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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Legislature Steadies State Ship As Recession Roils Waters; Lawmakers Adjourn Session; Pass Campaign Money Limits in Final Moments; Give Them an A- 

The New Mexico Legislature adjourned its 2009 60 day session at noon Saturday, after giving the state a reprieve from the worst impact of the deep and powerful recession ravaging the nation and approving a measure limiting campaign contributions starting in 2011. (AP recap is here).

With the seemingly endless stream of oil and gas revenues abruptly halted by the global economic crisis, the 112 lawmakers--with a big helping hand from Uncle Sam--put in place a budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1st that calls for no layoffs or furloughs of state employees and no major cuts in education and human services programs, a particularly important accomplishment in a state where hundreds of thousands depend on government transfer payments to make ends meet.

How long the state can keep the wolf from the door and avoid inflicting deeper budget pain will be determined by the state of the economy going forward and whether Washington continues to assist state's experiencing budget shortfalls. If the economy craters further, a special session of the Legislature could be needed to plug more holes

To the surprise--and the delight--of politics watchers the Legislature in its waning moments approved its first major piece of ethics reform in years. They capped the amount that can be given to political campaigns, joining 45 states that have already slapped on limits. The measure that went to the Governor--who said he will sign it--limits donations to statewide candidates like Governor to $5,000 each for the primary and general elections. It limits to $2,300 per election the amount that can be given to a legislative candidate.

With the money shortage casting a shadow over every day of the session, the Roundhouse atmosphere was much more muted than years past when the cash flowed uninterrupted. With the Governor in agreement that no major spending initiatives would be pushed, legislators dug in and did what was expected of them and a bit more. Give this one an A-.

TEMPERS FLARE

Tempers flared in the final exhausting moments of the legislative session, with NM House Speaker Ben Lujan confronting State Senate Finance Committee Chairman and fellow Democrat John Arthur Smith on the Senate floor and calling Smith a "racist SOB." The argument was over a Lujan amendment killed in Senate finance. A recording of the confrontation is here. We suspect Lujan, played out after two long months of lawmaking, let his emotions get ahead of him.

(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2009
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