Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham discussed several things at her State of the State Address that could affect Eastern New Mexico. The Chase photo: Marilyn Upchurch
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham gave her State of the State address on Jan. 21 which started the 2020 legislative session. She mentioned some of her top priorities which included legalization of recreational cannabis, free college and healthcare.
The opportunity scholarship, according to Lujan Grisham, is a comprehensive embrace of universal higher education. “It is a prudent, sustainable investment in the bridge we must build between our classrooms and our workforce,” she said. The Governor added that New Mexico has the power to make tuition-free higher education a reality, which she says will benefit 55,000 New Mexican students in the fall.
Senator William Sharer of District 1 said that the Governor is incorrect in saying this. “We want to make sure that education is funded, but free college? Who’s going to pay for that?” He commented that oil and gas would be funding this. “And when oil and gas goes away, who’s going to pay for that? Well we’re going to raise taxes on the average person,” Sharer said. The senator stated that part of the republican priorities is wanting a balanced budget. “A balanced budget that also makes sense, that is reasonable, that’s not way out of control by spending all of this money… so I think that’s our priority here.” The Governor took credit for many things that were done by her administration in her speech, but according to Sharer, oil and gas are to thank. He added that the reason there were not teacher raises before was because they didn’t have the money to fund raises and fund everything else on the list.
Some bills that affect Eastern New Mexico include House Bill 76; Eastern NM Water Utility Authority Membership and House Bill 167; Wastewater System Financing. These bills are sponsored by Curry County representative Randall S. Crowder.
“Water is very important in Eastern New Mexico with the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer,” said Martin R. Zamora, the representative of District 63. He said that there are concerns. One of the concerns is reaching Ute Lake and having water to put in the pipeline. “Otherwise it’s going to go to the farmers supplying water for the pipeline.” He said this hasn’t been looked at closely. “We are wondering how that’s going to play out in the future. It concerns us as legislators.” He talked about the importance of knowing all the details. “We hope that everything goes forward in a good way for Eastern New Mexico and the water project. He said that his priorities include fiscal responsibility for the state. “The state needs to be at a point and in a place where we don’t have to raise taxes on the people.”
The Governor stated in her speech that cannabis can make the economy stronger. “Recreational cannabis can be the next frontier of our economic expansion,” she said, “we can get in on the ground floor or we can try to play catch up.” She added that New Mexicans support the legalization. “75% of New Mexico supports the legalization of adult-use cannabis, including strong support in rural areas.”
Zamora said that when he was running for office, his platform was against cannabis. “I’m against cannabis today as a recreational.” He voted for medical cannabis and added that he did so because there is scientific proof it helps with seizures and pain. “I’m not against medical cannabis, but when we look at it from a recreational side, it’s a whole different animal,” he said. “I believe it will expose our kids to cannabis; that’s not good.” Zamora said that New Mexico will not be like Colorado. “When it comes to looking at cannabis for a profit for the state so we can fund other things that the state funds like medical, law enforcement, our children, our schools… we don’t need that; we have income from good, clean sources.” He said that New Mexico does not need cannabis to be supplying the state’s money. “This is a controversial subject and will remain controversial.” He added though the Governor said rural areas are for legalizing cannabis, the people in his rural district do not want cannabis legalized. “What I hear from my communities, is not for recreational marijuana.”
Senator Stuart Ingle who represents the 27th district stated that there are some bonds that Eastern New Mexico University has applied for which will help remodel a dormitory on campus. Ingle said that in Eastern New Mexico, the question is always, “What can we do for our schools?” He added that there will be salary increases.
His priorities during the 30-day session include concentrating on the financial needs of the state, higher education, public education and highway construction. He added that New Mexico is fortunate enough to have oil and gas mineral royalties owned by the state which he says are always pouring into the economy.
“The thing about the water lines in Portales… what happened when the contractors put them in is, they didn’t bed them in blow sand,” he said. “We’re going to fix those things.” He said that there are some old lines, but some of the new ones are already breaking. “We’ve got a good city manager that can do the job well.” He added that he will help in any way he can. Ingle also stated that there will be money that will fund infrastructure in Eastern New Mexico. “We’re going to have appropriate money for highway construction and street construction around the city of Portales and the university and other things.”
Ingle also commented on the Governor’s proposed free college. “Nothing’s ever free…the Lottery Scholarship program came in about 12 or so years ago…then we had enough money flowing in there where every high school graduate in New Mexico could get their tuition paid for but our major universities primarily kept raising tuition on the lottery scholarship students and instead of making it a year at a time, they would raise it on all the scholarship people there…it still pays 60%; that’s still awfully good.” Ingle said that nothing is going to be free and the goal is to figure out the right way to accomplish this. “If we attempt it…the thing about it is we have to figure out some way to cut the cost where this won’t be a cash cow for universities to just keep milking it because eventually it will run out of money again.”
The Governor said that this year, her administration protected New Mexicans from federal efforts that were going to dismantle health care services. “With your support, we enacted safeguards against attempts to roll back the Affordable Care Act and strip New Mexicans of the health care lifelines they depend on.” She added that this is not enough. “We, as a state, have to keep fighting to ensure health care as affordable, high-quality and accessible as it can possibly be. And this year, with your support, we can move aggressively to reduce health care costs… for New Mexico families.” She said that this includes reducing drug costs. A way her administration hopes to achieve this is with Senate Bill 1 which Lujan Grisham says will cut costs for New Mexico families by importing wholesale prescription drugs from Canada.
Other items mentioned in her address were early childhood education (teacher raises), protecting the environment, job growth, the economy, and proposing stricter penalties for gun, drug and human trafficking to keep the purveyors off the streets for longer periods of time. She said that New Mexicans are tired of seeing predators circle in and out of custody. “Let’s all agree that the days of hardened, violent, repeat offenders not doing any real time, getting unwarranted second and third and fourth chances because our system is too broken to hold people accountable…those days must end, and they must end now.” She added that New Mexico must draw a line and that dangerous repeat offenders have got to be in jail. “If we are clear about keeping New Mexico families safe, we have to commit to accepting responsibility and giving law enforcement the tools they need—to give New Mexicans the peace of mind they deserve.” The Governor mentioned that the state launched the Fugitive Apprehension Unit this year. She said that State Police officers were sent to help support local police efforts in Alamogordo, Valencia County, Albuquerque, and at the border. “And under my budget proposal we will fund 60 new State Police officers and better pay for new recruits,” Lujan Grisham said, “we’ll give them the time and support they need to make meaningful connections with the communities they serve all across New Mexico and to keep them safe.”
The session will continue until February 20, 2020. The Governor said that she will be relentless, competitive, caffeinated and will work tirelessly for New Mexicans. “Together, we will keep investing for tomorrow and delivering today.”