Gather ‘round, young’uns, for a lesson in politics and government. Now is a good time, since our New Mexico Legislature is currently in session, and will be until March 18, when the session must come to an abrupt end.
Remember last year’s election, when it was all about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton? Well, it wasn’t. Here in New Mexico, a lot of people were running for jobs as senators and representatives in our state Legislature, and now they’re elected and sitting in Santa Fe doing the state’s business.
First, you should know that there are two main factions in American politics: the Democrats and the Republicans. Maybe you know that already but you don’t understand the difference between the two. That’s OK; others don’t either. It’s been said there isn’t “a dime’s worth of a difference” between the two parties, but the people who believe that are usually “independents” or “third-party” supporters, and that’s a whole other subject, for another day.
Do you remember what you learned about the three branches of government? Well, last year at the national level, the Republicans won enough votes to take control of both the Executive and the Legislative branches, which will also give them a much greater say-so in the Judicial branch. You can ask your parents if the Republican takeover in Washington is extremely exciting or very-very scary, because to just about everybody, it’s either one or the other.
In New Mexico, however, it’s more mixed up. Since last year’s election, both the House and the Senate are under the control of the Democrats, but our governor, Susana Martinez, is a Republican. As for the state’s judiciary, that’s supposed to be above party politics, but that’s another subject for another day too.
One of the biggest chores that our state lawmakers have each year is to figure out how to spend all the money New Mexico makes off its taxes and fees on goods and services. It’s called the budget, and lawmakers have to create, alter, tweak, cut and/or expand it every year. We’re talking billions of dollars here, kids, so it’s no small potatoes, and this year it’s millions less than in previous years. Therein lies this year’s legislative challenge.
There are two ways to balance the budget: You can raise taxes and fees or cut state expenses. Democrats want to raise taxes, but Gov. Martinez doesn’t want any new taxes.
They’ve got a few more days come up with a compromise, and they will; they always do. That’s politics, “the art of the compromise.”
But there’s more to the legislative session than divvying up the state’s money. Also important are the other laws being considered, some of which would have a direct impact on our homes and our families.
For example, we may soon be telling time differently in New Mexico. If Senate Bill 239 is passed and signed into law, New Mexico will make plans to go on daylight saving time year-round. The Senate passed the change in timekeeping and now the House is considering it. If it passes there, it goes to the governor for her signature.
Now that might seem like a yawner to you youngsters, but for us older people who have been “springing-forward and falling-back” for a lifetime, it’s sort of a big deal. You know how we are when it comes to changing our ways.
So here’s one that would have more of an impact on you then on us old fogies: House Bill 99, which would lower the age of voting to 16 for school board elections. If that were to pass you’d have more of a say in a lot of school-related stuff.
Or, how about this: If the state budget gets too tight, school districts will be looking for ways to cut costs by going to a four-day school week. Bet that one got your attention. Yes, it’s possible; in fact, schools in southwestern New Mexico are already considering it. Maybe your school will be next.
There are more than a thousand bills and other measures proposed in this legislative session, and you can relaxed because I’m not going to cover them all. Couldn’t if I wanted to. So instead, I’ll wrap this up with a single closing thought:
Government is as good or as bad as “We The People” make it, so as you young people grow into your citizenship, remember that the future is yours — and so will be this government, and the politics that keeps it spinning.
Tom McDonald is founder and editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org