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State Lawmakers in New Mexico Face Tough Choices

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Peter Goodman
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Commentary: Our Legislature is in session – for an entire month, unpaid.

My first suggestion for legislators is to pass the measure to study lengthening the session and paying legislators and staff. Currently, we avert disaster because many (if not most) legislators are working their tails off all year, in committee hearings and other work that prepares them for the actual one- or two-month session; but that system tends to limit possible candidacies by folks who can’t afford that kind of commitment without payment. We’re all instinctively skeptical about giving money to politicians; but maybe we need to.

The Voting Rights Act (SB8) is important, and should have an easier path with the “straight-ticket-voting option” removed. Watching various other states attack our democracy, it’d be nice to see New Mexico first in facilitating democracy.

Another study I’d like to see concerns the effects of a small guaranteed annual income for poor folks; so far, evidence seems to indicate such programs help not only the beneficiaries but the surrounding community; but the present draft of HM22 calls for a taskforce of representatives of community organizations working on behalf of low-income communities and agencies and organizations working with those communities. I’d add an economist or two who does NOT work for a nonprofit that helps the poor, and maybe even a businessperson. Folks who think this kind of program sounds like a waste of money won’t be convinced by a study done by folks who already believe in it.

There are dozens of environmentally helpful bills. I favor them; but the words “WE’LL BE POOR WITHIN THREE YEARS!” should be on every wall in the Roundhouse, as big as Chinese wall posters. Oil and gas provides a huge share of our economy; and that industry is not only cyclical in the best of times but ultimately doomed. Further, the federal pandemic-assistance money contributing to our present, temporary solvency ain’t gonna happen every year.

I’d temper my enthusiasm for all the good ideas and programs and recognize that we face some very tough choices. Water supply, improving education, children, fighting global warming, our court system, and dozens of other important needs remain woefully underfunded. Most of these are “musts,” not “shoulds.” I’m not a legislator, let alone a financial guy, but we need to improve state revenues. The Opportunity Scholarship Act (SB140), providing for free college tuition and fees at any NM public or tribal college or university for residents maintaining a 2.5 GPA while working toward a degree, is a great idea. But is that a promise we can keep in down years?

I doubt the Governor’s Hydrogen Hub Development Act will truly benefit us or our environment. It will more surely help supporters Exxon, NMOGA, and Gallup’s Chamber of Commerce, none of them famous as committed environmentalists.

We must cap interest rates at a usurious 36%, freeing poor folks from the absurd, stratospheric rates that destroy their lives; we should have pursued a state bank, and taxing rich folks who (if any ever do) fly from the Spaceport into space at $200K per ticket; and in during a drought that climate-change is making worse, we need to give our State Engineer a long-term budget reasonably calculated to deal with a host of severe problems, including water studies, infrastructure, and, lest we forget, the Texas v New Mexico lawsuit in the Supreme Court.

Paid or not, I’m glad I’m not a state legislator.