KUNM

Crunch Time For Lawmakers In Santa Fe

Feb 4, 2016

 

There are less two weeks left in the 30-day legislative session. People, Power and Democracy's Gwyneth Doland has been up in Santa Fe covering state government. She spoke with KUNM's Chris Boros. 

KUNM: So catch us up, what’s been happening at the legislature? They’re supposed to be working on a budget, right?

Doland: Well, it’s no boogie wonderland, I’ll tell you that right now. I wish it were. There is, in fact, a final draft of that budget and it passed through the House Appropriations and Finance Committee today, so that heads to the floor next for debate, probably tomorrow.

KUNM: Alright, so what’s in the budget?

Doland: I don’t know. Seriously. We know it’s a little more than $6 billion in spending. We know Democrats objected that the current version had cut money from education and behavioral health. But what exactly is in the budget is kind of a mystery because we haven’t seen it!

KUNM:  Is that weird? I mean, that seems kind of strange to me.

Doland: It’s 'totes weird, Chris. This is one of the things we’ve talked about before. It’s pretty hard for the public to grasp what’s going on with the budget and make their views known on it when no one has seen this final draft that they passed through the committee today. You know, we’re halfway through. They got to get this thing moving and we don’t know.

KUNM:  There’s also been a lot of talk, you know, about changing the way we spend money on big public works projects, too. So, what’s happening with that?

Doland:Yeah, I have a story, you know, that’s airing tonight. Capital outlay reform. We’ve talked about it on the Call In Show several times. There are two main proposals that are moving forward right now. One of them would take control of our infrastructure funding, like bridges, dams, roads, school buildings. It would take that away from state lawmakers, because critics say they fritter it away on little pet projects in their districts. Lawmakers say it’s important stuff like books and things like that for schools.

But critics say they want to give that authority to an appointed commission of people who would evaluate, rank and prioritize them, and make sure these are important infrastructure projects, for real, before writing any checks.

KUNM:  That’s good news, right, for some people like, you know, government groups, maybe civic groups who wouldn’t be happy about this?

Doland: Well, I’ll tell you some lawmakers aren’t happy about it. I had a senator yesterday get really, really mad at me when I asked if he would let the public see the list of projects he funded last year. And I asked nicely but I think they’re feeling this is a political attack or it’s material for a political attack. I know they feel bullied by the media, who has been reporting a lot on this. And they think it will just be used to unseat them in the next election.

KUNM:  Why don’t we already know, though, which projects our senators and representatives are paying for?

Doland: Well, that would really make a whole lot of sense. But it doesn’t, it’s secret, because of a weird legal thing from a long time ago. But there are lawmakers who want that to change. And there’s a plan to post information about who gave what money to which projects that’s moving forward. And today Rep. Bill McCamley took to Twitter to explain why he’s decided to release his capital outlay allocations. He became the 22nd member to make those public.

KUNM: What else is happening down there? There’s got to be some other things, right?

Doland: Well there’s, like, a million things. For one, House Democrats had a news conference criticizing the Republicans’ focus on crime-fighting bills. They say the legislature should be talking about jobs and the economy.

A House committee approved a plan to prevent workers compensation from paying for medical marijuana. Boo!

The Senate passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow judges to deny bail to defendants if they think they are too dangerous to be let out of jail—AND it would  let some people out of jail if a lack of money is the only thing keeping them there.

And there was heated debate over a late-term abortion bill. Public comment went on so long that they held it over until probably Tuesday. Supporters said this was about saving babies after an abortion; opponents said it was a plan “based in emotion, not science.”

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Check out all of the content from our People, Power and Democracy project. It's a collaboration between KUNM, New Mexico In DepthNew Mexico PBS and the New Mexico News Port at UNM. Funding for the project comes from the Thornburg Foundation.