Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

2-13 Gov, Legislature in agreement sometimes

21312 Legis coop
SANTA FE – Amid legislative-executive turf battles, a few islands of bipartisan cooperation have surfaced. The most noticeable collaboration concerns the reform of the Public Regulation Commission. Everyone is working together on that item.
As of this writing, the term "everyone" is not an exaggeration. A package of three constitutional amendments presented by the bipartisan think tank Think New Mexico has unanimously passed the House, including its committee referrals. The measures have the support of Gov. Susana Martinez and will be carried in the Senate by leaders of both parties.
The PRC has been a dysfunctional organization since its inception. Its members often have been politicians prone to extracting favors from industries they regulate. The proposed changes would transfer out several of those industries and require some expertise in those that remain.
These three constitutional amendments are but the first steps in shaping up the commission. Other improvement measures have been introduced this year and more will be needed in the years to come.
The state budget is another area of general agreement between the governor and Legislature. Little fighting occurred over the budget during last year's contentious session. A budget target was agreed upon at a level much below the projected $450 million deficit and both sides worked to meet that figure.
The Legislature's only heartburn was that Gov. Martinez took full credit for the success in her opening address to the Legislature this year. An old pro like former Gov. Bruce King would have shared credit with lawmakers and would have referred to them as his board of directors.
This year may be a smooth ride to budget adoption again. The House got its budget over to the Senate later than its target date of mid-session but much has been agreed upon already. Back in the 1970s, with Democrats firmly in control of everything, the fights were between the House and Senate. Sometimes the House wouldn't get its budget to the Senate until a day or two before adjournment.
This year, the House Appropriations and Finance Committee waited until it could get complete agreement from its Republican members before sending the bill to the House floor. It was my first time in 49 years on the scene up here that I can remember a unanimous HAFC vote.
The bill, as sent from the committee, leaves some room for Gov. Martinez's pet projects and tax breaks. A spokesman says the governor appreciates their decisions.
Basic agreement also exists on the major areas of spending – public schools and Medicaid. Veterans' benefits appear to be another area of agreement. Gov. Martinez has been very interested in helping veterans. Former Gov. Bill Richardson also championed several veterans' benefits early in his administration. It is a popular and justly-deserved benefit.
Tightening necessary areas in drunken driving laws is another area most governors and legislatures have agreed upon. Fireworks legislation became a popular subject last summer when forest fires were devastating the state. Now that the governor and Legislature are considering legislation to curb fireworks in dangerous areas, fireworks dealers are arriving in Santa Fe to deliver the message that this is their livelihood.
If restrictions are applied to the sales, it won't apply to Indian reservations. Martinez says she can work with reservations. Last summer, the governor was looking for a blanket authority to ban fireworks, which she currently does not have. The suggestion has been made that the state forester be given the authority. Gov. Martinez says she can work with that.
The areas in which the governor and Legislature do not agree are not major issues that have to be solved. If drivers' licenses for illegal aliens were an emergency, the licenses either could be taken away or any one of several solutions proposed by Democratic legislators to meet the governor's concerns could be passed.
As it is, licenses and voter identification likely will not pass in an all-or-nothing form the governor can accept and sign. So nothing will happen.


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