By Sarah Meyer: CNJ News Editor
The 2008 New Mexico Legislature begins its 30-day session Tuesday in Santa Fe. This year’s session focuses on the state budget, but other issues come into play at the governor’s request.
One of the top issues this year promises to be Gov. Bill Richardson’s plan for universal health coverage. Other issues identified by eastern New Mexico senators and representatives include transportation, a new funding formula for education, ethics and water.
Area legislators believe they can finish the task of establishing a budget for Fiscal Year 2009 in the allotted time, but most agree that there isn’t enough money for everything on the list. They will be working with approximately $5 billion in the general fund, which goes toward recurring expenses. Most of the general fund goes to education.
“Money available to implement change (in education funding) becomes the question,” said Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis.
Regarding the governor’s plan for universal health care coverage, Harden said, “There’s no good indication of what it’s going to cost.”
And he said not enough money is available for transportation.
Rep. Brian Moore, R-Clayton, said, “I think we’ll get more done than people think” in the 30 days. But he also said, “I think we’ll spend every dime we have.”
“We’ll do our best and stick to developing a good budget, said Rep. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs. “If we do that, we’ve done our job.”
Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said legislators will have firm figures for the budget by the end of the first two weeks.
“The last two weeks will be extremely busy,” he said.
Ingle said more money is in the budget this year than last year, “but it’s not coming in at the rate it was.”
“We’ll have to make sure we don’t overspend,” he said.
To pay for everything would require an increase in taxes, and he doesn’t think the Legislature will vote for that.
“Nothing ever changes in government, no matter who’s in charge. Everybody always needs more money,” Ingle said. “Something’s not going to get all the money it needs.
Rep. Jose “Joe” Campos II, D-Santa Rosa, also thinks there isn’t enough money to accommodate all the requests.
Health care coverage will take more time, he said. “I still have some concerns.”
Rep. Keith Gardner, R-Roswell, said most of the issues boil down to funding.
“The focus needs to be on getting a reasonable budget,” he said. “This year things are tight.
Gardner added that legislators appreciate phone calls and e-mails from constituents. “It really helps us in doing our jobs.”
The session ends Feb. 14.