Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

By Ron Warnick
QCS Senior Writer 

Legislators talk session priorities

 

January 20, 2021



Two area lawmakers talked about their top legislative priorities, the state’s proposed budget, proposed marijuana legalization and security at the Roundhouse as the New Mexico Legislature reconvenes this week for its annual 60-day session.

The Quay County Sun reached out to state Sen. Pat Woods (R-Broadview) and state Rep. Jack Chatfield (R-Mosquero), whose districts encompass all or most of Quay County.

Priorities

Woods said he’ll be one of at least four lawmakers who will seek to curb the governor’s power during emergencies — an issue that became a hot topic when she imposed stout restrictions on many aspects of the state’s economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“One thing I’d like to see is limiting the governor’s executive powers,” he said. “If you’re taking away a business’ right to do a business away from them, their representatives should have a say-so in that.”

Chatfield said he’s pushing for two bills that would boost the state’s cattle industry.

The first would fund an office at New Mexico State University that would streamline the process for enterpreneuers who wish to build meat-packing facilities in the state and establish connections with grocery stores, feedlots and cooperatives to create a ready market.

Chatfield said the beef industry is too dependent on large, multinational corporations for meat processing.

“We saw what happened last year when even one of them closes their doors or decides not to take cattle,” he said. “The bottom falls out of the cattle market. The big companies have a stranglehold on meat-processing in our nation. We need more capacity.”

Chatfield said he’s also a co-sponsor on a bill that would enable the New Mexico Livestock Board to perform in-state meat inspections. That way, the cattle industry wouldn’t be as dependent on the federal government inspectors at existing New Mexico packing houses.

Budget

The New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration last week released a budget recommendation of $7.3 billion from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a 3.3% increase from the previous fiscal year. The budget also would contain a 25% reserve.

Woods observed the state “upgraded the revenues several times as of late.” He surmised the reason the budget outlook improved was because many state operations were shut down during the pandemic, creating a cost savings.

He also acknowledged the CARES Act and other federal coronavirus relief programs put a huge amount of money into the state economy, blunting the effect of the recession.

Woods said many legislators are making “a big push” for progressive tax-rate increase on higher-income residents. He indicated he was going to reserve judgement on that until he saw a finished bill.

“It all depends on how you figure that tax and how many deductions are allowed,” he said.

Chatfield seemed resigned the Democrat-controlled Roadhouse would institute a tax hike of some sort.

“I’m against tax increases, but I would say probably there are folks there who aren’t,” he said, laughing.

“I’m in favor of tightening your belt and spending what you have. I suppose I’d feel differently if the money was used wisely, but I think there’s some things we can cut.”

Chatfield said the state’s oil and gas industry “came through stronger than we expected” during the recession, but caution with future state budgets is warranted.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen with the energy industry in the next year,” he said. “Most folks think it won’t return to what we’ve seen in the past until 2024.”

Pot legalization

Woods said he opposes the legalization of recreational marijuana but admitted it probably would happen this year.

“At first blush, I’m going to vote no,” he said. “But, let me tell you, it’s going to pass.”

Considering that, Woods said he’d support amendments to a pot-legalization bill that would make it “more digestable to our citizens, our law enforcement, our neighboring states.”

One problem Woods said surfaced in Colorado when it legalized recreational marijuana a few years ago was dispensaries weren’t allowed to deposit their cash in FDIC-insured banks. Future New Mexico dispensaries must be allowed to deposit their money in local banks, he said.

“When there’s profit made, the bank is then allowed to loan that money out and help with economic development in the local area. That’s exactly where we want that money deposited. That way, it helps us all,” he said.

Woods said he also wants an amendment that would require marijuana edibles to be packaged so they’re childproof.

Woods acknowledged he has a general distaste for marijuana legalization.

“I realize that alcohol and cigarettes are the worst drugs out there,” he said. “Maybe marijuana is a lesser drug than those two. My misgiving is the black eye this drug has because of the criminal element that has been involved with it.”

Chatfield was succint in his response to pot legalization.

“I’m a ‘no.’ I don’t think it would make us a better place to live,” he said.

“We don’t live too far from Colorado, which has a lot of tourism but also has a lot of problems. Then you have the problem with the pot going across the state line,” he said when asked to elaborate on his opposition.

Security

A contingent of National Guardsmen and New Mexico State Police will be assigned this week to protect the Roundhouse in Santa Fe after a mob barged into the U.S. Capitol earlier this month while Congress was certifying the results of the presidential election. Temporary fencing and concrete barriers were erected around the Roundhouse, and the governor declared a state of emergency after federal law-enforcement authorities warned that insurrectionists might target other state capitols across the country.

Woods said he didn’t hold any concerns for his safety.

“Am I afraid for my life? No. Is the Democratic leadership concerned? They’re scared plumb to death,” he said.

Woods said the perception the general election was stolen from President Donald Trump has angered some residents, but so has the governor’s coronavirus restrictions.

“People think, in their minds, that the governor has overstepped her bounds, telling them they you got to limit your numbers at church, you can’t have a family get-together … all of that. I’ve been to meeting where people are so mad, you’d think they were going to hang me.

“But it’s my duty to take care of my constituents. Why are you serving if you’re not willing to give your life to the country?”

Chatfield said he also was unconcerned about safety worries at the Roundhouse.

“I’m going to go there and do my job,” he said.

 
 

Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2020

Rendered 02/25/2021 01:38