By a wide margin, the House of Representatives approved a budget for the state of New Mexico. The approximately $6.3 billion dollar price tag for the fiscal year that begins on July 2 includes increased funding for teacher and state employee salaries. Additionally, more money was earmarked to bolster early childhood education in the state, a problematic area that has resulted in New Mexico being ranked far behind other regions of the nation.
Though there was obviously bipartisan support for the measure—it passed the lower chamber by a vote of 65-3—the budget must still be presented to and approved by the Senate before it goes to the governor’s office for a signature; as it stands, La Tejana has already voiced frustrations about the financial priorities addressed in the budget bill.
A spokesperson for the Martinez administration told the press that this year’s proposal was soft on crime. Despite the fact that the legislation calls for increased funding for state police, county prosecutors and domestic violence prevention services, the current administration argued that the money to be allocated still underfunds Albuquerque’s District Attorney’s office, in defiance of Martinez’ recommendations.
Though the proposed budget demonstrates an increase over last year’s much fought-over fiscal plan—mostly due to increased oil and gas revenues, a volatile, an unpredictable boon the legislature’s finance committee warned about at the session’s onset—some legislators, including House Appropriations and Finance committee chair Patricia Lundstrom, characterized the new, green flow as “a blessing.” The senate will continue to meet about and debate the budget proposal this week.
Included in the billions of dollars that lawmakers say is required to run the state is a proposal to spend $10 million on improvements to the New Mexico Spaceport and increase the center’s budget by 45 percent over last year’s allocation.
Built with taxpayer money in the late aughts and made functional in 2011, the New Mexico Spaceport was once seen by supporters of then Governor Bill Richardson as a stepping stone to New Mexico’s future, a time when human spaceflight would be a normative, lucrative activity based in the land of enchantment. Because of various technical and safety issues, the latter remains slightly out of reach.
Yet lawmakers and the companies involved in the spaceport remain hopeful that the center’s mission will soon come to fruition. This optimism was in part buoyed by an increase in funding from the operation’s main tenant, Virgin Galactic. Where once the global transport giant paid about $1 million annually to have access to the spaceport, they now clock in at about $3 million per year in rental fees.
And although members of the legislative delegation in the district where Spaceport America is housed are happy with the progress being made, others are not sure that anything will ever pan out at the multi-million dollar complex on the edge of Doña Ana county. Senator George Muñoz (D-Gallup) who proposed selling the entire operation in 2015, still says he has doubts about the venture’s future and is still unsure he approves of the proposed increases called for in this year’s general budget legislation.
Last week, Weekly Alibi reported on efforts by Senator Cliff Pirtle (R-Roswell) to reinstate taxation on groceries in an attempt to provide healthier eating choices for a state plagued by obesity and disease. On Friday, Feb. 2, Pirtle’s legislation was presented to the Senate Corporations Committee, where it was tabled by a vote of 4-2. During the dismissal of the bill, Corporations Committee chair Clemente Sanchez (D-Grants) told those gathered that he had a problem with “people telling people what to do—what to eat, what to drink.”
Meanwhile, the controversy surrounding the tragic death of a New Mexican child—Jerimiah Valencia—has produced legislation sponsored by Representative Sarah Maestas Barnes (D-Albuquerque) that would make child abuse resulting in death a first degree felony. Citizens found guilty of such heinous crimes would face a life sentence if Barnes’ bill succeeds.
This weekend, the bill, HB 100, passed unanimously through the House Judiciary Committee, although another Democrat, Representative Antonio Maestas (D-Albuquerque) has proposed a counter measure (HB 296) that calls for the separation of offenses related to child abuse, with strict penalties for “intentional” child abuse and lesser jail time for “reckless” child abuse.
In any case, both bills seem ready to be heard by both chambers and governor Martinez has signaled her support of Maestas’ proposal. Interestingly, the ACLU has come out in opposition of Barnes’ bill, concerned that violence between two juveniles might set the stage for rigid life sentences for any youth deemed violent by the courts.
This is the real home of New Mexico politics.