So on Tuesday, we start a 30-day legislative session in New Mexico. The shorter sessions in even-numbered years were meant to focus on simply passing a budget for the state. And it should be pretty easy this year, as we have a pile of cash from the ongoing Permian Basin boom (which many Democrats decry as “dirty money” while they simultaneously make plans to spend it). Surprising exactly no one, the Governor’s budget proposal calls for even more cash for our mediocre-to-unsatisfactory Public Education Department, free tuition for about 55,000 New Mexico college students, and more support for law enforcement.
There’s one weird little earmark in the Governor’s budget, though: $350,000 to cover the cost of licensure for New Mexico to become a prescription drug wholesaler. The vision is to import Canadian pharmaceuticals and sell them in New Mexico at generic drug prices. I am openly skeptical of New Mexico government’s ability to operate any function competently; I’m not sure I want it to run my prescription program, either.
Also, as per usual, legislators and the Governor have greater aspirations during this short session than just passing a budget. The Governor wants to legalize recreational cannabis and pass red flag laws that would have law enforcement confiscate firearms from individuals deemed “high-risk.” Neither of these passed during the 60-day session in 2019; after passing the House with a few Democrats dissenting from the caucus on each bill, both bills died in committee in the Senate.
Unless the Governor and the Democratic caucus put some real pressure (i.e., running primary opponents against dissenting incumbents) on the Democratic moderates, it’s unlikely either measure will pass in 2020. New Mexico county sheriffs remain opposed (29 out of 33) to proposed red flag laws, including the chief law enforcement officer of our most populous county, Bernalillo County (who announced earlier this month he is contemplating a run for Albuquerque mayor in 2021).
Republicans are laying low, at least as pre-filed bills go. In the House, it’s because they have to; their numbers are so low they pretty much have no voice. In the Senate, it’s a little more even, and the Senate majority leadership is more moderate than that in the House.
Where Republicans are speaking up is about taxes. Both Representative Gail Armstrong (R-Catron, Socorro and Valencia Counties) and Senator Jim White (R-Bernalillo, Sandoval, Santa Fe and Torrance Counties) have pre-filed bills that would exempt Social Security pensions from state income tax. White has also filed a bill offering refundable income tax credits for most taxpayers in the state. While there is strong interest in reforming our stupid and regressive Gross Receipts Tax (GRT), I don’t think there will be time to pass any meaningful legislation in this 30-day session.
Mostly, I think this session will be about passing a budget and ensuring every legislator gets the right soundbites to constituents as everyone in the Roundhouse is up for re-election this year. The smart bet is to get the budget passed while playing up capital outlay gifts to districts. Recent attempts to push high profile agendas during a 30-day session haven’t passed and haven’t motivated constituents in either direction.
So, my predictions:
A larger budget, with way too much going to an underperforming Public Education Department;
Some national attention to the Canadian wholesale pharmaceutical scheme, as this administration continues to try to keep up with California in progressive politics;
Lots of posturing about guns and weed, with no legislation getting passed;
GRT will continue to be the gift that keeps on giving revenue to the state;
A general pull to the center as every member of the Legislature faces re-election this year.
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and a former Navy officer. She lives north of I-40 where she and her family run two head of dog, and one of cat.