Saturday, November 10, 2018

Pay them to work

A part-time legislature isn't benefiting NM anymore; it's time for a needed reform

ANNETTE TORREZ / JOURNAL The unpaid New Mexico Legislature meets for just 30 or 60 days each year. Some argue it ' s it's time to revamp that system and pay lawmakers to broaden the pool of candidates who can afford to serve.
Legislators in the Roundhouse are projected to have $1.2 billion coming in for the new budget year, largely due to the recent oil boom. We have all that money coming in and now a chance to fix the biggest problem in the state: A dysfunctional " citizen legislature " that is more properly termed a " volunteer legislature" because our legislators are unpaid ( and ) they all must have outside jobs, businesses or other sources of income.

We as a state need legislative reform. 

We have many great lawmakers at the Roundhouse. We need to provide those members with a professional legislature, one with a salary ( and ) support staff; a reform like this will squeeze out the bad actors and cut down the influence of political PACs in the state Legislature. And a hybrid legislature with salaries would broaden the pool of candidates who can afford to serve and actually run for office.

Since 1912, when New Mexico entered the union as a sparsely populated frontier settlement, its state legislators have worked without a salary. Today, New Mexico is ( the ) last state with an unsalaried legislature. New Mexico is also ranked 49 th in education, 49 th in crime, ( 46 th for its economy ) and homelessness continues to increase yearly throughout the state. These are also the top four biggest concerns for New Mexico voters.

The correlation is clear, being the last state with an unsalaried legislature and one that convenes in odd-numbered years for no longer than 60 days and in even-numbered years for no longer than 30 days; having a state legislature with no salary. 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. Our Legislature is the foundation of the state, and it cannot meet the needs and demands of New Mexicans.
In fairness, it's worth pointing out that the system in New Mexico ( is ) 60 days for a legislative session in odd-numbered years and 30 days for a budgetary session in even-numbered years. This does not allow sufficient time for the state's unpaid legislative body to address the business of the state or social issues effectively for the constituents they serve.

Will factors like this continue to be a challenge for the New Mexico Legislature in handling the mounting state problems with public education, crime, health care and in addressing state economic policies?

The state of New Mexico should use a portion of these record high revenues to first and foremost start paying the state legislators. A hybrid state legislature ( would meet ) for most of the year and pay the legislators as full-time employees. They can serve the constituents much better because of their extended time in office and ( their ) ability to devote more time to each issue. The state can provide funding for a hybrid legislature with support staff all for less than $7 million per year.

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

We as a state need to demand that our lawmakers address legislative reform in 2019 and put New Mexico on a path that is New Mexico True!