Lawmakers last week crossed into the second half of their short legislative session — one that’s supposed to be focused on budget matters — with little accomplished.
Hundreds and hundreds of bills still face lawmakers and special committees. There’s no doubt lawmakers are starting to feel the pressure of the shortened session, which is being compounded by numerous non-budgetary items.
“We’re kind of in the panic mode,” said Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis. “We’re at a point of working 24-7. I got out of my taxation committee the other night around 10 and we start real early in the morning.”
Late last week Crook, who sits on the Capital Outlay Committee, said lawmakers had heard a little more than 325 capital outlay requests, but the committee still had almost 1,000 more to get through.
“The signals are out there for a special session,” Crook said.
Someone who thinks lawmakers can get through a controversial budget, touchy bills and numerous capital outlay requests is Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales.
Ingle said while lawmakers have a lot on their table, he doesn’t think they’ve reached the point of even thinking about a special session.
As of the weekend, the House had passed 48 bills and the Senate had passed 32 bills — and none of the bills were high dollar or real talkers.
What’s more is the governor has only acted on the “feed bill,” the money that goes to pay legislators for their time in Santa Fe.
The thing that makes this session difficult is that it’s supposed to be about the budget. And the budget package alone is going to be a time-consuming process.
The House last week approved a $4.3 billion budget that included a big hike in spending — 5.8 percent. Richardson hates the budget. The Senate will probably slice and dice much of it.
The budget will suck up a lot of floor time and debate.
But no budget is going to slow down the governor. His list of legislative agendas gets bigger and bigger — the lottery scholarship, DWI legislation and now this week, his desire to possibly redistrict the state.
The fast-moving governor has some lofty goals, but getting it all done by the end of next week will be a difficult task.
“We’re getting messaged down with hundreds of things to do,” said Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis. “Everything will get done and everything will get worked out, but there is a sense from people about how much we can get down between now and Feb. 19”
Getting all that Richardson wants done in a 60-day session would be a feat.
“We’re cramming an awful lot into a short period,” Crook said. “When you put that much in I don’t think that our decisions are always so well thought out and that bothers me.”
The local front
Local lawmakers are done — at least with submitting capital outlay requests.
The deadline for submitting the requests has passed and eastern New Mexico has a fair share of the 1,300 requests.
Everything from street upgrades to equipment for police forces to new buildings was submitted.
No doubt only a small percentage of those requests will be approved.
Some of the top items in Clovis included $800,000 for improvements to West Seventh Street and $150,000 for a new business development center that could house various programs, including the Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce.
One of the most important bills locally is major funding for upgrades to New Mexico’s four military bases.
Cannon Air Force Base is on the list to receive funds to improve an overpass leading to the base. Also Highway 60/84, which leads to the Clovis-area base, would be improved.
Richardson has thrown his support behind the funding for all four bases.
In Portales, officials want some major money poured into street improvements and renovations to the county fairgrounds.
While Clovis and Portales officials believe their requests are critical to their cities, knowing if other lawmakers will feel the same is anyone’s guess.
But there is some good news. The governor, who before the session started proposed making changes to the way that capital outlay projects are funded, has backed off a bit. He wanted capital outlay money to go to high-dollar statewide projects.
Lawmakers from the start have called foul at the proposal. Capital outlay money is one of the biggest ways that lawmakers show proof to their constituents that they are representing them.