New Mexico’s top Senate Democrat outlines his priorities

New Mexico State Capitol | Adobe Image

SANTA FE, NM (AP) – New Mexico’s top-ranked state senator said on Friday Democrats would push for direct financial relief to low-income frontline workers who have borne the brunt of the pandemic – an idea already defended by minority Republicans – during the next legislative session.

Senate Democratic Majority Leader Peter Wirth said pandemic relief efforts are expected to take center stage as the 60-day session begins Jan. 19 and efforts are underway to channel part of the state’s strong financial reserves to workers and small businesses. Reserves swelled to about $ 2.5 billion, or 34% of the annual general fund spending obligations.

“Right off the bat you’re going to see a real emphasis on, again, using some of the one-time money that we have… a huge amount of money… to distribute it to small businesses that are really in pain. , to working families, to essential workers, ”said Wirth.

He described a possible “supplement of some sort” to essential workers earning less than $ 15 an hour. Senate Republican Minority Leader Gregory Baca de Belen lamented Democrats did not accept the relief offered to frontline workers in a November special session.

Baca said Senate Republicans are focused on the coronavirus and economic recovery – and will push for a more democratic approach to emergency health orders linked to the pandemic – an approach that gives the legislature a role in authorizing restrictions currently issued by the executive branch of government.

“Our priority right now is the protection and recovery of New Mexico,” Baca said. “We’re going to have a recovery which is going to be difficult, because of the length of the shutdown and the severity of the shutdown.”

Wirth noted that further direct federal aid to state government is more likely now that the US Senate is Democratic-controlled after Tuesday’s run-off elections in Georgia. He said school districts in New Mexico are already expected to receive $ 400 million in direct federal aid under the program approved in December by Congress and President Donald Trump.

Wirth said initiatives to allow recreational marijuana and strengthen state abortion rights provisions are also a priority, after several Democrats successfully campaigned on the issues. Gradual political change among Senate Democrats could also lay the groundwork for tax reform, he said, including personal tax rate adjustments that ease the burden on low-income residents, increase high income rate, or both. “There is a willingness to look for ways to really use the tax code to put our values ​​first,” Wirth said.

Democrats will hold a 27-15 majority in the State Senate and a 45-15 majority in the State House when the legislature meets. A push is also underway among Democrats, including Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, to funnel more money each year into early childhood education from the state’s multibillion-dollar standing funds.

In a new twist, Wirth said proposals are in the works that would also funnel this trust money into K-12 and preschool education to tackle the state’s struggling school system and the threat of judicial intervention. Recent proposals have focused on preschool students only.

Lawmakers are seeking answers to a landmark 2018 state district court ruling that found New Mexico did not provide adequate educational opportunities for poor and minority students and people with disabilities.

Parents and school districts have successfully sued the state in its efforts to demand more resources for public education amid frustrations over state budget priorities and average academic proficiency rates in reading and reading. math that lags behind most states.

Leadership positions in the State Senate are up for grabs with the departure of Senate Speaker Mary Kay Papen following a loss in the primary elections. Democrats have appointed Senator Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque to fill the post, which takes precedence over key committee positions.

Wirth says he’s confident Stewart will be elected by a vote from the entire Senate.

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