Another 60 days in the Roundhouse, another set of hits and misses for New Mexicans. In addition to the important tax reform compromise package that awaits action by Gov. Susana Martinez, many other important issues were acted on — or not — in the past two short months.
The good news first. Lawmakers:
- Brought public employee, educator and judicial pensions closer to solvency with a mix across the plans that for various employees trims benefits, increases contributions, tightens retirement eligibility and cost-of-living increases and adopts a minimum retirement age. Many believe more hard choices lie ahead, but these compromises will help.
- Passed a balanced budget that will give public employees a modest 1 percent pay raise. These state workers have spent the past several years doing more with less, and it's time for an adjustment that the still-shaky economy will bear.
- Let die attempts to raid the state's Land Grant Permanent Fund, rejecting claims it is rainy-day mad money to be spent on new, recurring expenses and re-affirming the permanent in its name for the good of the schools and other beneficiaries that rely on it.
- Respected voters' decisions and passed enabling legislation to bring competency via qualifications for Public Regulation Commission candidates, remove the insurance superintendent from the PRC and create an independent office, shift the corporations unit from the PRC to the Secretary of State Office, and establish an independent Public Defender Department.
- Increased the required notice for public meetings to 72 hours, making public attendance and participation more viable for more New Mexicans.
- Allowed school elections to be held in conjunction with other nonpartisan elections, promising better turnout and thus voter representation. And added large school districts to campaign reporting requirements.
Now the bad news. Lawmakers:
- Ignored compassionate compromises and allowed New Mexico to continue to be one of two states (Washington is the other) that hands state-of-the-art government ID in the form of driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, in violation of the federal Real ID Act. The practice is plagued by fraud, puts public safety and national security at risk and is something a vast majority of New Mexicans surveyed want stopped.
- Rejected the governor's plan again to ramp up reading interventions in K-3 with retention of third-graders who can't read at grade level a last resort. The inaction embraces the status quo and ignores the state's abysmal graduation and proficiency rates.
- Bumped the state's minimum wage to $8.50 an hour, past those of surrounding states, making it more costly to do business here and ignoring discussions at the federal level that would deliver a more desirable, common-sense, uniform increase. They rejected a proposal to bring the state minimum to a level equal to our neighbors that have their own minimum wage.
- Failed to require background checks for private sales at gun shows and reporting of mental health information to bring uniformity and safety to the system.
- Rejected voter photo ID.
- Ignored the state's legacy of open government and voted to limit the public release of records such as lawmaker emails.
- Failed again to give local governments the authority to ban all fireworks during drought to protect life and property in their communities.
- Did not remove the waiting game inherent in the statute of limitations for prosecuting second-degree murder.
- Rejected real penalties for some copper wire thefts that endanger thieves and affect the general public.
— Albuquerque Journal