Area lawmakers largely united on issues

Curry and Roosevelt County state lawmakers seem united on what issues need the most attention in the upcoming New Mexico Legislature, which begins Jan. 15.

Education, economic development and financial reforms, either in taxes or in fund distributions, seem to be on the radar for Republicans and Democrats alike, and most have pledged, as Gov. Susana Martinez has, to work across the aisle.

It will be the first term for Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview. He said he intends to "watch mostly" in his first year as a representative for Curry and Quay counties. The Curry County farmer and rancher said, however, that he favors "bringing local control back to local governments." As an example of a state rule that does not work, he cited a an environmental regulation that requires wells on the edge of waste lagoons on dairy farms. He said such a rule is likely to lead to more contamination of ground water if toxic materials leak into the well from the lagoons. Such issues, he said, would be better settled at the local level. "The less state government we have, the better," he said.

He also emphasized support for economic development to bring more private business into the state.

"The state's biggest employer is state government," he said. "We need more private industry here."

To help recruit new business and expansion of existing business, Woods also supports a reduction in state corporate income taxes. For example, he said, Intel Corp., which has a major facility in Albuquerque, recently decided to add a major expansion in Arizona because of income tax differences.

"We've got to get our people working in good paying jobs," he said. "We've got to do something to make people prosperous instead of being one of the poorest states."

He also said he wants to work on legislation for workers compensation reform and to "clean up language" in the capital outlay legislation. Overall, he said, "we have to stabilize our finances for the future."

Woods said he also supports making more federal land in the state available to private business, especially for oil and natural gas extraction.

Local projects he supports include:

  • Building more stables at the Curry County Event Center in Clovis.
  • A cooperative effort with Texas state officials to build an highway overpass over railroad tracks on the state line between Texico and Farwell.
  • Funding for a plan that would allow Clovis to use water reclaimed at treatment plants for irrigation.
  • A cooperative effort with Texas state officials to build an highway overpass over railroad tracks on the state line between Texico and Farwell.
  • Funding for a plan that would allow Clovis to use water reclaimed at treatment plants for irrigation.
  • A cooperative effort with Texas state officials to build an highway overpass over railroad tracks on the state line between Texico and Farwell.

Locally, he said, he will support efforts to build more stables at the Curry County Event Center in Clovis.

He also hopes that in this legislative session, the state makes progress on banning drivers licenses for illegal immigrants.

Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, said, "I'm going to try to go along with the governor's initiatives," She said New Mexico needs a balanced budget and education is priority issue for her.

"These are trying times," she said. "We're all going to have to bite the bullet when the money's not there. We're going to have to cut down on programs. I've always supported no tax increases."

She also said, however, that she will support cities and counties to maintain the current system of capital outlay funding, in which capital outlay money is distributed equally to the governor's office, legislators and cities and counties. "The governor's plan has not been well received," she said.

Martinez has proposed a system, outlined in the New Century Economy committee's New Century Agenda report of mid-2012, in which the state evaluates and prioritizes projects based on their regional and statewide importance for capital outlay funding. This approach would garner more federal matching funds, to "maximize the economic investment into our state." The current approach, according to the committee, is "piecemeal."

Rep. Bob Wooley, R-Roswell, said is seeking to devote some capital outlay funds for Roosevelt General Hospital and to water projects. He said he is hoping for an appointment to the water and agriculture committee.

He wants to see a lower corporate income tax rate in New Mexico, he said. He said he favors a reduction from 7.5 percent to 5.5 percent to make New Mexico competitive with surrounding states.

He said he also places high priority on education.

"New Mexico is too far down in too many areas," he said, but he said he is glad to note that "we've got quite a few Republicans and Democrats working together" to solve some of the state's problems.

Oil and gas production, he said, are the "lifeblood" of the state, and he said he will be alert to make sure these industries are not burdened with additional taxes.

George Dodge, the only Democrat among the state legislators for Curry and Roosevelt counties, seems to have more areas of agreement with his Republican colleagues than not.

Dodge's first priority, he said, is improving the state's education system.

He favors raises for teachers and other educational staff members and soliciting ideas from teachers and administrators as new legislation to improve education develops.

Like his Republican colleagues, Dodge places high priority on economic development. He sees promise in developing wind energy in Guadalupe and De Baca counties, which are also in his district. He also said he favors a particular focus for economic development in smaller communities, such as Melrose, Fort Sumner and Vaughn in his district.

"I will work hard to get them the help they need," he said.

He said he is also concerned with drought relief.

As he views farms and ranches in his district, he said, "It's getting like the old dust bowl. It hurts us to the core."

He said he seeks to continue working across party lines with Republicans and added that he and the other three representatives who represent Curry and Roosevelt counties "get along well."

Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Texico, listed five bills he intends to introduce or re-introduce to the legislature this year, as the top priorities among more that he intends to usher through the legislative process in this term.

They include bills that would:

  • Create a "dental therapist" designation in New Mexico that would allow skilled dental technicians to perform work as dental providers whose work would be covered by dental plans. The dental therapists, Roch said, would work under the direction of dentists. The therapists, he said, would allow more patients to receive professional dental services, especially in rural areas, than can be reached by fully licensed dentists.
  • Increase the retirement benefit currently in state law for volunteer firefighters. Roch said the increase would be indexed to be the equivalent of benefit authorized 20 years ago. The amount of that benefit has not changed in that time, Roch said.
  • Place new limits on workers' compensation benefits for workers who are hurt on the job due to abuse of drugs or alcohol. Roch said the state Supreme Court has ruled that the current law on this point is ambiguous, and that this bill would provide clarity "on the side of personal responsibility," Roch said. In other words, being under the influence of drugs or alcohol on the job is a personal choice, Roch said, and should be subject to consequences.
  • Replace the current three-tier advancement system for teachers with one based on teacher "effectiveness." The three-tier system depends on a dossier of teaching data and observations presented by teachers, an approach that Roch said is arbitrary. Advancing teachers based on effectiveness, Roch said, involves many more dimensions and strikes a balance between objective standards and the judgment of superiors, colleagues, students and parents.
  • Make the penalties for causing death from boating under the influence of drugs and alcohol equivalent to penalties for death caused by driving under the influence. Roch said this will be the third time he has attempted to get this bill passed. The previous two attempts failed to survive Senate votes. This time, Roch said, he intends to actively recruit senators to carry the bill to enactment.

State Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, did not return calls seeking comment.

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