Updated: Tuesday, 19 Jan 2010, 1:40 PM MST
Published : Thursday, 14 Jan 2010, 3:38 PM MST
SANTA FE (AP) - The Associated Press has prepared an overview of the New Mexico Legislature, how the 30-day session convening Jan. 19 will operate and what to expect in terms of issues and debates.
The New Mexico Legislature at a glance:
THE START: The 2010 Legislature convenes at noon on Tuesday, Jan. 19. It's formally called the second session of the 49th Legislature.
THE FINISH: The session, as required by the state Constitution, adjourns after 30 calendar days - at noon on Thursday, Feb. 18. The governor has 20 days after adjournment to sign bills passed during the last three days of the session. That deadline is March 10.
THE MAKEUP: The Senate has 42 members: 27 Democrats, 15 Republicans. The House has 70 members: 45 Democrats, 25 Republicans.
PAY: The New Mexico Legislature is not salaried. Members receive $159 a day during the session to reimburse them for expenses.
THE AGENDA: During 30-day sessions, the agenda is limited to the budget, tax and financial matters as well as issues the governor asks the Legislature to consider. Among the proposals by Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson are domestic partnerships for same-sex couples, ethics reforms and tougher drunken driving penalties.
There were 1,226 bills introduced in 2008, the most recent 30-day session. Of those bills, 93 were signed into law.
POLITICS: This is Richardson's final year in office. He's term-limited and can't seek re-election this year. All House seats are up for election. Senate terms run through 2012.
LEARNING MORE: Contact lawmakers by calling the legislative
switchboard: (505) 986-4300. Find bills, committee schedules, lists
of members and a link for webcasts of House and Senate floor
proceedings on the
Legislature's Web Site .
Highlights of tax issues before the Legislature:
BACKDROP: The state is looking for new revenues to shore up the budget next year. Since 2003, when Gov. Bill Richardson took office, taxes have been cut about $900 million, according to the Legislative Finance Committee. That includes income tax rate reductions and lifting the sales tax on food. Taxes and fees have gone up about $390 million, including gross receipts, cigarette and fuels taxes as well as vehicle registration fees.
PROPOSALS: A business group suggests reinstating the tax on food, which could raise $228 million. Gov. Bill Richardson says he is "not terribly excited" about that because he supported removal of the food tax. But he would consider imposing the sales tax on soft drinks and candy, both of which are treated as food. That would provide $18 million. Expect all sorts of proposals to increase personal and corporate income taxes, gross receipts taxes and levies on tobacco and alcohol.
OUTLOOK: Richardson opposes repealing the income and capital gains reductions he championed in 2003 and will fight efforts to roll back business incentives, such as a credit for film production. Those won't happen unless the Legislature takes a firm stand and forces the governor to retreat. The odds are against that. Gross receipts taxes could be a tempting target. A half-cent increase would generate $240 million.
Highlights of budget issues before the Legislature:
BACKDROP: The state faces a budget gap of $600 million next year. The government is spending $5.7 billion this year, including $400 million in federal aid that helped balance the budget when state revenues plummeted. New Mexico expects to collect $5.1 billion in state revenues next year. Because of the recession and lower energy prices, revenues dropped 20 percent from 2008 to this year. Spending declined 5 percent in that period, with federal aid preventing deeper cutbacks.
PROPOSALS: Gov. Bill Richardson and the Legislative Finance Committee have recommended cuts of 3 percent to 5 percent in next year's budget. Reducing salaries for public employees is an option. Tax increases will be considered to bring in more revenues. Federal aid will continue to shore up the budget, providing from $100 million to $200 million. Without the federal money, more cuts or higher taxes will be necessary.
OUTLOOK: A fight looms over the governor's proposal to cancel $150 million in capital improvement projects to free up money and replenish the state's cash reserves. Expect a tug-of-war between the House and the more conservative Senate over whether to increase taxes rather than making deeper budget cuts. A critical decision is how much to reduce spending on the largest programs: education and Medicaid, which provides health care to the needy.
The expected debate in the Legislature over domestic partnerships:
BACKDROP: Gov. Bill Richardson has unsuccessfully advocated for several years to allow domestic partnerships for unmarried couples. The proposal ignites an emotional debate over same-sex marriage. The legislation failed in the Senate last year. Ten Democratic senators joined Republicans in opposing the measure.
PROPOSALS: The legislation is intended to extend the legal protections and benefits of marriage to unmarried couples, regardless of gender. That includes responsibilities such as child support and medical decision-making and issues such as insurance coverage and adoption. Proponents say gay couples aren't the only ones who would benefit. Elderly opposite-sex couples may live together but decide against marriage. Opponents are pushing for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and woman.
OUTLOOK: The battleground is in the Senate, which is more conservative than the House. The New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops opposed domestic partnerships last year and that was a factor in the bill's defeat. If the bishops continue to stand against the proposal, it likely will fail.
Highlights of ethics issues before the Legislature:
BACKDROP: Corruption scandals have plagued New Mexico in recent years. Two former state treasurers and a former Senate leader went to federal prison. A grand jury is investigating possible wrongdoing in public investments. Charges have been filed against a former secretary of state for alleged misuse of federal election money. A former legislator who ran a regional housing agency has been indicted on fraud charges.
PROPOSALS: Gov. Bill Richardson and legislators suggest creating an independent commission to investigate allegations of ethical misconduct. Similar bills have failed in the past because of disagreements over who appoints commission members and its top staff. Other proposals: Banning campaign contributions from state contractors and lobbyists; prohibiting legislators from being paid lobbyists for a year after they leave office; and stopping retaliation against workers who blow the whistle on wrongdoing.
OUTLOOK: Another dispute that could derail the ethics commission is whether all branches of government should be subject to the commission's oversight. The courts and Legislature say they police themselves. Lawmakers have been reluctant to shut off the spigot of campaign money, which means trouble for the proposed ban on lobbyist contributions.