Saturday, December 9, 2017

New Mexico Should Reform The State Legislature

Hemp, Geothermal Energy, Solar, Wind and a Paid State Legislature

New Mexico has the only unsalaried state legislature in the United States. The Legislature convenes in odd-numbered years for no longer than sixty days and in even-numbered years for no longer than thirty days. Also in even-numbered years, the Legislature is limited to dealing with budgetary matters, bills related to a special messages of the Governor of New Mexico, and bills vetoed in the previous session by the Governor. Having a State Legislature with no salary, no support staff, that meets on such a limited basis - this current structure of our citizen legislature is holding New Mexico back.

We as a State need Legislative Reform.

New Mexico’s economy continues to be one of the slowest growing economies in the country. The state budget shortfalls for 2016 totals were near $600 million, and that slow economic growth by the state reveals too much dependence on the federal government and oil revenues.

New Mexico’s finalized 2017 spending plan amounted to $6.1 billion, which was roughly $133 million more than what the state was projected to receive in revenues, according to The Albuquerque Journal. The money to make up that gap was expected to come from revenues left over from 2016—about $167 million.

Those sources of New Mexico's economic malaise provide funding for Education, Veterans Programs, Police & Firefighter Funding, and Health Care programs like Medicaid. New Mexico is also a state where half of all New Mexicans are on medicaid or medicare.

Only a handful of states struggle with similar levels of extreme poverty as New Mexico. More than one in every 10 households in the state earns less than $10,000 each year, the second highest proportion after Mississippi. The state also struggles with one of the nation’s highest violent crime rates. Close to 600 violent crimes are reported each year per 100,000 state residents, one of the highest rates nationwide.

New Mexico, for two years in a row, has been ranked as the worst-run state in the country with some of the worst social and economic outcomes. In just six years, New Mexico went from 37th spot to the 50th-the worst run state.

New Mexico also has a “citizen legislature”, that is more properly termed a “volunteer legislature”, because these legislators are unpaid they all must have outside jobs, businesses or sources of income.

Will factors like this be a challenge for the New Mexico Legislature in handling the mounting state problems with the Public Education, Crime, Health Care and in addressing State Economic Policies?

The state of New Mexico should use funds from the legalized hemp industry to first and foremost start paying the state legislators. A hybrid state legislature: Meeting for most of the year and pays the legislators as full-time employees. They can serve the constituents much better because of their extended time in office and ability to devote more time to each issue. New Mexico is the only state with a unsalaried legislature. The State can provide a funding for a hybrid-legislature with support staff all for less than 7 Million per year.

Some lawmakers such as Democratic Rep. Antonio Maestas say a salary would increase the pool of talent to fill the seats. Maestas says few people can afford to serve in a citizen Legislature. Political Action Committee’s growth and influence in New Mexico politics has more than doubled in the last 10 years. All the larger municipalities and counties in New Mexico provide salaries for city councilors and county commissioners.

States have a paid rather than volunteer fire departments, law enforcement, health-care workers, and teachers, to name a few. The reason is that we rightly expect increased reliability, productivity, and professionalism when we pay for services as opposed to them being provided voluntarily.

Providing funding for a paid legislature and state budget reform can be achieved with hemp legalization in conjunction with the utilization of solar, wind, and geothermal energy sources. Canada has had industrial hemp since 1998, and farmers there have reported net profits of $200 to $250 per acre. Most Canadian hemp is exported to the United States. This will create jobs, has vast potential for the state universities to benefit, and creates several new business markets to keep college graduates in New Mexico.

Just as former State Rep. Terry McMillan (R-Las Cruces) said in 2016 when he first introduce the notion, “New Mexicans, I believe, are sophisticated enough to know that their interests are best represented by an inclusive, motivated, professional, 21st century legislature. We are the only state not to have made that decision; the time has come.”

Jason Barker 
Citizen. Not Politician!

This article also appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican