Next month marks the start of a 60-day session of the New Mexico State Legislature. The House of Representatives is gearing up for new leadership and newly elected members.
The November election brought new faces to the state legislature - 21 of them, including 16 new House members. Representative Larry Larrañaga is a 19-year veteran Republican from Albuquerque's northeast heights. He notes there will be fundamental changes in committees and a new Speaker of the House - the body's most powerful position:
"This is going to be a different session from the standpoint of leadership. There's going to be a difference in the new membership that is there, and so we're all just waiting and seeing, just saying 'how do we, you know, work with this group.”
That group Larrañaga refers to could include 40 Democrats to the Republicans' 30 representatives. 14-term Representative Lucky Varela of Santa Fe, a Democrat, says his party will control the movement of legislation. That fact, Varela hopes, will persuade Governor Susana Martinez to reach out to the majority:
"And now that she has less members in the minority maybe she'll be a little bit more collaborative, cooperative, whatever you want to call it. I'm assuming that once we meet as a caucus and we appoint our chairs, that we will then see whether the governor wants to meet with us and give us some dialogue as to how does she want to work with us in this session."
The governor's press office said in a statement that she has already met with some lawmakers. The Congressional impasse in Washington known as the “fiscal cliff” is casting a shadow over this year’s state budget. So is the latest state jobs report from New Mexico's Department of Workforce Solutions, which shows a loss of almost 6,000 jobs over the past year, most of those in construction and in government jobs.
Those numbers dismay Representative Varela, who serves as the deputy chair of the Appropriation and Finance Committee. He says legislators voted to add state jobs last year after previously cutting several thousand from the budget during the recession, but the administration didn't add the new jobs:
"In reviewing the end of fiscal year '12, we found out that the executive transferred out of salaries and benefits over $70-million dollars, and used it for other purposes. So now we're looking very closely, 'Are we overfunding salaries and why aren't they hiring the additional people?”
Governor Martinez pledges to again make educational reform a legislative priority, Representative Larrañaga says the governor has told him she wants to push a measure that failed last year to retain third-graders who can't read or do math proficiently, and get them help:
"She'd like to improve the reading skills, math skills of all those kids and provide some funding for remediation, if you will, to assure that those kids get to the level of of the grade that they're in for reading, for math and everything like that."
Martinez is also expected to push for repeal of the law allowing illegal immigrants to get drivers’ licenses.
Next report: a preview of the Legislature's 51st session from the Senate perspective.