Looking back at the 60-day state legislative session, Dist. 43 Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard described it as “everything but the kitchen sink.”
The session not only featured variety but also a mixed bag of good and bad news. Garcia Richard gave members of the Rotary Club of Los Alamos a glimpse of the session during the regular club meeting Tuesday at the Manhattan Project Restaurant.
The session certainly offered challenges but Garcia Richard said, “the good news doesn’t make it out the door as quickly as the bad news.” So she pinpointed some of the positive outcomes lawmakers achieved.
The state expected to receive $240 million in new money but what it got was $83 million. Still, Garcia Richard said the money was given to some great projects. For instance, public education was funded $36 million while the state corrections department received $10 million. Plus, the Children, Youth and Families Department received $8.3 million, public safety was given $6.8 million and $3.5 million was funded to economic development.
She further reported that to help spur economic development in New Mexico, a job council was formed. Representatives from Democratic and Republican parties are on the council along with individuals from chambers of commerce and different industries, economists and representatives from other areas in the state.
The council will use a set of metrics to determine if the state is making sound investments. Garcia Richard said the state’s revenue is mainly from oil and gas industries as well as the federal government. The council will look at other areas that New Mexico should expand.
“We want to diversify,” she said.
The council’s objective is to create 160,000 new jobs during the next decade.
So far, the council has recommended the state invest $37.5 million in the Local Economic Development Act as well as $7.5 million in job training, $1.5 million in MainStreet programs, and $1.2 million in New Mexico Partnership.
“This is pretty dramatic,” Garcia Richard said. “These are impressive investments.”
Another highlight was the passage of a bill that attempts to bring a comprehensive approach to forest and watershed health. The state’s forests are in bad shape, Garcia Richard said, which causes the watersheds to be harmed. This bill creates a commission that will look at different forest projects and determine which to fund and what needs to be accomplished.
Garcia Richard also had a few of her own bills passed that now await the governor’s signiture. One bill helps ensure veterans’ families receive college tuition assistance from the GI bill. Another bill provides greater flexibility in determining elected officials’ salaries. A third bill gives local wineries, breweries and distilleries the license to sell each other’s products. Another bill allows for more information to be posted on the Sunshine Portal, a website that strives to bring transparency and accountability to the state government by providing a variety of information from budgets and revenue to spending and contracts.
It wasn’t all good news. Garcia Richard commented legislators did not pass funding for capital projects. Meaning, “there will be no capital projects in the state this year,” she said. So Los Alamos County’s capital projects which included improving Duane Smith Auditorium and the White Rock Senior Kitchen are not funded.
Dist. 43 Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard speaking Tuesday about the 2015 Legislative Session to the Rotary Club of Los Alamos. Photo by Carol A. Clark/ladailypost.com