--2 Martinez, Democrats differing agendas could mean a difficult session
Oct. 25, 2016
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Martinez, Democrats differing agendas could mean a difficult session

January 21, 2014, 9:00 pm
By Matthew Reichbach
One thing is clear from Tuesday's opening of the 2014 legislative session: On high profile issues, things will be anything but smooth between Democrats and Gov. Susana Martinez.
Sure, there is a budget surplus -- but that just means arguments over where that money goes.

When it comes to education, Martinez advocated for more money "below the line" -- money that would go to the Public Education Department to help with reform ideas. The Democrats want more money to be "above the line" -- money that goes directly to districts who decide how to spend the money.

Both Martinez and Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, who gave the Democratic response, said the other of promoting money for bureaucracy rather than students.

"Money should go directly to supporting struggling students, increasing parental involvement, developing and rewarding successful teachers, and turning failing schools around - not simply funneling all of our education dollars toward the bureaucracy."

Soules said Democrats want "Local control, not bureaucracy at the state level."

Martinez wants third graders who don't read proficiently to be held back since they are four times more likely to not graduate on time. Soules says that Martinez is juking the numbers and nearly 85 percent of third graders who don't read proficiently graduate according to the same study Martinez cites.

Pay raises are also at issue. Martinez wants merit pay, saying it will reward the best teachers. Soules says that merit pay doesn't work with a profession like teaching.

"It‘s time to act. The Legislature should do what the overwhelming majority of New Mexicans are demanding – repeal this dangerous law," Martinez said of the law that allows undocumented immigrants, or illegal immigrants as she says, to earn drivers licenses in the state.

"It allows people to participate in our economy," Soules said of the law.

Martinez exhorted the legislature to "not play games" when it came to ending social promotion for third graders.

Soules said, "We need someone who is going to lead and govern, not play politics" when it comes to a number of issues.

On some issues, the two sides are so far apart that Democrats are using constitutional amendments to sidestep Susana Martinez. Only bills that Martinez puts on the call can be heard in a short session -- except budget related bills, proposed constitutional amendments and memorials (which are mainly symbolic and don't have the force of law). The governor does not get a say on constitutional amendments or memorials.

With constitutional amendments, once both chambers pass it, the question goes to voters in November.

The main issue that Democrats are pushing for on the economic front is a constitutional amendment that would raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour. Martinez supported raising the minimum wage to $7.80 per hour last year (up 30 cents from the current $7.50 per hour) when Democrats were seeking an $8.50 minimum wage.

The Democratic version passed and Martinez vetoed it. A proposed constitutional amendment to tie the minimum wage to the consumer price index failed last year in a House committee.

The Republicans have their own constitutional amendments, including one that would bar marriage for same-sex couples. This legislation has been attempted in past years but has never cleared the committee process.

Even some issues where they agree on have significant differences. Both the governor's office and the Legislative Finance Committee agree the Lottery Scholarship has problems with funding that need to be fixed. However, there are differences in how much money each side want to go towards shoring up the program.

There are some pieces of legislation that should pass easily.

Erin's Law, which would mandate age appropriate sexual abuse training for students, is reportedly an easy sell for both sides. So is banning the sale of e-cigarettes for minors.

Speaker of the House Ken Martinez said in remarks at the beginning of the session, "The biggest part of what we do is how we can create things together."

"With great challenges come great opportunities," Martinez said. "To seize these opportunities, we must come together - Republicans and Democrats, the Legislature and the Governor."

On many big issues, however, coming together will be difficult.


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