The 56th Legislature Begins

By Jennie Lusk

Democrats can make all the difference to New Mexicans by the March 18 closing of the first session of the 56th legislature.

The governor’s proposed executive budget recommends appropriations of $9.4 billion—an increase of 11.9% in state spending, and reserves 34% of income The full details of the FY24 Executive Budget Recommendation are available here.

The Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) also presents a budget for appropriations. LFC recommends a $9.44 billion, or 12%, increase and sets reserves at 30%. The LFC report is available here:

By the close of the session, the outcome is expected to compromise between the executive and legislative branches.

Democrats dominate at the legislature, in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. With historic levels of money available for legislators to appropriate, New Mexico can fund both systemic change and initiatives already underway through Democratic leadership on the floor of the roundhouse, the 4th floor governor’s office, and every single statewide elected office—attorney general, secretary of state, land commissioner, auditor, and treasurer.

We’ve come a long way, as Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham made clear in her second inaugural address. Pre-filed legislation proposes significant environmental and water policy, housing and health care expansion, criminal justice reform, and protections for the right to vote and the right to choose.

All looks positive as the legislative session opens.

But, historically, having plenty of money can bring up differences among legislators and between the legislative and executive branch. We’ve seen some of this already. Keeping in mind the public’s great and justified expectations, our elected officials should avoid turning on each other and turning off potential voters.

Progressives have legitimate expectations for the legislature and governor: We expect them to address and effectively fund housing initiatives—making it possible not only to get people off the streets but also to increase the number of New Mexicans who can afford their rent or a down payment. We’re monitoring public education that supports New Mexico’s diversity in the classroom, and expect that increases in funding for education begin to have a significant impact. We’ll be watching to see that the Corrections Department ends its downward spiral, quits tolerating “in-house parole” (an oxymoron), and fixes the drop in its adult basic education enrollment. (Both these policy failures threaten public safety as well as injuring inmates.) The State is making progress on the environmental front, but all of us are waiting for generational improvements to protect New Mexico through water policy and alternate energy investments.

Part of progress on the environmental front should be continued oversight and protection against nuclear disasters that still threaten beneath the surface at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project and from Los Alamos nuclear waste storage and transportation.

Let’s hope the 60-day session stays positive throughout. Given that we’ve already had 4 years of Democratic leadership and are no longer fighting uphill battles, voters rightly will hold Democrats accountable for good results.