Proposed constitutional amendments by Dems draw fire from GOP

By Rob Nikolewski on January 23, 2014
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By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE  – The 30-day legislative session has just started but already, battle lines are getting drawn between Democrats and Republicans.

The issue? A slew of joint resolutions that would amend the state constitution in order to pass laws near and dear to the hearts of the more liberal wing of the Democratic constituency, which GOP leadership argues have been proposed to avoid almost certain vetoes by .

AMENDMENT MANIA: A slew of resolutions calling for amending the state constitution has divided Democrats and Republicans in the current 30-day legislative session.

“I think it’s definitely an end run,” , told . “It’s funny how when the administration on the fourth floor (where the governor’s office is located) changes, the majority party that controls the House and the Senate wants to run to the people with a constitutional amendment.”

“I can remember when, in other administrations, Democratic administrations, where certain constitutional amendments were put up by our loyal opposition party and I don’t think any of us (Democrats) called it end runs,” said .

Unlike other bills that must pass the House and Senate and then need to be signed by the governor in order to become enshrined into law, joint resolutions calling for changes to the constitution bypass the governor’s office.

Instead, if the resolutions pass both chambers they then go straight to the ballot in November and if voters across the state approve them, they become law, regardless of whether the executive branch approves or not.

So far, 19 joint resolutions have been introduced and the vast majority of them are sponsored by Democrats.

Among them: Calls for changing the constitution to raise the state’s minimum wage, legalize small amounts of marijuana and dipping into the to pay for early childhood education programs.

Also, , is sponsoring a resolution that would bring back the state’s board of education. If passed, the amendment would eliminate the position of.

Right now, the PED is run by secretary-designate , the target of criticism from many Democrats for leading the governor’s public education reform agenda.

“It’s not any way, shape or form an end run,” Padilla told New Mexico Watchdog on Thursday. “I have all the respect in the world for the governor …This is a constitutional matter. This is how this particular issue has been dealt with since New Mexico has been a state .”

“I don’t like what I’m seeing,” said . “I don’t think you should change the constitution because you’re upset with the policies of the executive … We have a legislative process here and I don’t think we should legislate by referendums .”

The fight over the resolution dealing with early childhood funding and the Land Grant Permanent Fund figures to be a major one.

Supporters say the fund can afford it.

“We’ve got $12 billion, $13 billion in that permanent fund that’s sitting there,” said Sanchez. “It just seems to me to be the right thing to do … It will make a difference in a lot of different areas — education, social issues, behavioral health issues, corrections issues, public safety issues.”

“For our kids, the best time for them to learn, truly, is between (ages) zero to five,” said , a teachers’ union in strong support of the Sanchez resolution.

Calling such proposals a “raid” on the permanent fund, Bratton said, ”If we change the distribution, no matter well intended, then ultimately it raises (New Mexicans’) taxes down the road … we need to be careful.”

Last year, a resolution calling for tapping the permanent fund ran into a roadblock. Fiscal conservative , didn’t have it heard in the , which he chairs. (Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described last year’s legislation as a bill. It was not a bill but a resolution.)

Progressives across the state blasted Smith’s maneuver and over the summer, a , approached Smith and gave him a sarcastic thank-you card in reference to a recent survey that had New Mexico replacing Mississippi for last-place in a national list of child welfare.

Smith told New Mexico Watchdog he’s not a fan of packing the legislative calendar with proposals aimed at amending the constitution.

“I think there’s more this year; it’s close to overload,” Smith said. “I’m against using our constitution as a referendum … If you go down that road you dilute the core value of governance in the state.”

The chances of passing the various constitutional resolutions appear to be better in the Senate than in the House.

Democrats have an eight-vote majority in the Senate but their lead in the House is more tenuous. There are 37 Democrats and 33 Republicans in the House but two Democrats in the House have missed the early days of the session due to illnesses.

“We shouldn’t take so flippantly the seriousness of amending our constitution,” Bratton said.

“It’s not a matter of bypassing the governor,” Ly said. “It’s a matter of believing that the voters need to vote on this.”

Contact Rob Nikolewski at and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

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3 Comments For This Post So Far

  1. L.E. Liesner
    8:39 pm on January 23rd, 2014

    It irks the devil out of these politicians knowning that there is money in the state coffers that they cannot spend. If they had their way, that 12 to 13 billion dollars would be gone in less than a 30 day session.The spend and spend mentality of politicians never changes, and when the money is gone they just raise taxes to get more to spend. Thrift is as foreign to them as the U.S. Constitution and the State Constitution, their God is the dollar sign.

    3:35 pm on January 24th, 2014

    “… run to the people …”

    will someone please notify the CDC – there appears to be an incipient potential outbreak of DEMOCRACY in New Mexico

    ( what about the children?! will nobody think of the children??!!)

  3. L.E. Liesner
    8:23 pm on January 24th, 2014

    If you listen to these politicians, almost everything that they do is for the children. While in reality it is to satisfy their quest for power or line their greedy pockets. You do not need to wonder why politicians are held in so low esteem, just watch them in action.

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