive experience under her belt.
Martinez appears to have learned that the adversarial approach necessarily taken by district attorneys doesn't work when dealing with another branch of government. She says a No. 1 priority this year will be to cooperatively work with the Legislature.
The 2001 Legislature had embarrassingly little to show for its efforts. The special session on redistricting was even worse. A surprising improvement in relations was evident when Gov. Martinez and a handful of Democratic legislators presented a bipartisan congressional redistricting proposal to the court last fall.
Judge James Hall ended up approving a plan very similar to the one proposed by Martinez and some Democrats. No such agreement was accomplished on state House redistricting. But after what Democrats considered a Republican-leaning decision by Judge Hall, Senate leaders huddled with Martinez and came up with a joint proposal for redistricting that body.
If Gov. Martinez can agree with Democrats on redistricting, the most controversial of all political topics, there is no telling what might be possible from the legislative session beginning tomorrow.
What caused this new-found openness from the governor? Some guess that former Gov. Garrey Carruthers, a Republican from Las Cruces, may have whispered in her ear. Others note that newly-elected Republican governors in other states have recently adopted a similar approach. Or maybe our new governor may have figured this out by herself.
Martinez and Democratic lawmakers are far enough apart on many issues that bipartisanship won't be easy, but enough small steps can be taken over the next three years – or seven years – to amount to something big.
State economists predict about $250 million in new revenues nest year. That's an encouraging change from the hundreds of millions of cuts necessitated over the past three years. But the fiscal plans of the two sides vary considerably.
Martinez wants tax cuts to stimulate growth in the economy. Democrats want to use the extra money to restore government services that have been cut.
This session is sure to move much faster than last year's, which really never got up to speed. The governor presented her budget plan 10 days ago. The joint Legislative Finance Committee released its plan a few days later.
That meant the House appropriations Committee could begin work a week ago on the session's appropriation bill. This will be a short, 30- day session so early starts are a help. It only is possible to start committee meetings early in even-numbered years because all lawmakers are in the middle of their terms. In odd-numbered years, new legislators have been elected and committees have not been appointed.
Two other committees got off to an early start last week. The House Education Committee and the House Transportation Committee also have input into the budget-making process.
For a change, people traveling from the south aren't forecasted to have bad roads to fight on their trip to Santa Fe, although the folks from Hobbs may have trouble getting out of their driveways this year.
New Mexico has one of the most citizen-friendly capitols in the nation. You may wander the hallways freely, looking for your legislator or anyone else you might like to see. You can't bother your legislator on the floor when the chambers are in session but that is one of the few restrictions.
The governor's office also is in the Capitol Building. That requires an appointment but staff members often are available to talk about your issue. The governor's reception room also is very hospitable and has a nice gallery.
And speaking of galleries, our capitol looks like an art museum, with native New Mexico art everywhere. Even the hallway furniture is handmade by New Mexicans. Another welcome addition is a parking garage across the street, which eliminates blocks of walking.


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