SANTA FE — The marble halls of the Roundhouse were buzzing Tuesday, the first day of the 54th New Mexico Legislature, as thousands from around the state convened for opening-day festivities.
Family members, lobbyists, constituents, journalists and activists came for the swearing-in of legislators, and New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s much-anticipated State of the State Address. People jammed the halls hours before noon as security guards searched bags and pockets before allowing people to sit in the House gallery.
The 60-day session runs from Jan. 14 until March 15. Just under 500 bills were prefiled prior to the start of the session, all vying for funds from an oil and gas boom late last year that left this year’s Legislature flushed with cash — in theory.
Minority Whip Sen. Bill Payne (R-Albuquerque) said despite the minority, Senate Republicans might have more input to stop so-called “popular legislation” — bills covering issues constituents want, but may be poorly written.
“A lot of times the Senate is a backstop to vet legislation, to see if it’s really good for the New Mexican people,” Payne said. “No executive — I don’t care if they’re Democrats or Republicans — like to be the final resting place of bad legislation.”
However, business took a backseat for opening day. Legislators, senior and freshman alike, were sworn in. The House voted Brian Egolf (D-Santa Fe) as their Speaker.
All eyes were on Lujan Grisham as she entered the chamber following a mariachi procession to the lectern and delivered her first State of the State address.
“The state of our state is enthusiastic, ambitious and ready,” Lujan Grisham said to a packed chamber.
Lujan Grisham’s 45-minute energetic speech echoed her swearing in speech, diving in on public health, early childhood education and raising the minimum wage — among other topics.
Education funding was the backbone of Lujan Grisham’s policy outline, she said she wants “a half billion dollars for” classrooms.
On Jan. 10, Lujan Grisham’s office released the budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year. In it, she recommends a $7.1 billion budget. Currently the budget is $6.3 billion — Lujan Grisham is asking for a 13 percent increase.
In 2018, the New Mexico oil industry boomed after oil was found in the Permian Basin. 200 million barrels of oil are expected to be produced, according to the Albuquerque Journal. This boom in oil could lead to $1.5 billion in the state’s savings account.
With this, Lujan Grisham would call on legislators to propose a constitutional amendment to take a “pinch” of money to fulfill her promise of revamping the state’s early childhood educational system, she said.
This includes, Lujan Grisham said, universal early childhood education, $120 million for K-5 school programs and youth educator scholarships.
“We will provide for (students). Together, we will do this. This is the session, this is the year — this is the moment we put New Mexico on the path to universal pre-K for every New Mexico child,” Lujan Grisham said.
Lujan Grisham said she also proposed an almost 200 percent increase to the Indian Education Fund. She also said she wants to see $55 millon going to bilingual and multicultural programs while also training teachers to be bilingual.
Amongst the crowd were representatives from the University of New Mexico — Regent Tom Clifford, interim-Provost Richard Wood and President Garnett Stokes were seen talking with representatives on the floor of the House chamber.
“I’ve been busy getting to know various members of the legislature and the executive branch — we have a lot of priorities at UNM and so it’s really important that we get to know our legislators, and be able to work effectively with people in the House, Senate and the Governor’s office,” Stokes said.
This year, according to a previous Daily Lobo article, UNM is seeking:
- An eight percent increase in the funding formula
- A percentage parity for UNM’s School of Medicine
- $5.8 million for the UNM Cancer Center
- Seeking to restore the Liquor Excise Tax to better fund the Lottery Scholarship
- Compensation funding packages for UNM faculty and staff to offset healthcare costs and retirement contribution
- $35.7 million in costs for Capital Projects and Research and Public Service Projects
“We’re all here because what happens here matters a lot to any public university, but especially the University of New Mexico,” Stokes said.
Anthony Jackson is photo editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TonyAnjackson.
Danielle Prokop is a senior reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ProkopDani.