LOS LUNAS — Six of the eight legislators representing Valencia County came together to discuss this year’s legislative session, saying it they put in a lot of hours and did a lot of work.

Rep. Matthew McQueen

Rep. Matthew McQueen (D-District 50) said he was happy with the outcome of this year’s legislative session, saying a lot of bills were passed that will make New Mexico better.

Rep. Alonzo Baldonado

Rep. Alonzo Baldonado (R-District 8) said this year’s 60-day session was rigorous.

“It was a hard-working session … and it was a different feel with the new administration,” Baldonado said. “The biggest thing was the transition. I wasn’t sure who I needed to talk to with the new cabinet secretaries in place.

“But things are going well; we had a lot of legislation — although some I didn’t like as much as Rep. McQueen.”

Rep. Gail Armstrong

Rep. Gail Armstrong (R-District 49) said this session was busy from the get go and they all worked very hard.

“We were short handed, but I enjoyed all of my committees,” Armstrong said. “The session had its ups and downs, and we were busy from day one.”

Sen. Clemente Sanchez

Sen. Clemente Sanchez (D-District 30) said he was fortunate to sit on the Rules Committee, where he was able to meet and ask questions of many of the new cabinet members.

“This year’s session, my seventh year, was the hardest session we’ve had,” Sanchez said. “There was a large amount of legislation, but also a lot of legislation that we carried ourselves. Every piece of legislation I introduced was approved, except for one.”

Sanchez said outside the capital outlay appropriations Valencia County received, the state budget allows for $10 million to go toward the Los Lunas interchange project. This is the first time legislators earmarked money for this project.

The University of New Mexico-Valencia campus was also given approval for a Workforce Training Center on the west side of Los Lunas. The facility will consist of classrooms, computer labs and the Small Business Development Center, all to provide a flexible environment responsive to the needs of the community and local businesses.

Sen. Greg Baca

Sen. Greg Baca (R-District 29) said this year’s budget was the largest in the state’s history — $7.1 billion — a $723 million increase from last year. The state’s reserves are at $1.4 billion, and each senator received about $3.7 million for capital outlay, and each representative got $2.7 million for local projects.

With an increase in oil and gas revenues, the Legislature and governor approved two junior budget bills, Baca said, for a total of $30 million per chamber, where each senator got $357,000 and each representative received about $200,000 for start-up projects in their districts.

“We were able to fund a spay and neuter clinic in Valencia County,” Baca said. “And the other half of that is to keep it operating.”

Rep. Kelly Fajardo

Rep. Kelly Fajardo (R-District 7) also said it was a tough 60-day session, and told the audience of about three dozen people some of the frustrations she experienced during the session haven’t gone away.

Having worked on a lot of CYFD-related legislation, Fajardo said only one bill — which allows for foster children to get into state parks for free — was approved.

“Valencia County has the highest rate of kids in CYFD,” Fajardo said. “I’ve never been a foster parent and I couldn’t comprehend how to fix the system. But in the past year, I’ve been working with a group of foster parents trying to come up with ideas.”

Fajardo said they came up with an ombudsman bill, which would be where people could file complaints, do investigations — all outside of CYFD control.

“I finally had (CYFD) admit to me there was no grievance policy, where before they had told me there was,” she said. “Right now, there is no way to file a grievance.”

Fajardo said she was made aware by another state representative that if she was a Democrat, her bill would have passed and most likely been approved.

“We have a great Valencia County delegation here, but my frustration is that when we have good policy and good legislation, it should get passed, regardless of party affiliation,” she said. “I’m hoping we can fix some of that. Who knows, maybe I’ll ask a Democrat next time to cosponsor the bill.”

Local communities

During the question and answer portion of the meeting Sunday, Tom Mraz, of Meadow Lake, asked why there wasn’t any capital outlay allocated for Meadow Lake, El Cerro Mission or Highland Meadows.

Fajardo explained capital outlay is a request from cities and counties, and they didn’t receive requests for those areas from the county.

“Shouldn’t you ask the people what they want,” Mraz questioned. “You’re representing us — it should be up to us.”

Sanchez told the audience it was the county commission’s responsibility to place items of priority on its ICIP list.

“We get millions of dollars of requests,” Fajardo said. “If the county isn’t putting something on their list, they’re not ready to do a project.”

Baldonado said he didn’t see a “single request” for any of those three communities, and added citizens need to have conversations with their commissioners.

“You have to be a little more diligent,” Baldonado said. “I think you need to be a squeaky wheel at the county level.”

Energy revenues

One audience member asked if the state should continue to rely on the oil and gas for revenues, saying those fuels won’t be around forever. They also suggested the state develop more renewable energy for the future.

McQueen said the state is experiencing a great budget revenue because of the boon in the Permian Basin.

“Eventually there will be a bust, and eventually it will be permanent,” McQueen said. “It will be more efficient to go with renewable energy.

“Having renewable development are opportunities for businesses, but they will not replace the current levels of revenue or the jobs,” he added. “We need to develop other industries, such as improve our tourism. We need to continue to look for opportunities and diversify.”

Baca said while he agrees with a lot of what McQueen said, he believes there is plenty of oil and gas for the future.

“There’s a lot of oil out there,” he said. “I think they are finding more every day. Yes, renewables are out there, but we can’t depend on them for revenue. I’m here to get economic solutions for you guys.”

Armstrong said she believes the state can “respectfully do both,” adding there is a downside to renewables as well.

“With renewables come wind turbulence and transmission lines going through private, state and federal property,” she said. “People who I represent in Jarales are very upset because they don’t want transmission lines going through their community. We need to find common ground.”

Minimum wage

Sanchez was questioned about how his minimum wage-sponsored legislation would affect small businesses. Two other minimum wage bills were introduced during the session.

“We haven’t raised the minimum wage since 2007, and it’s $7.50 right now,” Sanchez said. “When I introduced my bill, which was late in the session, we negotiated with the House speaker and we negotiated with the governor. In the end, the bill that was approved was mine.”

New Mexico’s minimum wage will gradually ramp up — to $9 an hour in January 2020, then to $10.50 an hour in January 2021 and eventually to $12 an hour in January 2023.

It will also allow for a lower allowable training wage — $8.50 an hour — for high-school-age workers, and will gradually phase in an increased minimum wage for tipped employees — from $2.13 to $3 per hour. Such employees can be paid the lower wage if they collect enough tips to reach at least the regular minimum wage.

(Editor’s note: Neither Rep. Harry Garcia (D-District 69) nor Sen. Liz Stefanics (D-District 39) attended the town hall meeting.)

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Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.