Well, the Legislature ended yesterday, and Santa Fe hotel rates will go down again. Restaurants will return to normal tourist traffic, missing the lovely lobbyist expense account tabs and tips. And House and Senate members will reapply themselves to the grind of re-election.
In an unpaid part-time Legislature, any time the 30-day session ends with a budget, I call it a win.
And we saw our usual posturing on both sides (It’s politics, people! Of course you are going to see strategy and tactics from both caucuses). The most notable maneuver was the fast-tracking in the House of the red flag bills. Fast-tracking means pushing a bill forward by reducing the number of committees that need to hear it. There’s plenty of opposition statewide to Senate Bill 5, particularly from New Mexico sheriffs, who plan to file for an injunction to prevent implementing it.
My take: SB 5 is a deliberate tactic to keep Albuquerque blue. Albuquerque, where pretty much half the state’s population resides, continues to struggle with relentless criminal violence on its streets. 2018 saw almost all the long-time Republican seats in Albuquerque turn Democrat. I think the Democratic caucus is gambling that crime-weary Duke City residents will keep their seats blue in light of some relief from violent crime.
Meanwhile, the governor’s anti-crime package squeaked by just in time for Thursday’s noon deadline. Much like the tabled recreational cannabis bill, the crime bundle that reached the Senate was clunky, over-elaborate and probably should have been split into more individual bills. The Senate duct-taped it as best they could. Despite passing the Senate unanimously, no one seems happy with it. So there’s that. Yay.
Other news: Senator Jim White’s (R-19, also “our” Senator in the East Mountains) Social Security tax break was tabled in committee. You know why? I think there is no way the Democratic caucus wants to give a Republican credit for improving the lives of thousands of New Mexicans during an election year. My prediction: look for another Social Security tax break to be introduced in 2021. By a Democrat. Because Republicans can’t have nice things in New Mexico.
It’s not all disdain and vitriol for our Democratic lawmakers, though. Thank God for Senator John Arthur Smith (D-35). Believe me when I tell you I am not the only Republican saying this. Smith seemingly singlehandedly delivered a manageable amended state budget to the House in time for it to pass before Thursday’s session deadline.
He saved our cash reserves after the House wanted (yet again) to raid them for short-term spending. He didn’t entertain amendments we don’t have money for. He cut road spending we can’t afford but shored up funding for the governor’s “free college” program. He also gave credit where other Democrats are afraid to: to oil and gas, where the Permian Basin has delivered unprecedented tax revenues to the state while it extracts filthy, dirty fossil fuels that most Democrats would like to see wiped out tomorrow.
So, thank you to Senators White and Smith for looking out for us. In addition to the Social Security tax breaks, I hope we can see action on a lot of bills that didn’t make the deadline: human trafficking penalties and victim support; PRC reform; a revamped and streamlined approach to recreational cannabis; and a follow-up to the study approved this year to allow New Mexico to begin importing prescription medicine from Canada.
That’s it for the 2020 session from me. Thanks, as always, for reading!
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and a former Navy officer. She lives amicably with her Democratic husband and Republican mother north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and one of cat.