Serving the High Plains

Legislators begin session with money to spend

Two local lawmakers began the New Mexico Legislature’s 30-day session this week with state coffers awash with money — and not just from a record-high $8.4 billion budget due to oil and gas revenue.

State Sen. Pat Woods (R-Broadview), whose District 7 encompasses parts of Quay, Curry and Union counties, said in a telephone interview Thursday that lawmakers have to account for federal coronavirus relief money for future spending, as well.

With some federal funds still unspent from a special session in December, he said the legislature will have about $11 billion available.

“We’ve got a bunch of money to spend,” he said.

“We’re going to have some pretty healthy reserves, which is good,” he added. “That way, we can push that into another year.

“We’ll hopefully do a whole lot of infrastructure (spending). I’d like to see a whole lot of money going into local governments. I want to push $3 million to $4 million into local governments so they can take care of some of their infrastructure problems.”

Woods said he also wants a healthy sum allocated to local capital outlay projects this year.

State Rep. Jack Chatfield (R-Mosquero), whose District 67 includes parts of Quay, Colfax, Curry, Harding, Roosevelt, San Miguel and Union counties, signaled he wanted plenty of local spending from that fat state budget.

“My priority would be to bring up a good, workable budget that recognizes our rural areas and eastern New Mexico,” he said in a phone interview Thursday.

Both lawmakers said they would vote for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s proposal to give 7% raises to schoolteachers.

“There’s a lot of support for that. I think that part of it will go,” Woods said, adding he also supports several million dollars going into teacher pension funds.

“I think there’s good support for that,” Chatfield said of teacher raises. “I definitely support that. I feel like teachers is a spot where money needs to go.”

Chatfield said he wants raises for New Mexico State Police, too.

“I’d really like to see the officers on the ground get a good raise,” he said. “I’m not sure they’re the lowest-paid compared to our surrounding states, but they’re close to it. I think they said they’re down 100 officers, and we can’t let that happen — not with the crime wave going. We need to give them whatever it takes to help them do a good job.”

Woods said one bill he wants to push through the legislature is a reforestation program that partners the University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University and New Mexico Highlands with New Mexico State Forestry to plant seedlings in wildfire-torn areas.

“It takes a long time for a forest to naturally regrow. What this is trying to do is create a program to capture seeds, put them in a seed bank to grow seedlings at about 10 times the rate as what we grow today and replant forest,” he said.

“This is a pretty big undertaking, but we need to put some money together to guarantee the survivability of our forests.”

Chatfield again wants the state to allocate more funds for in-state meat inspectors.

“We’ve had a variety of things, including COVID, have shut down our large, multinational packing houses,” said Chatfield, who also is a rancher. “That immediately drops the prices of our calves. We need to start feeding New Mexico with beef that’s produced in New Mexico.

“We’ve already got some small packing houses that have opened up around the state. There’s a great demand out there by the public to buy meat they know where it came from and grown locally.”

He said his bill would boost the number of state meat inspectors from six to as many as 17.

Chatfield said his bill has received support from the state’s secretary of economic development in addition to the secretary of agriculture.

“We got it through last year with virtually no opposition,” he said. “In the last hours of the session, it simply didn’t get called to the floor.”

Chatfield noted Las Vegas — the home base of state Sen. Pete Campos — recently saw the opening of a meat-packing plant.

“I bet he’s behind that bill,” he said.

Woods and Chatfield saw minor changes to their territories after redistricting. Woods, who weeks ago thought he would lose Tucumcari in his district, instead saw only minor changes in Texico and Clovis precincts.

Chatfield, who announced earlier this month he would run for re-election, said he lost about half of the city of Raton but gained territory from Cannon Air Force Base.

Neither lawmaker said they saw changes in Quay County with their districts.

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