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A daughter decries burdensome bed tax

January 31, 2006

A daughter takes aim at state bed tax that hits the elderly and their families who rely on nursing homes for care.

Kate Nash
Tribune Reporter

SANTA FE - While she toiled as a tailor in a dry cleaning shop in Washington state, Mary Shockley scrimped and saved.

As a teenager, Shockley's daughter, Betty Russell, didn't appreciate her mother's thriftiness.

"Everything she had served two purposes," she said. "When something was done with one duty, it served another."

These days, Russell is glad her mother socked away as much as she did, now that the 89-year-old Shockley lives at La Vida Llena, an Albuquerque nursing home that costs close to $5,000 a month.

About $273 of that monthly bill is the bed tax the state imposed in 2004.

The tax was levied to help the state cover Medicaid costs, Gov. Bill Richardson's administration said.

Russell and Republican members of the House are calling on the Legislature this year to repeal the tax, something the governor said he wants as well.

"I'm appalled that our state is so in need of money that it had to tax the fragile elderly and handicapped at the final stages of their lives," Russell said during a news conference Monday at the Capitol.

Members of the GOP also want the state to pay back the $10 million they estimate patients have paid in the past few years. The tax is almost $9 a day.

"Do not just repeal the bed tax. Give it back to them," Russell said.

The Senate has already passed a Democrat-sponsored bill to do away with the tax, one of few bills this session to get the approval of one chamber.

The Republican version, which includes the rebate, was tabled by the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.

Richardson spokesman Pahl Shipley said the governor supports that measure.

"The surcharge, which was charged to nursing homes, not patients, helped fill the financial gap created by federal cuts to Medicaid," Shipley said. "And the federal matching funds received were pumped right back into providing health care for New Mexicans."

But House Minority Leader Ted Hobbs, an Albuquerque Republican, called on Richardson to refund the money.

"The governor felt like we could send out rebates for oil and gas. Why can't he do it for this?"

New Mexicans last year got rebates between $64 and $289 to help offset high oil and natural gas prices.

"If we've done it before, we can do it again," Hobbs said.

Russell said she would put her mother's refund into her health care costs, if the Legislature were to approve it.

"You pull 300 bucks out of your pocket every month and see if it feels like a sacrifice," she said.

Posted by Joel Gay at 10:07 AM | | Comments (0)

All aboard

Commentary by Kate Nash


There's a lot of talk about it this session, but no money requests for the Rail Runner.


You've probably been hearing about the Rail Runner project lately, given the grappling and groaning by state lawmakers over the cost and the schedule of the planned commuter rail system.


The funny thing is, there are no funding bills before the Legislature for the project, according to Department of Transportation spokesman S.U. Mahesh.


"There's not even a single bill," he said this morning.


The project was funded in something called GRIP, a measure passed by the Legislature a couple of years ago. GRIP, in case you wonder, stands for Governor Richardson's Investment Partnership.


Still, legislators are upset at what they say are ballooning costs and what are likely to be huge subsidies to run the train.


Today, by the way, is Transportation Day at the Roundhouse...

Posted by Kate Nash at 09:59 AM | | Comments (0)

Per Diem: The daily update

MIss out on the action in Santa Fe on Monday? Here's a quick round-up.

Fourth floor
Major effort for miners

Gov. Bill Richardson has asked Sen. Carlos Cisneros and Rep. John Heaton to carry a Mining Safety Act for New Mexico.

The measure would create a 24-hour emergency operations center and require mine operators to file or update emergency notification plans. It would also require miners be provided with communication devices.

"Recent North American mine disasters have heightened awareness that the federal government has stalled, even backtracked, on mine safety. New Mexico's miners deserve assurances that their workplaces are as safe as possible," Richardson said in news release Monday.

By the numbers
77

Number of bills introduced in the Senate that have messages from the governor, meaning they are topics Richardson wants to include on this session's agenda.

More than 600 bills have been introduced in that chamber alone.

The governor sets the agenda for non-budget items during 30-day sessions, so a measure not on his list has little chance of passing.

In Committee
Critic zaps energy proposal

Richardson is proposing to create a quasi-government authority to plan and finance construction of new electric transmission lines in hopes of encouraging more renewable energy production in the state.

A Senate committee endorsed Richardson's proposal Monday but a critic told lawmakers it could lead to more nuclear power or coal-fired power plants.

"I think it creates a nuclear energy transmission authority," said David Bacon, president of the nonprofit Southwest Energy Institute in Santa Fe.

The proposed Renewable Energy Transmission Authority would have the power of eminent domain to acquire property for transmission lines, could issue bonds to help pay for construction of projects, and enter into leases with utilities or others for operation of the lines financed by the authority.

Hallway chatter
Rail, rail, rail

Seems like everyone is talking about railways these days: the Rail Runner, the city of Albuquerque's request for a modern street car system, and now the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad.

Former Gov. Dave Cargo is around the Capitol this session, pushing for $2.3 million to fix that northern New Mexico/southern Colorado train.

The money would help the train be self-sufficient and provide more jobs, Cargo said.

The money would be contingent on matching funds from Colorado.

Compiled by Kate Nash

Posted by Joel Gay at 09:31 AM | | Comments (0)

Political commercial or PSA?

January 30, 2006

Commentary by Kate Nash

Senator has a bill that would limit the amount each state agency can spend on TV.


Sen. Rod Adair, a Roswell Republican, says his constituents have complained that too many Public Service Announcements look like campaign ads for officials who are seeking re-election.

SB 260 would prohibit each state department to spending $150,000 a year on television and radio ads that feature just one elected official.

We'll see how well that goes over. This is an election year for all statewide races, including governor and lieutenant governor...

Posted by Kate Nash at 01:44 PM | | Comments (1)

The Real Deal

January 28, 2006

By Erik Siemers
Tribune Reporter

While policy wonks debate the merits of raising the minimum wage, here's what it means in real dollars for four New Mexicans: dependable transportation, a decent house or seed money for the kids' college funds.

Working New Mexicans tell the Tribune what a minimum wage hike would mean for them

THE FAST-FOOD WORKER

Name: Dana Gallegos

Age: 30 Family: Married; three children

Occupation: Fast-food worker, Taco Bell

Hourly wage: $6.50

What would you do with the extra income?: "I want to save up for my girls for college. I want to help them."

Rosie and Cassandra Chavez are young girls with big ideas.

Rosie's 12. She's going to be a doctor. Cassandra is 11 and already eyeing a law degree.

Their mom, Dana Gallegos, just wants to help. But she can't, not with $6.50-an-hour Taco Bell wages, she says.

"The wages I have, I can't save for them," says Gallegos.

And right now she brings in nothing, sidelined from work by a neck injury.

So her husband, Mike Gallegos, has taken over. He works construction by day for $8.75 an hour. By night, she said, he heads to Taco Bell to fill the temporary income gap.

They live in a small house near Coors Boulevard Southwest for $800 a month.

They have found a new place, though. It's the same size, she said, but not as nice. More important, though, it's cheaper: $540 a month.

Those are the decisions required of people making minimum wages, she said.

"You want to go to the movies," Gallegos says. "Oh, but we have to pay for gas."

She's helping fight for the higher minimum wage. For her, an extra $300 or so could spawn a doctor and a lawyer.

"I want to say I helped put my kids in college."

THE STUDENT EMPLOYEE

Name: Eric Ponce

Age: 18

Family: Single

Occupation: TVI student and hospitality associate at Del Norte Sports & Wellness

Hourly wage: $6.50

What would you do with extra income if the minimum wage rose?: "I'd have more money to spend on myself and things that I want to buy. I want to get a motorcycle, and that would really help me out a lot."

He's just out of high school, with a mouth full of braces and a bank account too small to accommodate his wants.

Eric Ponce might not be a breadwinner. His $6.50 hourly wage for folding towels, answering phones and keeping the gym clean at Del Norte Sports & Wellness in the Northeast Heights mainly finances his cell phone bill and car insurance, he says.

If it were another 50 cents or $1 an hour - as Gov. Bill Richardson is proposing - it might make the lofty items on his wish list seem achievable.

"I'd have extra money to spend on stuff I want," says Ponce, 18, who last year graduated from Del Norte High School.

What he wants is a motorcycle, an upgrade from a used Camaro on its last days, and a new way to commute to his 1-6 a.m. shift at the gym and the four classes he takes at TVI as he prepares to study criminology.

His tuition is paid by scholarship, his books by a loan.

So Ponce knows there are others worse off.

"I wonder how they do it," he says. "It must be hard for them."

THE COOK

Name: Mike Taylor

Age: 49

Family: Single

Occupation: Cook at Kentucky Fried Chicken

Hourly wage: $6.25

What would you do with the extra income?: He would save to buy a home. "I don't need a big house."

Mike Taylor's castle is a small one, a 13-by-13-foot space with walls of concrete and TV reception by rabbit ears and tin foil.

It doesn't sound like much. It isn't much.

But the $245 monthly rent is what he can afford from the $6.25 an hour he makes cooking Col. Sanders' secret recipe part time.

"No frills. Can't afford frills," says Taylor, 49, who offers some instant coffee anyway. "You've got to make do with what you've got."

Taylor lives in a mobile home park on Mountain Road Northwest, just west of Old Town, in what was once a tool room inside the park office. He owned a business once, a handyman service that went bankrupt from bad investments and worse luck.

He gets the space at a reduced rate for doing work around the park.

Cooking fried chicken at KFC is a paycheck. Sometimes small. The last one was $99 for two weeks of work, he said, cut by a bad back and reduced hours.

But Taylor doesn't complain. He gets by, something he says could be a little easier with a higher minimum wage.

Then maybe he could apply for a housing assistance program, he said.

He'd find himself a new castle. Nothing too big.

"You don't need a real big house to be comfortable."

THE CASHIER

Name: Rosa Marika Bradley

Age: 20

Family: Single

Occupation: University of New Mexico student; cashier at Sweet Tomatoes

Hourly wage: $6.50

What would you do with the extra income?: "I rely on my parents for everything. . . . I would like to be less reliant on other people."

Rosa Marika Bradley sits at a table in her Northeast Heights home.

It's a nice house, comfortable, and she can't beat the rent - being free and all.

It's her parents' house. Which is the problem.

At 20, studying business management at the University of New Mexico and making $6.50 an hour at Sweet Tomatoes, she can't end the youthful reliance on Mom and Dad.

A higher wage - even by a dollar an hour as proposed - might help her do that.

"I think a lot of people just see it as going to help the teenagers buy new clothes," she said of the wage hike proposal. "But there will be some good to come out of it."

Bradley wishes she didn't have to rely on her parents. A scholarship pays for her tuition, but the $400 she just shelled out for books came from her parents.

"If the wages were to increase, I would be financially stable and could save something," she says.

Posted by pmastio at 10:30 AM |

Pols trying to avoid a wage war

By Kate Nash
Tribune Reporter

SANTA FE - They have been friends for more than two decades, together on campaign tour buses, at speeches, fund-raisers and funerals.

Since Gov. Bill Richardson took office in 2003, Ben Lujan has been his go-to man, carrying most of the governor's major initiatives in the House.

Dana Gallegos fixes her daughter Rosie Chavez's hair before heading to a family function. Gallegos, who worked at a Taco Bell before a neck injury, said an increase in the minimum wage being considered in the Legislature might help her save to send her two daughters to college. (Steven St. John/Tribune)

They've had few public differences.

That changed this month, when a high-profile issue - raising the state's minimum wage - came to the fore.

Lujan, Speaker of the House, wants to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.50 next year.

Richardson wants to phase in an increase to $7.50 over the next three years. It would start at $6.50 next January.

Senate President Ben Altamirano, a Silver City Democrat, this week introduced SB 449, which incorporates the provisions Richardson wants.

Both Richardson and Lujan downplay their differences, saying they mostly agree and that something will be worked out this session.

"I don't know that there's any major disagreement," said Lujan, a Democrat from Namb‚. "We're working it out."

Richardson, too, predicted a compromise would be struck this session.

Lujan, Richardson said, "knew what I was going to do early, and I knew what he was going to do early, and we both share the same view, that we need an increase, and I don't think we're that far apart."

"This is a process that's going to evolve in the next few days, and I think we'll end up pretty close to what I proposed," Richardson said.

Getting what he proposed - the incremental increase and preventing cities from setting a wage higher than the state's minimum for five years - might be one of Richardson's biggest political challenges this session.

Richardson, a first-term Democrat who faces re-election this year, has to please the business community as well as labor advocates.

And he's got to get something through the House and Senate in the next 19 days.

Mike Taylor, 49, walks to his job as a cook at a Kentucky Fried Chicken on Central Avenue near Rio Grande Boulevard Northwest. Taylor makes $6.25 an hour and has learned to make do. "I'll tell you what. I make more than $5.15 an hour, and I don't mind, because it's better than having no money at all," he said. (Michael J. Gallegos/Tribune)

"This is a popular issue," said Carter Bundy, a spokesman for New Mexicans for a Fair Wage.

"It means a lot to business, labor, children's advocacy groups, churches. Everybody up here has an opinion on it, and that's not an easy position to reconcile."

The coalition, which includes the American Federation of State, County and Municipal employees, is behind Lujan's bill, HB 258. The measure is indexed to inflation, and would increase the wage annually by 3 percent or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower.

The Richardson-Altamirano measure is not indexed to inflation.

Neither measure would affect Santa Fe's minimum wage, which rose by $1 an hour, to $9.50, on Jan. 1 for most employees.

Association of Commerce and Industry lobbyist Sayuri Yamada said Altamirano's bill is more palatable than Lujan's measure, because it phases in the increase.

"The phase-in allows businesses to plan ahead and to have some predictability," Yamada said.

"At this point, I don't think we're taking a position on Sen. Altamirano's bill, but it's definitely a bill we'd like to work with," she said Tuesday.

The association would prefer to see the wage set at the federal level, $5.15 an hour, as would the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.

But this week, representatives of those groups were looking at proposals here, including a third one, introduced by Senate Majority Floor Leader Michael Sanchez.

His measure (SB 462) would raise the state minimum to $7.50 next year but wouldn't be indexed to inflation.

What sets it apart from the other two measures is that it would give a tax credit to small businesses to help offset the costs of paying employees more in its first three years. During the first year, businesses would get a tax credit of 40 percent to cover the increased payroll costs.

The minimum-wage issue could resonate beyond New Mexico for Richardson, who is widely believed to be a potential presidential candidate. That means he has the national unions and business groups to think about, said Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia.

"This would be a speaking point for Richardson heading into Õ08," he said. "It can't be used against him were he the nominee, because the minimum wage resonates with everyday Americans."

At the same time, Richardson might appeal to the business community by supporting a gradual increase to $7.50, Sabato said.

"He can argue that his plan was more reasonable, that he wanted to phase it in."

This isn't the first time the minimum wage has been debated in the state.

Albuquerque voters in the fall narrowly defeated a measure to hike the wage to $7.50.

The Santa Fe City Council in early 2003 approved a phased-in increase, starting at $8.50.

About 123,000 New Mexicans earn less than $7.50, according to the state Department of Labor.

Beyond New Mexico, 17 states have minimum wages higher than the federal wage, which Congress last raised in 1997.

Richardson said pushes to raise people out of poverty are catching on across the nation.

"It's happening, and it's becoming a wildfire issue," Richardson said. "You're going to see it spread."

For his part, Lujan says the time has come for the New Mexico Legislature to take the lead.

"Si no nosotros, quien?" he said.

"If not us, then who?"

Posted by suevo at 10:25 AM |

Per Diem: Roundhouse Report

Missed the action in Santa Fe on Friday? Here's a quick update.

Fourth floor
No Coke. Soy milk.

Gov. Bill Richardson on Friday signed off on regulations that ban junk food from elementary schools and eliminate carbonated beverages from middle schools. The rules also require middle school and high school vending machines to offer healthy choices.

Food offerings in schools will have to have fewer than 16 grams of fat, 30 grams of sugar and 400 calories.

In committee
New scope for dope

A bill allowing medical use of marijuana took a step forward Friday when the Senate Judiciary Committee approved it 7-3. A full Senate vote could come as early as Tuesday.

The bill, SB 258, creates a program in the state Department of Health to which doctors could refer patients with debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer or AIDS. Patients who were certified by the department could possess marijuana without risk of state prosecution, although they could not grow it.

David Murray, special assistant to the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said medical marijuana proponents were engaged in a "manipulative and cynical" effort, using suffering patients to promote their agenda.

But Sen. Rod Adair, a Roswell Republican, said "the regular dope-smoker is not sitting around hoping we would pass this."

By the numbers
30

The number of free retinal scans given Friday morning outside the Senate floor.

The scans, which can detect high blood pressure, diabetes and optic nerve problems, normally cost $110.

They said it

"I've spent a lot of time in my life trying to grow up as tall as Michael Cooper, and I'm almost there."

Senate President Ben Altamirano, a 75-year-old Silver City Democrat.

Albuquerque Thunderbirds basketball coach Cooper, all 6 feet 5 inches of him, visited the Senate on Friday. Altamirano says he is 5 feet 10 inches tall.

Compiled by Kate Nash

Posted by Joel Gay at 08:50 AM | | Comments (0)

In Their Own Words

January 27, 2006

Commentary by Kate Nash


Two websites give Capitol information junkies the low down.

In case you're staying up late looking for news from the Roundhouse, both parties now have sites with the tidbits of the day.


Try this link for news from the Democrats in the Senate.


Or this one for information from the Republicans in the House.

Posted by Kate Nash at 10:02 AM | | Comments (0)

Minimum-wage hike advances in House

By Deborah Baker
Associated Press

SANTA FE - A minimum-wage hike to $7.50 an hour easily passed a House committee, and even its opponents acknowledged some increase appears inevitable this year.

The House Labor and Human Resources Committee on Thursday voted 5-2 along party lines - Democrats for and Republicans against - for a bill that would raise the hourly wage from $5.15 as of Jan. 1, 2007.

The measure, which also builds in annual increases pegged to inflation, would have to clear another committee before it reaches the full House for a vote.

"There are far too many people who are struggling to make ends meet," House Speaker Ben Lujan, a Santa Fe Democrat and the bill's sponsor, told the committee.

Opponents said it would drive up prices and be too tough on employers, especially small companies and those in rural areas.

"We are encouraging economic development for the states of Texas and Arizona, because businesses will not be coming in to this area," said Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, a Roswell Republican who voted against it.

Backed by labor, church, community and anti-poverty groups, Lujan's is the simplest and most dramatic of at least three pending proposals.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, a Belen Democrat, proposes to increase the wage floor to $7.50 next year but allow small employers to take tax credits for three years to help offset it.

Senate President Ben Altamirano, a Silver City Democrat - whose bill mirrors Gov. Bill Richardson's proposal - would phase in an increase to $7.50 over three years.

Although some businesses oppose an increase in the minimum wage, Richardson's proposal has the support of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.

"We're realists," said president Terri Cole, acknowledging that because Congress hasn't raised the minimum wage since 1997, the state is poised to do so.

The governor's proposal does not include inflation adjustments, and it bars communities from raising their minimum wages above the $7.50 floor for at least five years, although Santa Fe - which has a $9.50-an-hour wage - would remain untouched.

Cole urged Lujan to alter his bill to incorporate the governor's proposals.

About 123,000 New Mexicans would get a raise under Lujan's legislation. Most of them are adults - average age 31 - and have been in the work force more than a dozen years, the speaker told the committee during a 3-hour hearing.

The measure would "put food in the mouths of babes, shoes on the feet of our children and a roof over the heads of our families," said the Rev. Holly Beaumont of the New Mexico Conference of Churches, part of a coalition supporting the increase.

House Republican Leader Ted Hobbs of Albuquerque called it "a frightening piece of legislation" that would result in job cuts and create unemployment among the least skilled.

The increase would force the chile industry "out of state, out of the country, or out of business," said lobbyist Charlie Marquez. He said a study had shown that an hourly wage of $6.70 is "the point at which they will go broke."

Child care provider Sabrina Marshall of Alamogordo said she pays her employees $6 an hour and the proposed increase could force her out of business. As her costs rose so would her charges, and parents wouldn't be able afford it, she said. And the increase could knock parents off programs that subsidize child care, she said.

Santa Fe residents clashed over whether the capital city's wage floor for its largest employers - which could go to $10.50 in 2008 if city council gives the go-ahead - has benefited that community.

Supporters said there are more jobs, unemployment has decreased and the ordinance has become a model for the nation.

Santa Fe City Councilor David Pfeffer disagreed, saying it was too early to tell.

Posted by Joel Gay at 08:38 AM |

Per Diem: The Daily Update

Miss some of the action Thursday? Here's a quick update.

Fourth floor
Getting a GRIP

The New Mexico Department of Transportation today is expected to introduce a bill that would spend $247 million on 109 projects that would be part of the GRIP II bill.

Projects across the state range from bridge improvements to road widening.

GRIP is short for Governor Richardson's Investment Partnership, a program that involves matching funds for some of its biggest projects.

The money can't be spent on the planned RailRunner commuter rail project, but $8 million of it would pay for public transportation to get people to RailRunner.

By the numbers
36

Number of people signed up to testify Thursday afternoon on a measure (HB 258) that would increase the state's minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.50 next year.

Number of people in the audience watching: 55.

Members of the House Labor and Human Resources Committee considering the measure: 8

Number of other measures introduced so far that would increase the wage to $7.50: 2.


On the floor
Deadlines, people

Lawmakers have until Feb. 1 to introduce bills.

So far in the House, representatives have dropped 614 measures, Speaker Ben Lujan said during Thursday morning's floor session.

After the notice from Lujan, House Minority Leader Ted Hobbs moved to table the last 50 bills that were introduced.

That idea didn't go anywhere.


They said it

"The basketball teams should be getting in shape. We want to have an offense and a defense." House Minority Whip Terry Marquardt, an Alamogordo Republican, on plans for the annual House-Senate basketball game

Compiled by Kate Nash

Posted by Joel Gay at 08:32 AM | | Comments (0)

A perfect life for short attention spans

January 26, 2006

Commentary by Kate Nash

A spokesbear. Rubik's Cubes. Hand sanitizer. With a thousand causes and just 30 days to sell them, bill supporters go to great lengths to grab attention.

SANTA FE - The blue-and-white Care Van was stationed outside the Roundhouse, the backdrop for a news conference on the unit, which has an exam table, portable dental chair and a five-and-a half-foot spokesbear.

That was 10 a.m. Thursday.

At the exact same time, members of the New Mexico Education Partners were readying their "Flashback Baskets" for lawmakers - packages of Rubik's Cubes and CDs with radio hits from the 1980s. The gifts were meant to remind lawmakers of the last time the state ranked in the top half of national rankings for educator salaries.

Also at 10 a.m., supporters of measure to increase mammograms for low income women spoke inside the Capitol rotunda, drumming up support for their bill.

In the same building, the Republican members of the House Labor and Human Resources Committee had a press conference on their opposition to the proposed minimum wage increase.

Such was a typical morning in the early days of this 30-day legislative session, with groups of every persuasion vying to broadcast their messages as soon as possible, before their bill becomes just one of a thousand.

"It's hard because I never know what I'm up against," said Roxanne Rivera, who coordinates press for the House Republicans.

"And then there's so many bills introduced, we have to look at what's the most relevant and put something out on those."

Those releases land inside the Capitol's media room, home base for the print reporters covering the session.

The door to that room swings open constantly, with supporters of everything from a ban on aspartame to an increase in the minimum wage jockying for a mention of their measure.

"It's no secret that it's about the relationship between the staff and volunteers and lobbyists, just as its about the relationship between the staff and volunteers and those who can get the messages out in the newspapers," said Nathan Bush, governmental relations director for the American Cancer Society.

Longtime lobbyists stop by the media room, too, including one who this year was handing out pocket-sized bottles of green Purell Hand Sanitizer, with aloe. Last year's gifts included candy.

One media room regular, Fred Nathan of Think New Mexico, swung through this week, wanting to know if we've read his report on the Individual Development Accounts.

The measure is in front of the House Urban and Government Affairs Committee, he says. 8:30. a.m.

Just as Nathan whooshes by, Marjorie Teague from the Senate Minority office walks through, press release about firefighting equipment in hand. It's the sixth release she's brought by this week. Diane Kinderwater, with the same office, comes by later in the day, with an updated version of that release.

Tom Garrity, chief information guy from the Senate Majority Office who carries a highlighted notebook, is next.

"Need anything from me?" he asks. It's his third trip through on Thursday.

Back downstairs in the House Minority Office, Rivera considers what news releases to put out tomorrow.

"It's fun and makes the day go by fast," she said.

Posted by bslakey at 05:47 PM | | Comments (0)

Game Time

Commentary by Kate Nash


House-Senate basketballers to tip off Feb. 6.

Finally, one of the best parts of the session: the House-Senate basketball game, an annual tradition of lawmakers in tennis shoes and shorts...


The fun starts at 7, but you should get there early (the School for the Deaf in Santa Fe) if you want a seat.


Last' year's game was packed, proving that lawmakers like to have fun every once and a while.


No word yet on whether Gov. Bill Richardson will be drafted to play on the House or Senate team.

Posted by Kate Nash at 12:23 PM | | Comments (0)

Per Diem: The Daily Update

Miss some of the action Wednesday? Here's an update.

Fourth floor
Call for entries

Gov. Bill Richardson on Wednesday announced the Governor's Cup Short Screenplay Competition.

Brenda Muñoz takes advantage of a quiet corner in the Roundhouse to take a business call. Muñoz of Las Cruces works for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees of New Mexico. She was at Wednesday's session of the Legislature in support of bills aimed at making health insurance more affordable for workers at New Mexico State University. The wood carving in the foreground, "The Holy Family" by Luis Tapia, is part of the Capitol Art Collection. (Michael J. Gallegos/Tribune)

The contest is for screenplays of 10 minutes or less. Four winners will be selected and their screenplays will be produced by New Mexico filmmakers.

"Supporting our homegrown talent is a top priority and I look forward to announcing the winners in May," Richardson said in a statement.

The deadline is in April. Visit www.nmfilm.com for more information.

By the numbers
$7.50

The targeted minimum wage in three measures introduced so far that would boost the statewide minimum from its current $5.15.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, a Belen Democrat, introduced the third proposal Wednesday.

His plan would raise the wage to $7.50 next year. It includes a tax credit for businesses with 25 or fewer employees. Those companies would recover 40 percent of the cost of implementing the increase wage during the first year. The credit would decrease during subsequent years.

"With the way prices have increased, this is a reasonable approach to help and not hurt business," Sanchez said.

In committee
Do pass

That was the assent from the Senate Judiciary Committee on SB 122 that would set animal shelter guidelines and license euthanasia providers.

Sen. Mary Jane Garcia, a Do¤a Ana Democrat, is carrying the bill that would appropriate $100,000.

The bill now goes to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.

They said it

"When I started out in the Legislature, if you can believe this, it wasn't against the law to drink beer while you were driving." Gary King, a former state representative, who announced his candidacy for attorney general at the Capitol on Wednesday.

King served six terms (1987-98) in the House. He's the son of former Gov. Bruce King.

Compiled by Kate Nash

Posted by Joel Gay at 08:55 AM |

King for a day

January 25, 2006

Commentary by Kate Nash

Gary King set to announce his candidacy at the Capitol this afternoon.

The Roundhouse isn't just for those who are already elected. It's also a prime spot for people to announce they are running for something.


King, son of former Gov. Bruce King, this afternoon was expected to make his candidacy for attorney general official.


His press conference was one of almost ten scheduled for today...

Posted by Kate Nash at 12:40 PM | | Comments (0)

Dispensing capital

By: Kate Nash
Tribune Reporter

As the legislative session advances, so does the size of the hole burning in the state's pocket by a record-breaking windfall

SANTA FE - One-hundred-twenty-five million for a spaceport. A $300 million water pipeline. A $60 million streetcar project. An $18,000 fire truck.

Oh, and at least $100 million for a rainy day.

Legislators and Gov. Bill Richardson have hundreds of ideas for turning a record-breaking grab bag of money into streetlights, schools and parks.

In just the second week of the 30-day session, those ideas are tumbling onto a growing stack of requests for a piece of $1.4 billion in one-time bricks-and-mortar money, not to mention the $5.1 billion regular budget.

Apart from the usual money available, the state this year has a projected $529 million surplus.

While it seems like it's raining money, some lawmakers wish it was really raining, judging by the number of expensive requests for water projects.

So far this session, legislators plan to or have already put in requests to fund more than $750 million in water projects alone. That doesn't begin to include new schools, parks, playgrounds and sundry projects that lawmakers will try to deliver to their districts.

With so much more money than in the past, the scale of some lawmakers' requests has increased dramatically.

"What's $2 million (now) is what used to be $200,000. That's how much money there is," Rep. Dan Foley, a Roswell Republican, said of the increased size of lawmakers' requests.

Among Foley's top priorities is a whopper. He plans to introduce a measure to spend $250 million to assess water supply in the Pecos River Basin and its tributaries.

Richardson has warned that this won't be the year of the "feeding frenzy" on taxpayer dollars, but some lawmakers say water projects in particular are sorely needed.

"We realize how important it is that we address water issues, and this is the ideal year to do that because we have the money to make some things happen," said House Minority Whip Terry Marquardt, an Alamogordo Republican.

Marquardt has a bill that would spend $300 million to design and build a water pipeline from the Salt Water Basin in southern New Mexico and northern Texas to Las Cruces and Ruidoso.

Rep. Joe Stell, a Carlsbad Democrat and chairman of the House Agriculture and Water Resources Committee, said he's optimistic some big-ticket water projects will be approved this year.

"They haven't laughed yet," he said.

Stell has a request that would give the State Engineer's Office $50,000 to assess how that basin might best be used.

Not all the requests are water-related.

Richardson wants $125 million for a planned spaceport in Sierra County. The University of New Mexico wants $15 million for its science and math learning center.

The city of Albuquerque wants $235 million for transportation projects, including $60 million for a 4-mile modern streetcar project.

Gail Reese, the city's chief financial officer, said the city would pay half of the $120 million cost of that project. Ground would be broken on the project, which would run along Carlisle Boulevard and down Central Avenue, through Nob Hill to Old Town, by 2008.

That route, she said, would tie into the state's planned Railrunner commuter train service, expected to start between Belen and Bernalillo early this year.

"You can't expect people to go north and south but not need to go east and west," she said.

While cities and counties will request projects by the truckload, there are voices urging restraint.

The governor wants lawmakers to set aside $100 million of the $529 million surplus for the 2008 fiscal year.

House Republicans in the Democrat-dominated Legislature said they agree with Richardson's call to avoid a frenzy and have a plan that would take $200 million of the surplus and park it in a permanent fund to earn interest for future uses.

The Legislative Finance Committee wants to put $125 million of the windfall into the Severance Tax Permanent Fund, which annually pays out money for government operations and public education.

Lawmakers are pushing projects they know the state wouldn't normally be able to afford, hoping to capture the one-time bonus.

At the same time, the state's smaller communities are asking for more routine projects.

The village of Des Moines wants $500,000 to plan, design and construct a new water supply system. Mosquero wants $180,000 for a fire truck and $16,000 to improve the rest stop on N.M. 39. And the village of Jemez Springs is asking for $250,000 for a pedestrian walkway on N.M. 4.

Sen. James Taylor, a South Valley Democrat, said he's focusing on smaller projects, like $300,000 for a water system in Tijeras and $400,000 for street lighting around the University of New Mexico.

He thinks those projects can get done quickly.

"I don't want to overcommit and then disappoint people."

Like a few other lawmakers, he's uncertain that the projected surplus, due in large part to oil and gas revenues, is the true amount the state will have available.

"We do have money to spend, but it's really too early to know what the exact amount is going to be," Taylor said.

WHO WANTS WHAT

With $1.4 billion in one-time money for bricks and mortar, lawmakers are looking to tap into the state's healthy economy this legislative session. Here's a look at some capital requests on the table:

The big ones

• $300 million for a water pipeline system from the Salt Basin in southern New Mexico to other parts of the state.
• $250 million for a hydrological survey of the Pecos River Basin.
• $200 million for the state's water trust fund. The fund could pay for future water projects.
• $100 million to build a spaceport in Sierra County and $25 million for related roads.

The Duke City wish list
• Transit expansion: $235 million, including $60 million for a 4-mile modern streetcar pilot project.
• Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta Park: $22 million.
• Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum: $1 million.
• Velopark/BMX Pavilion: $3.5 million.
• Albuquerque Biopark Asian Experience-panda habitat: $2.1 million.
• Various regional park land acquisition: $7.9 million.
• Downtown arena development: $15 million.
• Additional east and West Side kennel space: $2.4 million.
• Phase one of Hero's Park: $1.8 million.
• Big-I landscaping: $10 million.

University of New Mexico wish list
• Science and Mathematics Learning Center: $15.4 million.
• Expansion of the Biology Department: $4 million.
• Phase one of the College of Education replacement building: $9.1 million.
• Phase two of an education building at the Health Sciences Center: $10.4 million.
• Cancer research and treatment center: $5.5 million.
• Patient care equipment: $8 million.
• Medical surgical specialties building: $20 million.
• Indoor all-sports facility: $4 million.

The little ones
• $550,000 to improve the Eddy County Rodeo Arena.
• $185,000 to renovate the public school auditorium in Jal.
• $135,000 for a roller hockey park in Carlsbad.
• $130,460 to expand and renovate the dinosaur museum in Tucumcari.
• $100,000 to buy garbage trucks in Tatum.
• $25,000 for baseball and playground equipment in Polvadera.

Source:
Lawmakers, community leaders, city of Albuquerque, University of New Mexico.

Posted by pmastio at 11:15 AM |

Taxes, wages topics of day

Tamara N. Shope
Tribune Reporter
Weighing heavy on the minds of business leaders and legislators this year are familiar issues: education, taxes and minimum wage.

The three are annual contenders for money and attention at the Capitol and around New Mexico. At Business Day in Santa Fe on Tuesday, legislators and the governor all suggested the three would monopolize again as the Legislature wades through its budget session.

"In any kind of agenda for business, education has got to be at the top of the list," said House Minority Leader Ted Hobbs, an Albuquerque Republican. "We have got to have an educated work force."

Hobbs said encouraging business incubators and in-plant training should be a priority for the Legislature. He also said he will not support the latest effort to increase the state's minimum wage, because he sees it as both bad for business and potentially harmful to families.

"Speaker (Ben Lujan) and I will have an interesting debate on minimum wage," he said. "People at the low end of the scale will very likely lose their jobs. The fact is, an increase will hurt the economy, so I will do all I can to stop an increase from going through."

He said he recognizes he faces an uphill battle, since the governor and the majority party support the measure.

In his speech to business leaders, Gov. Bill Richardson all but guaranteed a wage increase, and encouraged businesses to embrace the idea.

"I believe if businesses know what's going to happen, they can plan," he said. "Let's continue to work together. Let's put aside the politics. Let's talk about minimum wage. You say, `It's not the best for us, but it's going to happen, so let's make it work.' "

Business leaders asked legislators and the governor about tax relief and incentives. The initiatives being watched closely involve pyramid taxes, gross receipts taxes, incentives for alternative energy users and manufacturers, as well as for infrastructure in rural areas - to name just a few.

Hobbs was clear on his general stance: "I have never seen a tax I wouldn't cut."

Senate President Ben Altamirano joked in a nearly opposite manner.

"There's a lot of misconceptions here," the Silver City Democrat said. "You think we're infringing on the way you do business. We're not. We're just trying to strike a balance. We want to help you do business. At the same time, we want you to pay taxes."

Posted by Joel Gay at 09:53 AM |

Low-income cancer screening sought

A New Mexico legislator whose wife recently found she had breast cancer now wants to fund mammograms for women who might not otherwise get them.

Kate Nash
Tribune Reporter

SANTA FE - Patty Jennings did everything she was supposed to.

She got the mammograms, sometimes as frequently as every six months, and the regular checkups.

After she thought she had pulled a muscle in her right breast from helping her daughter move in September 2004, she waited a week, then saw her doctor.

"Something didn't feel right," she said.

It wasn't.

After nearly three months of tests, Jennings got the news she had breast cancer.

The executive director of the New Mexico Medical Insurance Pool, Jennings could afford good treatment.

But many women can't. And, Jennings, who is married to Roswell Democrat Sen. Tim Jennings, wants low-income women to get screened for breast cancer.

Tim Jennings is carrying a measure (SB 13) that would do just that. He believes it would save women's lives, not to mention health care costs.

"It does save, if there's no surgery, if they can catch it early," he said.

Patty Jennings certainly tried to catch whatever ailed her mysteriously that fall.

So she got a mammogram, a month ahead of her next regularly scheduled one.

Nothing showed up, but something still felt wrong.

An ultrasound came next, with no answer.

She repeated those tests, and then got an MRI.

It wasn't until she got that last technical and expensive test that cancer was diagnosed.

"It showed up pretty much everywhere," she said.

The couple got the news as they were driving outside their town that Christmas Eve.

"It was a real surprise. I was 49. It's more and more common, but certainly not something to be afraid of. If it's found early, it's treatable," she said.

Tim Jennings' measure would allocate $300,000 to the state Department of Health for the Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.

Rep. Rhonda King, a Stanley Democrat, is carrying a companion measure (HB 204) in the House. The American Cancer Society backs both bills.

The bill isn't the first related to breast cancer Jennings, a rancher, has introduced.

In the 1980s, he sponsored legislation that requires medical insurance companies to cover mammograms. It was one of probably hundreds of bills he's sponsored since he took office in 1979.

But the issue hit home when his wife was given the diagnosis.

"It hits you on top of the head," he said.

And, he said, mammograms are no guarantee against breast cancer.

"I always thought they were foolproof," he said. "They weren't."

Posted by Joel Gay at 09:30 AM |

Per Diem: The daily update

Miss some of the action Tuesday? Here's a quick update.

Fourth floor
The bull by the horns

Gov. Bill Richardson promised $12 million to build an indoor-outdoor equestrian facility for rodeo and horse events.

"It'll be an important part of growing New Mexico rodeo programs" and key to attracting professional rodeo events, Richardson said.

The new facility would house traditional rodeo events such as team roping and professional bull riding, as well as equestrian activities such as cutting, hunter-jumper shows and breed shows.

The money would be allocated from the governor's share of capital projects spending in a bill lawmakers will vote on later this session.

Numbers
420,000

Number of copies made on the third-floor copy machine at the Roundhouse, not including bills.

The figure includes House and Senate floor calendars, committee schedules and amendments.

If the number sounds high, Printing Services Manager Robert Rodriguez says it isn't.

"It starts to get busy about three days before the last day to introduce bills," Rodriguez said.

"It's still kind of slow."

They said it

"The only people who really haven't asked me for capital outlay are my two ex-wives."
Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, a Portales Republican, speaking about the flood of requests for money this session.

"I have never seen a tax I wouldn't cut."

House Minority Leader Ted Hobbs, an Albuquerque Republican, when asked about easing taxes on research and development.

"This whole project is very similar to the birth of the computer or the birth of the Internet, because nobody could really tell all that it would mean."
Secretary of Economic Development Rick Homans, on the proposed spaceport

In committee
Where there's smoke

Medicinal marijuana advocates have cleared the first hurdle in an uphill effort to get a bill through both houses of the Legislature during this year's short session.

The Senate Public Affairs Committee - the first of two Senate panels assigned to review it - endorsed the measure unanimously Tuesday.

It legalizes marijuana use by patients with debilitating illnesses, such as cancer or AIDS, whose doctors refer them to a program operated by the Department of Health.


Compiled by Kate Nash, Tamara N. Shope and Associated Press

Posted by bslakey at 08:43 AM |

More Minimum Wage

January 24, 2006

Commentary by Kate Nash

Senate President Ben Altamirano has introduced a bill to raise the minimum wage to $7.50 over three years.


Gov. Bill Richardson got his sponsor: Altamirano's bill (SB 449) has the provisions the governor said he'll support: a three-year phase in to $7.50, no tie to inflation and a five-year prohibition on cities other than Santa Fe from setting a minimum wage that's higher than the statewide minimum.


The measure puts Richardson and Altamirano at odds with House Speaker Ben Lujan. His bill (HB 258) would raise the wage to $7.50 next year and index it to inflation. It would let Santa Fe keep its minimum wage, which is $9.50 now.


Keep your eyes on this issue. It could be the one that keeps the Senate up all night come Feb. 15...

Posted by Kate Nash at 07:15 PM | | Comments (1)

Per Diem: The daily update

Missed some of the action Monday? Here's a quick update.

Numbers
20

That's the number of official state things New Mexico would have if measures introduced by Sens. John Ryan and John Grubesic become law.

New Mexico already has an official cookie, tree, gem, fish, reptile and fossil. It also has two official vegetables and an official question ("Red or green?").

Ryan, an Albuquerque Republican, wants to adopt "Simply Simpatico" as the state's official cookbook. He's introduced SB 278.

Grubesic, a Santa Fe Democrat, introduced SM 10, which would make cockfighting the state's official disgrace.

Fourth floor
Have my people call your people

Not everything big happens at the Roundhouse during the legislative session. In fact, many groups take advantage of lawmakers being in Santa Fe to host lavish breakfasts, dinners and receptions.

This morning, Gov. Bill Richardson was expected to speak at the Eldorado Hotel in Santa Fe to members of the Association of Commerce and Industry.

That's one of six events listed on the Legislature's social calendar for today.

Hallway chatter
Dee's back in town

Former first lady Dee Johnson passed through the Roundhouse on Monday.

She's got a new job working for the University of New Mexico Alumni Association to promote the renovation of Hodgin Hall.

Built in 1892, it was the university's first building.

Johnson, first lady for eight years, perhaps is best known for her work on a bill that outlawed smoking in the Capitol.

"I came to police how that is going," she joked.

They said it

"The powerful transportation chairman is telling the members if they are there on time, they are late."

House Speaker Ben Lujan, a Nambe Democrat

Lujan was speaking about Albuquerque Rep. Dan Silva, who was gently reminding committee members to try to be early to meetings, in hopes that they'd actually be there on time.

Compiled by Kate Nash

Posted by bslakey at 08:58 AM |

Officialdom

January 23, 2006

Commentary by Kate Nash


Senators would add two new things to the state's list of official things.


There's an official state flower, bird, reptile, amphibian, aircraft, fossil, nickname, question and cookie.


But there's no state cookbook.


Sen. John Ryan would change that. The Albuquerque Republican has introduced a measure that would adopt Simply Simpatico as the cookbook of New Mexico.


But he's not the only one wanting to add to the list this session.


Sen. John Grubesic, a Santa Fe Democrat, wants to make cockfighting the state's official disgrace...

Posted by Kate Nash at 03:38 PM | | Comments (2)

Don't spend that all in one place

Commentary by Kate Nash


Senate Republicans are pushing a plan that would send millions to taxpayers in the form of personal income tax rebates.

With millions in surplus revenue this year, lawmakers have come up with almost as ways to spend those dollars.


Senate Republicans, who calculate there is a billion in savings at stake this year, this morning put forth a plan on how to save some of that money.


Their plan: rebate a third, spend a third, save a third.


"Don't spend it all," said Sen. John Ryan, an Albuquerque Republican. "Not a billion dollars. Let's rebate a third of it, save a third and spend a third on the state's critical needs like education and protecting the public."


It remains to be seen how well the Republican's saving idea will go over this year, during which Gov. Bill Richardson and all 70 members of the House face re-election...

Posted by Kate Nash at 10:08 AM | | Comments (0)

Political Notebook: Keeping an open mind on open government

Commentary by Kate Nash

Bob Johnson has been fighting since 1991 to open conference committee meetings to the public eye. He thinks this might be the year it happens.

SANTA FE - It has been 18 years since Bob Johnson retired from his work as a newsman.

His duties included writing for radio broadcasts, editing sports stories and overseeing the Albuquerque bureau of the Associated Press.

That kind of career - one that centers on knowing what's going on in the world - is hard to get out of your system.

Johnson clearly hasn't done that.

Since 1991, he's been pushing for a measure at the Roundhouse that would open to the public and the media some of the last legally closed meetings in the state.

They are called conference committees, but the title doesn't matter much. That's a bureaucratic description for meetings during which the differences between the House- and Senate-passed versions of budget bills and others are hammered out.

Johnson, one of several founders of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, says there's no reason for them to be closed.

"With the turmoil and secrecy in government, from Congress to the state Treasurer's Office, this is the time for it," he said.

Lawmakers opposed to unlocking the meetings have said not much interesting happens in the meetings, that they are so mundane - and often so long - that not even reporters would attend.

They have said that if the public could attend, lawmakers would never get any work done, because they couldn't talk openly.

"They say it's like sausage, that you don't want to watch it being made," Johnson said. "That's baloney."

Johnson, 82, mostly soft-spoken but with a bit of a tough shell, is of the generation that remembers World War II. And Korea. And typewriters.

To say he has helped the New Mexico media hold public officials from Carlsbad to Espa¤ola accountable would be an understatement.

He has helped strengthen the state's Inspection of Public Records Act and the Open Meetings Act, key measures reporters rely on to get copies of documents and get into the meetings we're entitled to attend.

When I was a student journalist at the University of New Mexico, Johnson helped me get timely access to the most public of public records: police reports. That was just the first time of many that he came to my aid.

"We've had a lot of successes, but this is one we're still working on," Johnson said of the measure on open conference committees.

This could be the year.

Gov. Bill Richardson said he wants to open the committees, and he has placed the topic on his agenda for this 30-day session. Sen. Dede Feldman, an Albuquerque Democrat, and Rep. Joe Cervantes, a Las Cruces Democrat, are carrying the measures.

"The bottom line is to simply allow the public to see what goes on with the spending of public money," Feldman said.

Even with Richardson's support, getting the bill into law might not be easy. House Speaker Ben Lujan, a Democrat from Nambe, said he opposes the measure.

"There's so many different aspects of the budget bill, I don't see anything of benefit in opening it up," Lujan said. "We'd probably be here days because of people not wanting to take action one way or the other, and now we do it very quickly. I think it's working, and if it's not broken, don't fix it.

Johnson, who like many lobbyists, lawmakers and reporters has spent long hours driving to the Capitol and then hanging around waiting for bills to be heard, is determined.

"It's not going to be a piece of cake, but we're going to be there," he said. "We're going to go for it."

Johnson, and others from NMFOG and the New Mexico Press Association, support the bill, and lawmakers should, too.

Not just because it's the right thing to do, but maybe to honor Johnson and those like him who work to bring the public as much information as possible about what's going on in the world.

Posted by bslakey at 07:06 AM | | Comments (0)

Per diem: The daily update

January 21, 2006

Missed some of the action Friday? Here's a quick update.

Fourth floor
Help for the mentally ill

Gov. Bill Richardson said he'll support a measure that would allow family members or doctors of seriously mentally ill people to get a court order to require treatment if patients are a threat to themselves or their community.

"This law is about helping those who, sadly, are too sick to help themselves," said Rep. Joni Marie Gutierrez, a Las Cruces Democrat who is carrying the measure, HB 174.

Richardson said the bill is aimed at preventing tragedies like the August killings of five people in Albuquerque. A mentally ill man, John Hyde, has been charged with the slayings.

Numbers
$1 million

The amount Richardson is recommending for a city of Albuquerque program to spay and neuter pets.

The money would pay for mobile units that would help low-income pet owners who may not be able to get to a veterinarian's office.

"We must do more to end the pet overpopulation problem that has plagued so many communities," Richardson said. "I want to work with Mayor Martin Chavez and other advocates on a comprehensive approach to pet overpopulation."

On the floor
Three-day weekend.

Both the House and Senate recessed Friday. Some committees met, however, and got ready for the long haul ahead. Expect the pace to pick up Monday.

Hallway chatter
Smile!

Give Kids a Smile Day is scheduled for Feb. 3.

The rotunda will again be turned into a dental office, where needy children will get free dental screenings and dental goodie bags.

"Last year, most of the kids were so excited about their dental goodie bags that many took out their new toothbrushes and began practicing what they had just learned," said New Mexico Dental Association Assistant Director Elizabeth Price.

Compiled by Kate Nash

Posted by bslakey at 08:36 AM |

Rookie in a rush

January 20, 2006

Bill Rehm of Albuquerque was appointed to the House just last week. Now, in the first days of the session, he's scurrying to learn the basics.

By Kate Nash
Tribune Reporter

SANTA FE - The crash happened in the late 1980s, along a 25-mph stretch of Isleta Boulevard in Albuquerque's South Valley.

"All right, first lesson," says state Rep. Janice Arnold-Jones, an Albuquerque Republican, as she leads her new colleague, Albuquerque Republican Bill Rehm, by the hand to the start of work at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe. At right Wednesday - the first full day of the 30-day session - was Rep. Sandra Townsend, an Aztec Republican. The appointed Rehm is the only freshman in the House this session. (Steven St. John/Tribune)

High on heroin, the driver plowed straight through a turn in the road, killing a man changing a tire in a parking lot.

Bill Rehm wasn't there the moment it happened but can recite details of the case because he studied and recreated it as a Bernalillo County sheriff's deputy.

Of the hundreds of crashes he has studied, that one sticks out, in part because the driver told authorities he had shot up just 15 minutes earlier.

State law didn't allow the Sheriff's Department to charge the driver with drug possession, something Rehm, in his first week as a Republican state representative from Albuquerque's Northeast Heights, is determined to change.

"That was a real injustice," he said. "That family lost their father."

The Bernalillo County Commission appointed Rehm to the post last week to fill the vacancy left by Greg Payne, who resigned earlier this month to become Albuquerque's transit director.

The House has freshmen every other year, but Rehm is in a class by himself this year because of the timing of Payne's resignation.

Rehm has spent the session's first days getting acquainted with legislator-speak, trying to make sense of floor debates and committee schedules, and finding his way around the Roundhouse. And around.

His first and only measure so far would allow the state to charge drivers who have drugs in their system, but not physically on them or in their car, with possession.

"If we test you after any kind of accident and you come up positive, we'd charge you with possession," he said.

On Wednesday, the first full day of the session, Rehm spent much of the morning listening to a presentation on the planned spaceport while drafting his bill.

To get from the basement level, where the spaceport was being debated, Rehm took the public elevator, not the private one expressly for lawmakers like him.

Rep. Bill Rehm, an Albuquerque Republican and the only freshman in the House this session, goes over his schedule for the day with his secretary, Maggie Hefley. Rehm was appointed to the post last week. (Steven St. John/Tribune)

And after walking past her office the first time, Rehm enlisted the help of Jennie Lusk, one of several professionals on staff in the Roundhouse to help lawmakers draft bills.

Rehm worked with Lusk for about 20 minutes, fine-tuning the wording and mulling whether the bill should say "a drug that has been metabolized" or "a metabolized drug."

Lusk told Rehm that after she was done he'd find a copy of the bill in his drawer.

"OK." Laugh, a big smile. "Where's my drawer?"

Rehm has an idea for another bill but set it aside for this 30-day session, limited largely to budget matters. He hopes to be back for the 2007 session but faces election this fall, along with the other 69 House members.

"If I could get one bill through, that would be monumental," he said.

On Rehm's way back down to the House floor, Rep. Keith Gardner, a Republican from Roswell, shouted to him: "We're having that press conference in the rotunda at 2 p.m. You should go."

Sure, Rehm said, he'll go.

"Now show me which way is the rotunda?" Rehm whispered to a reporter at his side.

Rehm, 55 and grandfatherly, partly bald and with a made-for-a-detective-TV-show mustache, is a longtime law enforcer retired from the Sheriff's Department. He's now a private investigator and teaches police how to recreate crashes. He's married with two kids, and coaches soccer.

He put parts of his personal life on hold to become a lawmaker in a hurry. But this is what he signed up for.

Rep. Sandra Townsend, a Republican from Aztec who sits next to Rehm on the House floor, said learning intricacies of the Roundhouse can take a decade. Or three.

For 28 years before she was elected, Townsend attended meetings at the Capitol for her job as San Juan County clerk.

"I thought I knew it all. But there's a lot to learn," she said.

So Townsend, elected in 1995, said she'll lend Rehm a hand when he needs it.

He might need assistance with tasks like figuring out what each of the four buttons on his desk on the House floor do.

(Green is to vote yes, red for no, black is to get in line to speak, white to call his page if he needs anything.)

Rehm said he's catching on.

The hardest part so far?

"Getting totally up to speed in a week. I have been getting here early every day."

Posted by bslakey at 08:17 AM |

Per Diem: The daily update

Missed some of the action Thursday? Here's a quick summary.

The fourth floor
Rocket man

Calling it "NASCAR in space," Gov. Bill Richardson announced that the Rocket Racing League, an aerospace entertainment organization, will locate its headquarters in Las Cruces.

The organization, which is developing low-altitude, rocket-powered aircraft racing, also plans to have facilities at the proposed $225 million spaceport in Sierra County that Richardson is pushing for this session.

The Rocket Racing League plans to fly 10 rocket planes in races in cities around the country in 2007, with finals in New Mexico in conjunction with the X Prize Cup competition.

Bill watch
In the blood

Anyone arrested on felony charges in New Mexico would have to give a DNA sample under bills introduced in the House and Senate.

The measures, HB 130 and SB 216, were endorsed by the mother of Katie Sepich, a New Mexico State University student who was raped and murdered in 2003.

Some 25,000 DNA samples are already in the state's database and another 7,000 could be added each year, Department of Public Safety Secretary John Denko said.

Gov. Bill Richardson has agreed to put the measure on the agenda for this 30-day session.

On the floor
Bed tax repeal, part one

The Senate unanimously approved a bill that would repeal the state's $8.80-per-day bed tax. Sen. Tim Jennings, a Roswell Democrat, sponsored the measure, SB 88.

His isn't the only repeal measure out there.

Sen. Rod Adair, a Roswell Republican, has also introduced a bill to repeal the tax - and to pay back the taxes collected since 2004 to the nursing home patients who've been paying it.

The Senate later recessed until Monday.

Hallway chatter
How rainy is that rainy day?

The Legislative Finance Committee, the governor and House Republicans all say the state should sock away some of the state's oil and gas tax windfall. The question is how much.

The Republicans say the Legislature should deposit $200 million in a permanent fund that will generate money for future needs.

The Legislative Finance Committee is advocating a similar move but recommending $125 million. Richardson has recommended that about $100 million be stockpiled in the state's cash reserves.

OK to Ohkay

House Joint Memorial 14 recognizes the new formal name of San Juan Pueblo: Ohkay Owingeh.

The measure honors the pueblo's original Tewa name. Leaders of the northern New Mexico pueblo earlier this year decided to go back to that name.

Numbers
$38,000

The amount that would be spent on a "graffiti detective" to investigate wall-scrawlers under a measure introduced by Rep. Miguel Garcia, an Albuquerque Democrat.

"The escalation of graffiti in our community has prompted me to seek legislative funding for under-funded anti-graffiti needs in the South Valley," he said.


They said it

"We should kiss goodbye the days where an individual can pull out a wad of cash from his pocket and give it to a politician. That's embarrassing and that should never happen again," Sen. Dede Feldman, an Albuquerque Democrat, at a news conference to support changes in state campaign reporting laws, including a ban on cash donations of more than $100.

Compiled by Kate Nash, Associated Press

Posted by bslakey at 08:04 AM |

Priority No. 1

January 19, 2006

Commentary by Kate Nash

First bill to land on Governor's desk is the one that pays for the Legislative session.

They don't call it House Bill 1 for nothing.


Both the House and Senate have already passed HB 1, the so-called feed bill.
The measure allocates $17.5 million for the session and year-round legislative operations.

Richardson said he hasn't seen the bill yet.
It's the first one that's awaiting his signature this session.

Posted by Kate Nash at 05:20 PM | | Comments (0)

Bed tax looking like thing of the past

Commentary by Kate Nash

The Senate has voted unanimously to repeal a two-year old bed tax.

It usually takes a few days before the 42 members of the Senate get any big bills passed.

But they've already passed a measure to repeal the $8.80 daily charge to nursing home patients, something Gov. Bill Richardson said he would support doing this year.


Sen. Tim Jennings, a Democrat from Roswell, sponsored the bill.


He said the state's general fund will pick up the $20 million in income the tax generates for the state.


"We can fund that revenue stream with other State funds and do away with the misery tax," he said.


Republicans since 2004 have tried to repeal the tax. A competing measure would pay the tax collected so far back to those who have paid it.


The Senate later recessed until Monday.

Posted by Kate Nash at 02:26 PM | | Comments (0)

Per Diem: The daily update

Missed some of the action Wednesday? Here's a quick summary.

Bill watch

Smoking gun

Gov. Bill Richardson has put a measure that would allow qualified patients to use marijuana for medical purposes on his list of tasks for lawmakers this session.

"After speaking with many seriously ill New Mexicans, I have decided to include this bill on my call," Richardson said Wednesday.

Last year, a measure to allow medicinal marijuana passed the Senate but died in the House when the session ended.

Under the bill, those who suffer from serious illnesses such as cancer could use marijuana with their doctor's recommendation.

On the floor

Let's get the party started

Tradition has it that whoever introduces the 100th bill on the House or Senate floor must throw a party.

This year's lucky winners: Rep. Larry Larrañaga in the House and co-sponsors Sens. Cynthia Nava and Mary Kay Papen in the Senate.

Larrañaga said he hasn't given much thought to where or when he'll hold his fiesta. The senators say they're going for a space theme, in honor of the planned spaceport in Sierra County.

There have already been requests that Sen. Joe Carraro bring his karaoke machine.

Numbers

420

The number of bills introduced in the House and Senate so far.

The deadline for introduction is Feb. 1. Lawmakers have until noon Feb. 16 to approve, reject, debate, stall or ignore measures before them.

Hallway chatter

Talk is cheap - at least cheaper than a letter

The feed bill, which covers the costs of the session and year-round legislative operations, includes $42,200 for postage. That's 108,205 39-cent stamps.

The bill was approved by the House on Wednesday.

They said it

Getting clued in

"I'd like to have some sort of a clue as to what we're doing here."

- Rep. Dan Foley, a Roswell Republican, during floor debate on the feed bill.

Foley wanted a spreadsheet explaining where the approximately $17 million in spending on the session and year-round legislative expenses goes.

He later got the sheet, and the bill was approved.


Posted by bslakey at 10:48 AM |

Danger Bill Richardson! Danger Bill Richardson!

Call it "Lost in Spaceport." The Legislature spent much of Wednesday on this year's big economic development proposal. Here's the AP's take on the questioning by skeptics.

By Deborah Baker
The Associated Press

SANTA FE - The Richardson administration is urging lawmakers to support a state-built spaceport in southern New Mexico, while skeptics question the risk of investing in what one called a "chancy venture."

The state could be "the birthplace of the second space age" if it builds the proposed $225 million facility in the high desert of Sierra County, Economic Development Secretary Rick Homans told legislators Wednesday.

Some lawmakers wondered whether needy New Mexico wouldn't be better off spending its oil-and-gas windfall on such basic items as education, health care or more down-to-earth economic development.

And in lengthy question-and-answer sessions in the Senate and House, some critics worried about runaway costs and suggested state government didn't have any business taking risks with public money.

Gov. Bill Richardson wants a $135 million commitment from the state: $100 million over the next three years from capital projects funds, $25 million this year from a state transportation program and $10 million already appropriated for spaceport-related projects.

The other $90 million would come from a mix of federal and local funds. Counties and municipalities would be authorized by the Legislature to ask voters to raise gross receipts taxes by amounts ranging from one-sixteenth of a cent to one-half of a cent.

Homans said many local officials - particularly in Do¤a Ana and Sierra counties - will push for the tax increases, and he predicted $30 million to $50 million could be raised that way.

U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, an Albuquerque Republican, has promised federal help.

The $225 million would cover basic infrastructure, such as roads, water and a runway that could eventually be 12,000 feet long, Homans said.

British tycoon Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic says it would move its headquarters to the spaceport and launch a space tourism industry from the site. Homans said Virgin Galactic would be an "anchor tenant" but other companies would also pay to use it.

Virgin Galactic's headquarters - projected to employ 200 people - would be built by issuing bonds the company would pay off over 20 years under a lease agreement. Lease payments in the first five years would be capped at $1 million.

The British company plans to take tourists - six passengers and two pilots - about 70 miles into space on 2-hour, suborbital trips that will initially cost $100,000.

"What we're talking about here is not just taking rich people into space," but rather the beginning of a commercially viable space travel industry, said Virgin Galactic President Will Whitehorn.

Former Gov. Garrey Carruthers, dean of the College of Business Administration at New Mexico State University, said if New Mexico doesn't do it, some other state will.

"This is an infant industry and you need to be patient," Carruthers said. "This will take a while . . . but the payoff could be grand."

A study done for the Economic Development Department by Futron Corp. predicted the spaceport could net the state $752 million in revenue and up to about 5,800 new jobs by 2020.

Homans reminded lawmakers there has been bipartisan support for a spaceport for the past 15 years; now the technology has made it feasible, he said.

Virgin Galactic was formed after SpaceShipOne, designed by Burt Rutan and funded by Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen, became the first privately manned rocket to reach space last year and went on to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize. Virgin Galactic has made a deal with Rutan to build five spacecraft.

Lawmakers questioned why threatened Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis or the former Walker Air Force Base near Roswell couldn't be used for a spaceport.

Whitehorn said while they may be able to be used in the short term, the restricted airspace over the adjacent White Sands Missile Range makes the proposed site the best in the nation for a space tourism industry.

Posted by bslakey at 10:37 AM |

Year of The What?

January 18, 2006

Commentary by Kate Nash

Republican lawmakers suggest this could be the year of the apology.

Gov. Bill Richardson has dubbed this the Year of The Child.

But Rep. Keith Gardner, a Republican from Roswell, has another theme in mind.

"We heard yesterday about what this year is. We want it to be the year of the apology -- an apology to the people we've taken from," he said.

Gardner and other Republicans want the apology because of the nearly $9-a-day bed tax that residents of nursing homes have been paying since 2004. He and others have introduced a bill that would repeal the tax and return the $10 million they say has been collected in bed taxes to the people who paid it.

Richardson on Tuesday said he'd support repealing the tax. He didn't mention paying anyone back.

Gardner isn't the first to re-name the already-named year.

Another title floating around the Capitol includes 2006: Space Odyssey, a dig at the planned spaceport in Sierra County.

Posted by Kate Nash at 04:22 PM | | Comments (0)

LIVE from ... Santa Fe?

Commentary by Kate Nash

Senator to introduce a bill to webcast lawmakers.

Those who want to can watch meetings of the Albuquerque City Council or the Bernalillo County Commission live on their computers.


Yesterday, anyone interested could have seen Gov. Bill Richardson's state of the state speech without turning on a television.


But policy wonks and those who maybe have trouble sleeping can't watch the Legislature live.


That's because Gov. Bill Richarson last year vetoed a measure that would have funded webcasts of the meetings in the Capitol.


Sen. Mark Boitano, an Albuquerque Republican, said it's not right that Richardson is broadcast, but lawmakers aren't.


"I think it is great to have the state- of- the state speech on the web for the world to see, but I think New Mexicans should have been given the right to view the proceedings of what the legislature is doing," Boitano said.

"It is not only "The Governor Bill Richardson Show" up here, what the legislature does is important, too. We are a branch of government."

Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said Richardson objected to the money because it was in a measure that was meant to be a recurring expenditure, not in a bill that funds the operations of the Legislature.

"Expenses related to legislative sessions should be addressed in the annual budget for the session, not as an ongoing expense in a general spending bill," he said.

The cost to the state for webcasting the speech was minimal, the Governor's Office said, because it was able to tap into video from KNME, Channel 5.

Boitano plans to re-introduce his measure this session to fund the webcasts.

So, stay tuned, literally...

Posted by Kate Nash at 11:11 AM | | Comments (0)

Ambitious agenda

Democrats says the governor's plans for expanded preschool, tax cuts and a phased-in raising of the minimum wage are doable. Republicans say not so fast.

By Kate Nash
Tribune Reporter

SANTA FE - It took Gov. Bill Richardson 44 minutes to outline what he wants accomplished this legislative session.

It took key lawmakers much less time Tuesday to predict whether they can get his long list done in the next 29 days.

The verdict? That depended in large part on whether they share the same party as Richardson, a first-term Democrat who faces re-election this fall.

Jacob Bultman, 8, stops to check out the statues in the Capitol Rotunda entryway. Earlier Tuesday, Gov. Bill Richardson outlined his proposals for the Legislature in what he has dubbed the "Year of the Child." They include expanding a pilot preschool program started last year, insuring more children under Medicaid and increasing the percentage of children who are fully immunized. (Steven St. John/Tribune)

"I'd say if he can get half done, that's pretty good," said Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, a Portales Republican.

"It's easier to talk about programs sometimes than to really get to knowing how to fix them, and we have to be real careful (because) just plain throwing money at something doesn't always fix it," he said.

On the other side of the Capitol, House Speaker Ben Lujan said much of the governor's agenda could be approved.

"We feel that a major part of what he has asked us to do for the benefit of New Mexicans is very doable," said Lujan, a Namb‚ Democrat.

Richardson's agenda for the 30-day session that started Tuesday includes expanding preschool programs launched last year, tax credits for low- and middle-income families, and tougher penalties for methamphetamine users.

The governor also said in his State of the State address Tuesday that he'd like to allocate money for a proposed spaceport in Sierra County and increase the state's minimum wage to $7.50 over three years.

Ingle and other lawmakers are in session primarily to pass a $5.1 billion budget. There is plenty of money available, thanks to increased oil and gas revenues: $529 million more than last year's budget and $1.4 billion for capital projects.

Although the governor sets the agenda for the session, he is relying on the Democrats, who hold a majority in both chambers, to support his key initiatives.

They already differ on raising the minimum wage. Richardson said he'll ask House and Senate leaders to phase in the increase over three years, lifting the state's minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.50 in 2009.

Gov. Bill Richardson greets supporters after giving his State of the State speech. The Legislature opened this year's 30-day session Tuesday. (Steven St. John/Tribune)

His plan would allow Santa Fe to keep its minimum wage, which is now $9.50 for the largest businesses. It would prohibit other cities from raising the wage on their own for five years.

"If we are to continue building a high-wage economy, which I am intent on doing, we need a meaningful wage for an honest day's work," Richardson said.

Lujan, on the other hand, is pushing to raise the wage to $7.50 an hour without a phase-in.

"I feel the increase is needed now," he said.

Republicans, including House Minority Whip Terry Marquardt, aren't keen on the idea.

"While minimum wage is important to families, and it's important to beginning the ladder of success, there is no elevator to success, and we can't create a false position by just creating a minimum wage," said Marquardt, an Alamogordo Republican.

"If we really were serious about creating job opportunities for New Mexicans, we would get serious about job training and quality of education," he said.

Overall, Marquardt predicted about 2,000 measures would be introduced this session and roughly 200 would pass.

In the last 30-day session in 2004, Richardson signed 126 measures approved by the House and Senate. In all, 1,253 were introduced.

As for Richardson's plan to ask lawmakers to appropriate $100 million in capital outlay money during the next three years for a spaceport in southern New Mexico, Ingle said he's looking for more details on the proposal.

"I want to really have some things explained to me before I appropriate money for the next three years," he said.

The $100 million would come from the $1.4 billion in capital outlay spending that's available this year. The administration is also seeking $25 million in transportation funding for roads related to the spaceport.

Lawmakers are scheduled to receive a briefing from Economic Development Secretary Rick Homans this morning in a joint session of the House and Senate.

Posted by suevo at 11:00 AM |

How it works

By The Associated Press

What happens after the Legislature convenes:

Bill introductions

Lawmakers will introduce hundreds of bills, along with nonbinding memorials and resolutions proposing amendments to the New Mexico Constitution. In the last 30-day session, 1,253 bills were introduced; 140 passed the House and Senate; 126 of those were signed into law by the governor; 14 were vetoed.

Committees

Committees are the workhorses of the Legislature, holding public hearings to consider the pros and cons of measures. Some bills will be assigned to several committees for consideration. Procedurally, it's harder for a bill to clear the legislative process if it's assigned to a large number of committees.

Committees can approve or reject measures or advance them "without recommendation." A committee can also effectively kill a bill by setting the proposal aside, sometimes called "tabling."

Floor sessions

The House and Senate meet in floor sessions to debate and vote on legislation. Joint sessions are usually held for ceremonial events.

Bill deadline

Bills approved by both the House and Senate - in exactly the same version - go to the governor. There are different deadlines for the governor to act, however. For bills passed during the final three days of the session, the governor has 20 days after the Legislature adjourns to sign, veto or let measures die by not acting on them. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn Feb. 16.

Bills sent to the governor at any other time during the session must be signed or vetoed by the governor within three days - otherwise the measure automatically becomes law. The Legislature can override the governor's veto by a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate.

Posted by suevo at 11:00 AM |

PerDiem: The Roundhouse report

By Kate Nash
Tribune Reporter

Surprise of the day

Listen to your mother

Gov. Bill Richardson announced he's supporting repeal of the so-called nursing home bed tax, which Republicans have tried to repeal for two years.

House Minority Whip Terry Marquardt, an Alamogordo Republican, wondered what made Richardson go for the change.

"I doubt if it was my mother, who is in a nursing home and pays over $5,000 in fees every month, $300 of that is in nursing bed tax. . . . I doubt it was that, but whatever it was, my mother and I thank him."

In committee

Feeding the beast

The House Appropriations and Finance Committee met and approved a measure to spend $4.2 million on this session and another $13.3 million on year-round legislative operations. The full House must consider the measure, referred to as the "feed bill."

Hallway chatter

Vote for me!

Three people running for governor were at the Roundhouse for opening day Tuesday: incumbent Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson and Republican challengers J.R. Damron, a Santa Fe radiologist, and George Bailey Jr., an Edgewood educator.

Both Richardson and Damron gave speeches. Both, coincidentally, are married to women named Barbara.

The primary is June 6.

By the numbers

263: The number of lobbyists registered for this session, according to the Secretary of State's Office.

Number of lawmakers: 112.

They said it

"And now, your favorite part of the speech, the conclusion."

- Gov. Bill Richardson, wrapping up his State of the State address

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Posted by suevo at 11:00 AM |

Full text of Richardson's State of the State address

Governor Bill Richardson today presented his fourth State of the State address to New Mexicans. The text follows:


I. Introduction

To Lt. Governor Denish, Senate Pro Tem Altamirano, and Speaker Lujan;

To Senator Bingaman and Congressman Udall;

To Pueblo Governors and President Shirley;

To Democratic and Republican leaders, members of the Legislature, and members of the judiciary;

To the former Governors, distinguished guests, and our First Lady, my wife, best friend, and lifelong partner, Barbara;

And to my fellow New Mexicans: Thank you and welcome.

II. Mission Statement Bringing People Together to Move New Mexico Forward

I stand before you today the proud governor of a state that is strong, and growing stronger by the day.

New Mexico is moving forward, away from the past where the status quo was accepted, where arcane policies held us back, and where gridlock impeded our progress.

We are moving forward towards a future full of promise, opportunity, and a greater quality of life for every person.

A future where every child can grow up healthy, attend world-class schools, go to a good college, get a good-paying job, and raise their family right here in New Mexico.

And a future where we can invest in people, not programs; opportunities, not bureaucracy; and where we can demand responsibility and accountability from ourselves and from every citizen.

We have not reached our destination yet. But we are well on our way.

Weve made promises, and weve kept them. For the child in Clovis, the single mom in Las Cruces, the retiree in Gallup, the father with two jobs and too little time for his family in Chama, and so many morewe owe it to every New Mexican to continue our path.

Who we are defines what we do.

We are pro-growth and pro-business: Weve used our entrepreneurial spirit to create jobs, to cut taxes for every New Mexican and for small businesses, and to bring cutting edge industry to our statesuch as film and media, aviation and aerospace, and groundbreaking high-tech businesses.

We are westerners too: our heritage and respect for individual rights has helped us preserve and protect our land, water, and air. We have a fierce regard for culture and tradition, and even more so for personal responsibility. We dont wait for others to act, we do it ourselves.

We are diverse: were a multi-cultural capital that, in many ways, resembles the future of our country. In the past, we were disregarded, ignored, or considered as outsiders. But thats why we all know the importance of opening doors, investing in opportunity, and giving a helping hand. Its why we focus so much on improving education, job training, homeownership, and economic opportunity.

The results speak for themselves. Better schools, better jobs, more money in peoples pockets, and a healthier, safer New Mexico.

Its a great start. But weve got plenty more to do, and together were going to get it done.

The budget I propose this year builds on these accomplishments, and builds a stronger foundation for our future. Its bold, balanced, and fiscally responsible. There will be no feeding frenzy on tax dollars this year.

I believe that government has an obligation to be fiscally responsible, and be prepared for unforeseen events or economic downturns. Thats why we need to put money away. I also believe that when government has the resources, it should return those resources to taxpayers, invest in people, and invest in the future.

The budget I propose meets both of these critical goals.

It preserves the largest surplus in New Mexico historymore than $500 million dollars. It would keep our budget reserves at 10 percent, and strengthen our already terrific bond rating. And with this budget, I will continue to fight against reckless spending, and demand accountability for taxpayers money.

Our budget will also invest in people, and in our futuretowards education, health care, public safety, and job growth. We want to make our schools even better, make college more affordable, keep kids healthier and safer, and make our high-wage economy even stronger.

III. Year of the Child

In New Mexico, 2006 is the Year of the Child.

I want to thank the Lt. Governor for her leadership in supporting and protecting children.

In this session, we will make important choices about our future. We will reinforce our commitment to New Mexicos children, and to generations yet to comean enduring legacy to last long past these 30 days.

When I was a young boy, my mother helped bridge my connection between two cultures as I grew up. My abuelita (my grandmother) made sure I went to catechism and made me say my prayers each night. And my father pushed me to stay focused on school, demanding results along the way.

Later, in college, I remember professors who helped me realize my potential and ignited my intellectual curiosity.

If none of these things had happened, I doubt Id be standing here before you today. (Maybe some of you would have liked it better that way)

But I am here with all of you. And each one of us would most likely not be here today, but for the grace and guidance of othersparents, teachers, mentors, role models.

And now, its our duty to repay the debt we owe those who have helped us along the way. We owe it to the generations that followthe kids across this stateto create better schools, better communities, and an even better place to live, work, and raise a family.

MAKING SCHOOLS WORK

We start by making our schools work.

Weve made a lot of progress in the last three years, earning a top ten ranking in standards and accountability. Our efforts to improve teacher quality rank 17th in the nationup from 30th. Weve moved up seven spots for teacher salaries, and created voluntary pre-kindergarten opportunities for 1,500 children. But were not done yet.

Making schools work requires strong partnerships, among parents, teachers, administrators, schools, community leaders, lawmakers, and the business communitystarting at the beginning.

Kids who have access to pre-kindergarten have a better chance to succeed in school, get into college, and get a good-paying job later in life. However, we also know that too many of our children begin school under-prepared. Instead of a head start in life, theyre too often already a step behind. The achievement gap in our schools exists for many kids before they even start Kindergarten.

To ensure this doesnt happen in New Mexico, I propose to expand access to Pre-Kindergarten, double the funding, and serve nearly 3,000 kids statewide. Many of the staunchest critics are now supporters. And many providers, who were once skeptical of pre-K, are now declaring it a success and calling for access for more kids.

Rapid growth is a good signa sign of economic progress and job creation. But when some schools are 50 percent above capacity, that simply doesnt work. Teachers struggle to teach, kids find it hard to learn, and our schools fall behind. We wont let this happen, because we can invest now, and build schools in high growth areas in rural and urban New Mexicoin places like Deming, Las Cruces, Gadsden, Rio Rancho, and Los Lunas.

And there must be accountability in the process. Schools will be built on budget, and on time.

In addition to investing in new schools in high-growth areas, we also want to modernize and improve existing schools across the state. At the end of this four year span, working together with this Legislature, we will have invested more than $1 billion dollars in newer, better, and more modern schools. One-billion dollars.

We also need to recruit and retain quality teachers. Weve made great strides in New Mexico, but we have more work to do. Thats why Im calling for a 6 percent pay increase for all teachers and instructional personnel. Coupled with our innovative three-tier licensure system, New Mexico will not only have quality teachers, but will also hold them accountable for results.

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of announcing the grades New Mexico received in the 2006 Quality Counts report card. The good news is that were seeing positive resultsranking higher than most states for standards and accountability, improving teacher quality and resource equity.

These grades are proven indicators of better student performance and critical first steps to successful schools.

However, despite our progress, we still have more work to do.

One glaring weakness in our schools is parental involvement. We need to break down the barriers between parents and schools, to reach out, to engage moms, dads and in many cases, grandparents who are called into action to raise their grandchildren.

My budget proposes innovative strategies to involve parents in their kids education. We need effective partnerships with parents to make our schools work.

Too often our schools are plagued with bureaucratic obstacles that stand in the way of success. To make sure New Mexico students are fully prepared, I call for a new commitment to match high school curricula with college entrance exams. The tests to get out of high school should match the tests to get into college.

While it is a positive sign that more students are on track to get a college education, many cannot afford the rising costs of tuition.

I call for the Legislature to join me in supporting a major investment in the College Affordability endowment that we created last year. The endowment would generate money for need-based scholarships for students who cannot afford college tuition. This investment could help nearly 40-thousand students in New Mexicoincluding non-traditional students, like the 65-year old woman I met recently who just graduated from law school.

Every New Mexican should have the opportunity to take advantage of higher education.

For those students whose career path may not include college, we have a responsibility to provide equal opportunities to succeed. We will continue developing and supporting Career Technical Centers and Vocational Charter High Schools to provide technical training and 21st Century career skills.

HEALTHY KIDS

For kids to be successful in school, we must first ensure that they grow up healthy.

Weve made great strides in keeping New Mexicos kids healthyimproving the immunization rate from near the bottom up to 15th in the country, putting more doctors and nurses in our schools, and enrolling more families in the states affordable health insurance plan. But we need to do more.

A healthy start includes immunization. Five years ago, only 61 percent of our kids were immunized. Now, were up to 85 percent, thanks in large part to the tremendous efforts from our wonderful First Lady, my wife, Barbara. But we cant rest on our success. We should aim to immunize every child. And one way to help get there is dispatching more shot teams to regions around the state.

A healthy start also includes health insurance. Unfortunately, too many of our kids dont have it 21,000 kids 5 years old or younger. This is unacceptable, and no one in this room should tolerate it. Which is why we should work toward the goal of insuring all kids under 5 years old.

Physical activity and nutrition are also critical elements to keeping New Mexicos children healthy and fit.

Every elementary student in New Mexico should have access to physical education at least once a day. Research shows a direct link between academic success and physical fitness. So I propose that we hire 200 additional physical education teachers for our schools.

We should also ensure that every elementary student can have a healthy breakfast every day, without exception.

Additional before- and after- school programs will also help decrease child obesity, expand physical activity, and increase parent and community involvement in schools. The economic burden of chronic disease associated with obesity costs New Mexico $324 million dollars a year. The price of inaction on this issue is simply too high. We know what we need to do, and we will do it.

And, finally, in the Year of the Child, we will get junk food out of our schools. Get it all out.

Its bad for kids, bad for their academic performance, and even worse for their health. Were setting standards this month to get junk food out of elementary schools, eliminate carbonated drinks from middle schools, and require healthy snacks in both middle and high schools.

I want to acknowledge the tremendous efforts of Senator Jeff Bingaman on this issue. His leadership on the federal level has been an essential part of our progress.

A SAFER NEW MEXICO

While keeping New Mexicos children healthy is critical, the most sacred responsibility that I havethat we all haveis to keep children safe. Sadly, too often the scourge of gangs, drugs, sex offenders, and child abuse creeps into our neighborhoods and communities. These are constant threats, and we must remain vigilant. I will not tolerate anything less than a full commitment to making New Mexico safe for our children and our families.

We will continue to attack the meth problem, and its root causes. Meth is one of the fastest growing threats to our kids. Its a public safety problem, a health problem, and an economic problem. Weve already taken strong action, and shut down more than 400 meth labs. But there is more to do. And while weve seen a decline in meth-related deaths, we must continue our fight against meth.

We want to increase penalties for the sale of meth, or intent to sell, and make it the same criminal level as other lethal drugs like heroin and cocaine. We should create a statewide registry of meth-affected properties so that homebuyers, homeowners, and neighbors dont unknowingly endanger themselves or their families. And treatment should be provided for the first time for meth addictsso people have the chance to overcome the terrible grip of addiction.

We must toughen penalties for sex offendersincluding life in prison without the possibility for parole for sex crimes against children, even for first time offenders when necessary. Because we cannot risk putting our children in danger.

As kids get older, gangs and drugs threaten to become part of their lives. But we will fight this every step of the way. We need to strengthen sentences for anyone convicted of gang-related crimes, and toughen penalties for recruiting minors into gangs. And kids need more access to constructive activities, like expanded after-school and summer literacy programs.

IV. Moving New Mexico Forward

While our primary focus is New Mexicos children, we cannot neglect our responsibilities on other critical issues, like jobs, health care, energy, environment, and public safety. There is too much momentum and too much opportunity to just sit back and rest on our successes. So, in addition to the Year of the Child agenda, I want to lay out five critical challenges we must tackle.

ECONOMY

The first is our economy. Weve charged ahead with our states economic progressbringing us into the 21st Century, and becoming a national leader in job growth. Together, weve:

Helped put 50,000 more New Mexicans to work since taking office
Cut taxes for high-tech companies, small businesses, and middle- and low-income families
Eliminated the food tax, and the tax on most medical services
Provided gasoline rebates and home-heating assistance
Expanded trade with Asia and Mexico dramatically
And increased business start-ups and expanded Main Street Program investments to 28 communities
But now, we must not stop our bold reforms and aggressive changes. We simply cant afford the status quo.

So we will keep pushing forward with additional tax cuts.

The centerpiece of our tax-cut package is the New Mexico Working Families Tax Creditmodeled after the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, which has a 30-year record of success and wide bipartisan support. We could help as many as 150-thousand middle- and low-income families, especially those with children. This tax credit will reward work, and help working familieswho earn between $12-thousand and $36-thousand dollars. These families are the heart and soul of our economy, and our communities.

We also want to continue to make it easier to do business in New Mexico -- by eliminating the gross receipts tax on hospitals, targeting small, rural communities, and easing the tax burden on small businesses.

The surcharge on nursing homes has bridged the gap created by the federal governments refusal to help elderly New Mexicans with their healthcare needs. Now its time to repeal that surcharge.

We will continue to build strong economic momentumlike the cutting edge agreement the State negotiated with Virgin Galactic to build the worlds first spaceport for commercial space flight. Its a promising endeavor for New Mexico, with a projected long-term economic impact of $752 million dollars and nearly 5,800 jobs.

The Spaceportperhaps more than any other projectrepresents the future of economic development. It serves as a symbol of our aggressive efforts, a calling for future leaders in science and technology, and as an inspiration for the American entrepreneurial spirit.

We will also continue building, promoting, and growing our film and media arts industry. Our efforts have already yielded thousands of jobs for New Mexicans, $500 million dollars in economic impact, and nearly 40 feature film productions since I took office.

We will create the Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit. This will encourage cutting edge advanced energy technology firms to make New Mexico their homefostering a clean high-wage industry, creating good jobs, and protecting our natural resources.

We should double the funding for the Economic Development Partnership, which has already been responsible for 10 relocation deals, nearly 3,500 high-wage jobs, and $123 million dollars in new investment in the two years since it began.

I am also supporting an innovative, bipartisan initiative that encourages working New Mexicans to save money in an effort to boost home ownership and educational opportunities. The idea is for the state to contribute to Family Opportunity Accounts, which will benefit working, low-income families who open a bank account, place regular savings into that account and successfully complete a financial literacy course.

Finally, in New Mexico, it is time to enact a meaningful increase for the minimum wage. Put simply, it makes good economic sense. Now, I know this is a contentious issue, but it doesnt have to be divisive. I will work together with the different stakeholders, and I am sensitive to the business community. But if we are to continue building a high-wage economywhich I am intent on doingwe need a meaningful wage for an honest days work. So, I will support a phased increase to $7-dollars and 50-cents an hour.

Another important element of our economic development efforts is transportation. The original GRIP program is creating thousands of good-paying jobs and millions of dollars in new investment all over the state. We must continue this progress.

I am calling for GRIP IIa partnership with local communities, designed to help fund much-needed road projects in every part of the state. This kind of investment is good for New Mexico businesses; it sparks job growth; and creates safer, cleaner roads and highways.

A critical aspect of our economy that we cannot, and must not, forget about is Cannon Air Force Base. Cannon represents the cornerstone of eastern New Mexicos economy. Last year, despite the Pentagons recommendation to close it and the long odds we faced, we managed to keep Cannon openat least until 2010. I personally met with every member of the BRAC Commission. And worked together with our congressional delegation to make sure we honored the men and women who serve at Cannon with our best effort. I want to pay a special thanks to Senators Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman, and Congressman Tom Udall, as well as the rest of the New Mexico congressional delegation. I also want to thank and acknowledge the tremendous work done by the Clovis and Portales community.

The key now is finding a new mission for Cannon. Its vitally important that we move as quickly as possible to resolve this, provide continuity, and give some assurance to local businesses and communities. Ive met with Air Force officials to discuss possible solutions, and let them know that the state is prepared to do everything we can and provide whatever assistance is needed to secure a permanent mission for Cannon. Today, I ask the Legislature for the resources to double the size of the basewhich will help increase the opportunities for new missions.

HEALTH CARE

The second challenge impacts everyonefixing health care in New Mexico.

We want to expand eligibility for child care in New Mexico to help serve an additional 1,000 families. We know that quality, affordable child care is one of the most significant ways to allow parents to retain good-paying jobs and to pursue continuing education. Its good for families, good for the health of our state, and good for our economy.

We also want to expand prenatal care to help get an additional 1,200 pregnant women the assistance they need. This is a critical health and quality of life need, and should not be overlooked.

Our medical life-saving services must also be improved. We will improve our states three existing trauma centers in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Farmington; and help other medical centers expand much-needed trauma capacity.

Additionally, we are expanding health services through bold initiatives with Telehealthhelping get more services to more New Mexicans in rural communities.

HONORING OUR MILITARY

Our third challenge is making sure we are there to help the men and women of our military, and their families.

We will renew our commitment to provide $400-thousand dollars in life insurance for every active duty member of New Mexicos National Guard. Since we began this effort one year ago, Im proud to report that not only has the federal government finally increased the military death benefit, but nearly 40 states have also pursued similar initiatives to help our military families.

As New Mexicos military men and women remain in harms way around the world, the toll on soldiers and their families becomes clearer every day. We hope and pray that they all come home safe. But we know that is not always the case. Since September 11th, weve lost 16 soldiers in Iraq, and 4 others in Afghanistan.

New Mexico National Guard Sgt Marshal Westbrook
Marine Lance Cpl Chad Robert Hildebrandt
Private First Class Lori Piestewa
Private First Class Mario Reyes
Army Cpl Lyle Cambridge
Air Force Special Forces 1st Lt Jeremy Fresques
Reserve Marine Lance Cpl Jonathan Grant
Army Staff Seargeant Joseph Rodriguez
Marine Cpl Christopher Adlesperger
Army Specialist Jeremy Christensen
Army Specialist Christopher Merville
Marine Sgt Moses Rocha
Army Sgt Tommy Gray
Marine Lance Cpl Aaron Austin
Marine Lance Cpl Christopher Ramos
Army Specialist James Heath Pirtle
Air Force Major Steven Plumhoff
Air Force 1st Lt Tamara Long Archuleta
Army Sgt 1st Class Christopher James Speer
Senior Airman Jason Cunningham

We all owe them, and their families, a debt of gratitude that we can never repay. But we can honor them by forever remembering their sense of duty, their heroism, and their selflessness.

Please join me in a moment of silence to honor New Mexicos fallen sons and daughters.

PUBLIC SAFETY

Our commitment to safety and security abroad must be matched by efforts to keep our streets, neighborhoods, and communities safe and secure as well. This is the fourth challenge we face.

Weve done a lot so far. Weve been aggressive, tough, and bold. And we have the results to prove it.

Violent crime has dropped by 7 percent.
Alcohol-related fatal accidents have dropped by 13 percent.
And New Mexico is the first state in the country to require ignition interlocks for first-time DWI offenders.
But the road to a better, safer future does not end just because weve made positive changes.

We have the toughest DWI laws in the country, and are now a national model for the National Highway Safety and Transportation Administration. But we still have miles to go to eliminate the dangerous and tragic impact it has in our communities.

We must embrace innovation if were going to continue to get drunk drivers off of our streets.

In communities like San Juan County, they are pairing mandatory jail time and treatment for first time offenders. This is proving to be the most effective way to stop repeat offenders. We propose funding a pilot program to expand this model to other counties with the highest DWI rates.

We will continue the Drunkbusters Hotlinewhich we just kicked offthat gives citizens a direct link to law enforcement and helps make patrols more efficient and effective. We will aggressively prosecute sales to minors and intoxicated people. We will provide grants to local communities to help combat underage drinking, offer alternative sentencing, and to bolster enforcement and treatment. We will increase the timeliness of DWI hearings, to prevent backlogs, and reduce the potential for dismissals.

Violence in the home leaves an indelible scar on families. To combat it, we will increase penalties, enact substitute addresses for victims, and pay for domestic violence prevention centers, victim protection units, training, and additional personnel.

We cannot keep our communities safe without recruiting, training, and retaining our state police officers. We cant afford to have our officers leaving state police for higher paying jobs. So I am proposing a bold pay package for state law enforcementwith pay increases of up to 20 percent.

These brave men and women are on the front lines in our fight against crime and violence, gangs and drugs. They are the ones patrolling streets and highways for drunk drivers. And they are ones keeping our communities safe, especially in rural areas. We need to recruit and retain our officers, and this pay package will do exactly that.

We cannot have safe communities without secure borders. Ive said before that border security is and should be a federal issue. But protecting New Mexicans is our responsibility.

Last year, we took a major step forward to secure our borders and curb illegal immigrationdeclaring a State of Emergency for our border counties and hiring additional law enforcement to keep New Mexico citizens safe. We will continue the states support for those border communities.

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT

The fifth challenge is continuing our push as the Clean Energy State.

New Mexico is home to pristine land, natural beauty, and world-class energy resources. This year, our energy and environmental priorities include three critical initiatives: creating a Land Conservation Fund to support open land, wildlife, and clean energy projects for ranchers, hunters, anglers, and local communities; establishing a tax credit to expand solar energy development in homes and businesses; and creating the Renewable Energy Transmission Authority to seize the huge market potential for clean energy.

Clean energy and preservation measures hold a lot of promisefor both our economy and our environment.

V. Conclusion

And now, your favorite part: the conclusion.

At the end of four years, I want the people of New Mexico to knowwithout a doubtthat I delivered on my promise to move our state forward. I was elected to make a difference and to create opportunities for New Mexicans. And thats what weve donethe Governor and the Legislature--together.

The attitude in the state has changed since we started on this path three years ago. Pessimism has turned to optimism. Obstacles have turned into opportunities. And gridlock has turned into actionnon-stop action. Thats why, as I report for the fourth time on the State of the State, most New Mexicansby an overwhelming marginfeel our state is finally moving forward in the right direction.

That optimism is a reflection of this Legislature working together with me to move New Mexico forward.

But its going to take more than four years of hard work and progress to put all of our schools on the right path, to sustain our high-wage economy, and put an end to drunk drivers on our roads.

Its going to take more hard work, more progress, and more action.

Here today is an agenda of relentless action. It reflects who we are, what were willing to do to help the people we serve, and how were taking New Mexico into the future.

El Ano del Nino -- The Year of the Child.

Mejorando Nuestras Escuelas -- Making Schools Work.

Manteniendo Buena Salud Para Los Ninos -- Keeping Kids Healthy.

Un Nuevo Mexico Mas Seguro -- A Safer New Mexico.

Y Moviendo Nuevo Mexico Adelante -- Moving New Mexico Forward.

Behind these words are detailed plans, specific proposals, and a bold yet fiscally responsible budget that achieves each common goal.

Our state has never been stronger financially. Not only are the states budget reserves and bond ratings at record highs, but the Permanent Funds are approaching $13 billion dollars. Thanks to good financial stewardship, those Rainy Day Funds are $4 billion dollars higher than when I took office, which enabled us to invest $1.5 billion dollars in New Mexico schools and communities.

I respectfully ask the Legislature to be my partner on this bold agenda, in this time of opportunity. Let who we are define what we do.

After all, what is more pro-business and entrepreneurial than preparing a whole generation of kids to succeed and prosper 5-, 10-, or 20-years from now?

What embodies our respect for individual rights more than our right to clean air, pristine land, and safe drinking water?

What symbolizes personal responsibility better than a system of laws that protects the innocent, and deters and punishes those who would endanger or harm kids, seniors, and our most vulnerable neighbors?

What reflects our diversity greater than willingness to open doors for others, to provide opportunities, and to reward hard work and success?

And what portrays our desire to move New Mexico forward better than a government willing to make bold changes for the benefit of the people it serves?

We all know the answers to these questions. We all know what we need to do this session. Now, together, lets get to work, and lets get it done.

Thank you, good luck, and God bless the people of New Mexico.

Posted by suevo at 11:00 AM |

The latest on the minimum wage

January 17, 2006

Commentary by Kate Nash

Richardson's minimum wage increase proposal would phase in an increase to $7.50 over three years, and would allow Santa Fe to keep its minimum wage, which is $9.50 right now.

The governor at his post-speech press conference said he doesn't have a sponsor for the measure, but rather intends to ask House and Senate leaders to incorporate his ideas.

He said New Mexicans deserve to earn more than the federal minimum wage, which is $5.15.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Ben Lujan is pushing a measure that would change the minimum wage to $7.50.

At his own press conference, Lujan, a key Richardson ally, said he planned to stick to his proposal.

Democrats over the next few days will have to start chosing between Lujan's plan and Richardson's.

Once the bills are introduced, keep your eyes on the House Labor and Human Resources Committee, where the wage issues are likely to land.

Posted by Kate Nash at 04:02 PM | | Comments (0)

The other gubernatorial speech

Commentary by Kate Nash

Richardson challenger to speak at Capitol.

Richardson wasn't the only one giving a speech today.

Republican contender J.R. Damron, a Santa Fe radiologist seen wandering the rotunda this morning, also planned a speech this afternoon at the Capitol.

Posted by Kate Nash at 02:00 PM | | Comments (0)

New Mexico's minimum wage could hit $7.50

Commentary by Kate Nash

Gov. Richardson says he'll support a phased-in increase of the minimum wage.

Richardson just finished his 12-page, nearly hour long, state of the state speech.

A key figure in that speech: $7.50 an hour.

That's the amount to which Richardson would increase the state's minimum wage.

He's got a news conference planned this afternoon to outline the details.

Posted by Kate Nash at 01:57 PM | | Comments (1)

And we're off

Commentary By Kate Nash

House Speaker Ben Lujan pounded the 30-day session into order as the Roundhouse filed up with fresh-faced lawmakers and their family members.

The House chamber, bigger than the Senate on the other side of the Capitol, also was filling with expectations as Gov. Bill Richardson was set to speak around one p.m. No word yet on the actual starting time.

Meanwhile, the House and Senate were organizing themselves and taking care of housekeeping matters like swearing in Albuquerque Rep. Bill Rehm. He's the Republican who replaces former Rep. Greg Payne, who resigned this year to be the city's transit director.

Nothing out of the ordinary -- yet.

Posted by Kate Nash at 12:51 PM | | Comments (0)

Governor's top items

By Kate Nash
Tribune Reporter

Here are key initiatives Gov. Bill Richardson is pushing in the 30-day legislative session that begins today. The session is limited mostly to budget matters, but the governor sets the agenda.

Children

Proposal: Expand the state's preschool pilot program approved in 2005 so it goes from serving 1,538 children to 2,878.

Obstacles: Republicans generally didn't go for this idea last year and are likely to object again.

Cost: Richardson would expand spending from $5 million now to $10 million.

Proposal: Insure an additional 7,800 youth in the state this year.

Obstacles: This would involve administrative changes to Medicaid, which could mean debate over Medicaid program costs, which increase every year.

Cost: $3.7 million in state funds, leveraged with federal money.

Proposal: Increase the percentage of New Mexico children who are fully immunized from about 84 percent to 100 percent.

Obstacles: Few likely.

Cost: $500,000 to pay nurses who would audit immunization records.

Higher education

Proposal: Create the College Affordability Endowment to pay for student tuition based on need.

Obstacles: Probably few, although likely to trigger a discussion on another tuition helper, the state's Lottery Scholarship.

Cost: $50 million from the general fund.

Crime

Proposal: Put methamphetamine in the state's drug-trafficking statutes and increase penalties to a first- or second-degree felony.

Obstacles: Few likely, given the increased number of meth cases, but possible opponents include defense attorneys.

Cost: Increased incarceration costs for those convicted and sentenced under longer penalties.

Proposal: Life in prison without the possibility of parole for some sex offenders, including for first-time offenders in some cases. People who qualify for this sentence include those convicted of aggravated criminal sexual penetration of a child under age 9.

Obstacles: Not all lawmakers will go for this plan, in part because some in the past have expressed concerns that the punishment might be too severe.

Cost: Increased incarceration costs for those who are convicted.

Proposal: Keep youth out of gangs by increasing penalties for crimes committed to further gang activity. For example, the state would tack on two years to a three-year prison sentence for a third-degree felony if it is gang related.

Obstacles: Some lawmakers might say the punishment is too severe.

Cost: Increased incarceration costs for those who are convicted.

Minimum Wage

Proposal: Raise the state's minimum wage. Richardson has not set a figure to which he'd like to increase the $5.15 an hour paid in every city except Santa Fe, which has a higher minimum.

Obstacles: Republicans generally won't go for this bill, because they say the market, not government, should set the wages. Other opponents say mandated increases could put small companies out of business.

Cost: Unclear.

Good Government

Proposal: Increase the candidate donation and expenditure reporting in non-election years from once to twice a year.

Obstacles: Possibly from lawmakers who don't favor increased disclosure.

Cost: Administrative costs related to the Secretary of State's Office.

Proposal: Increase prison sentences by a year for convicted felons whose crime relates to their public position.

Obstacles: Likely none.

Cost: Likely minimal.

Proposal: Give the secretary of state subpoena power to get records for an investigation and penalize those who don't cooperate.

Obstacles: Probably few.

Cost: Minimal.

Posted by suevo at 11:35 AM |

Richardson to scatter money

By Kate Nash
Tribune Reporter

SANTA FE - In the last three weeks, he has pledged $6.4 million for law enforcement, promoted $750,000 for rodeos and proposed $23 million for the state's tourism and film industry.

He has agreed to consider a ban on aspartame, a $2 million revolving fund that would help dairy farmers turn cow manure into energy, and given the nod to a biomedical nanoscience program at the University of New Mexico.

Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, bends the ear of Gov. Bill Richardson during a recent luncheon at the Sheraton Uptown in Albuquerque. Cole and Richardson might not agree on Richardson's proposal for an increased minimum wage; a figure for the proposal was expected today. (Craig Fritz/Tribune)

All are signs that Gov. Bill Richardson plans to sprinkle a little of the state's $5.1 billion budget in everyone's direction in the 30-day session of the Legislature, which starts today at noon in Santa Fe.

A key item he has yet to announce - the amount by which he wants to increase the state's minimum wage - could cause him the most trouble. The state wage is now $5.15 an hour, the same as the federal government's.

Richardson was expected to announce his proposed wage today, possibly during his State of the State speech, scheduled to start after noon in Santa Fe.

This is the last regular session before Richardson faces voters for re-election. The session is limited mostly to budget matters, but the governor sets the agenda.

The first-term Democrat says having ambitious plans this year isn't any change from the first three years he's been governor. And he says he's focused on his priorities, including helping children get better educations and punishing lawbreakers.

Republicans contend he's playing the man in the red suit.

"He just loves to be Santa Claus," said Allen Weh, chairman of the state Republican Party.

But, Weh said, that's what politicians do.

"There isn't a political official alive that doesn't like to help people and please constituents. But in real life, just like in business, you can't make everyone happy all the time. Everyone can't have everything they want because there only exists so many resources."

Gov. Bill Richardson (right) chats about health care policy at an event for the Agora Crisis Center at the University of New Mexico. Health Secretary Michelle Lujan-Grisham (second from right) and Agora Executive Committee member Autumn Warren join the discussion on Jan. 9. That day, Richardson announced the state will give more than $200,000 to expand the Agora hot line service, which helps distressed callers, statewide. For 35 years, available resources limited the hot line to local residents. (Craig Fritz/Tribune)

Healthy bank account

Those resources this year are huge: New Mexico is perched on an oil- and gas-produced surplus of $529 million.

"He is a very fortunate governor in the sense that he happens to be sitting in a state with all this oil money coming in. Ten years ago, he wouldn't have had that surplus. And he wants to spend it," Weh said.

"That's where you get into differences with the Legislature."

That difference could be most visible in the Senate, where the 42 members aren't facing re-election this year - unlike the 70 in the House. Democrats control both chambers.

Senate Minority Whip Leonard Lee Rawson said his chamber could spar with Richardson over who decides what projects will be built out of the $1.4 billion up for grabs in capital outlay funds.

"The overall budget is a little high, but there's plenty of room for a meeting of the minds," said Rawson, a Las Cruces Republican.

"The real turf battle is going to be who is prioritizing, rather than what's prioritized. If we're going to put money into universities, whose university is it going to be?"

"The Legislature is going to want to prioritize."

Maximum interest in minimum wage

Richardson will, too.

For the better part of the month, Richardson has held "rollouts" - news conferences highlighting the measures he wants passed in the next four weeks.

For funding requests as varied as $125 million for a spaceport in Sierra County and $10 million for preschool programs, Richardson has happily tipped his hand to promote his ideas.

But he has kept his idea for a minimum wage increase to himself.

His proposal is expected to be different, probably lower, than what his ally, House Speaker Ben Lujan, will propose.

Lujan, a Democrat from Namb‚ who has carried many of Richardson's proposals, said New Mexicans ought to earn at least $7.50.

"I think that it's unconscionable for anyone to ask an individual to come and work for them and offer $5.15-an-hour salary," Lujan said.

Last week, Lujan said he's sticking with his proposal and was unsure who will carry the governor's bill.

"At this point at time, I'm thinking $7.50 is it," he said.

That amount is too much in the eyes of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.

"We believe $7.50 is too high, but we've said we intend to be at the table," said Terri Cole, chamber president and CEO.

Cole said it's unclear whether the chamber and Richardson can agree.

Cole said the chamber supports some of the tax cut measures Richardson wants, which Lujan plans to carry.

"I'd be much more concerned if he had introduced the minimum wage and done nothing else," she said, referring to the governor's tax-cut package.

"That's one of his attributes, is he leaves no one totally behind."

Lujan said he hopes to get his minimum wage measure introduced and on its way as soon as possible.

"We're hoping we can get that bill over the Senate with sufficient time so that they can have time to debate it also."

Posted by suevo at 11:24 AM |

State of the state to be webcast live

January 16, 2006

Commentary by Kate Nash

Computer users will be able to watch Gov. Bill Richardson's annual speech online.

Pretty sure you won't be able to find a seat in the House to watch Richardson's speech? Thinking you won't be able to find a parking space within a mile of the Capitol by noon?

Don't worry, you can stay home and catch the fun on KNME, Channel 5 or online.

Visit the governors web site around noon Tuesday. Richardson's speech is slated to be the first that's webcast live.

Posted by Kate Nash at 01:27 PM | | Comments (0)

Do you know where your lawmakers are?

Commentary by Kate Nash

It's 11 am Monday. Do you know where your lawmakers are?

Gov. Bill Richardson last week joked that he's going to cram a 120-day session into the 30-day meeting that starts Tuesday at noon.

Given the agenda he's outlined so far, it doesn't appear he was joking.

The good news is, there's probably a little something for everyone this session in the $5.1 billion budget lawmakers are considering. Or the $1.4 billion in capital outlay cash they will divvy up.

Keep your browser pointed here for the latest from the Roundhouse.

Posted by Kate Nash at 10:50 AM | | Comments (0)