‘The state of our state is strong — and getting stronger’

Gov. Susana Martinez hugs Emery Hill after introducing him during her State of the State address in Santa Fe Tuesday January 15, 2018. Hill is a custodian who saved the lives of students during the attack on the High School in Aztec last month. (Eddie Moore/ Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez sounded an upbeat but unrelenting tone in her final State of the State address, calling on lawmakers Tuesday to approve bills dealing with crime, education and the state’s tax code, many of which have stalled in previous legislative sessions.

The two-term Republican governor, who took office in 2011 and is barred from seeking a third consecutive term, touted recent job growth and an improvement in the state’s revenue outlook as evidence of a stronger state economy after several years of painful budgetary belt-tightening.

To the surprise of lawmakers, Martinez also said the amount of “new” money available in the coming year will rise to roughly $330 million – up from an estimated $199 million as of last month – based on updated revenue tracking figures. A new revenue estimate is expected to be unveiled next week.

“As we emerge from the fiscal and economic adversity we have faced, I am proud to say the state of our state is strong – and getting stronger,” Martinez said in her 54-minute speech.

But some majority Democrats described the governor’s speech as lacking in new ideas and signaled many of her initiatives could face long odds in the 30-day session that began Tuesday.

“There was literally nothing today she hasn’t said before,” Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces, said shortly after Martinez’s speech.

As she has done in previous legislative sessions, Martinez called on the Democratic-controlled Legislature to bring back the death penalty for individuals convicted of killing a child or a law enforcement officer and to expand the state’s three-strikes law for violent felony offenses.

Martinez also renewed her call for an overhaul of the state’s gross receipts tax code, which stalled during last year’s legislative session due to concerns about possible unintended consequences.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, expressed optimism about a more “conciliatory” tone between the Governor’s Office and legislative leaders but acknowledged there may be policy disagreements in the weeks to come.

“Just because we don’t agree on three-strikes legislation doesn’t mean we can’t agree on the need for more cops on the street,” Egolf told reporters.

Republican lawmakers largely praised Martinez’s remarks, noting the governor’s agenda has not wavered despite consistent opposition.

“She has not moved off the things she wanted,” Rep. Jimmie Hall, R-Albuquerque, told the Journal.

Immigration protests

Youthful immigration rights advocates delayed the start of Martinez’s address, chanting and unfurling banners before they were escorted out by State Police officers.

The demonstrators’ banners encouraged U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, both Democrats, to vote for passage of the federal DREAM Act, which would offer protections for young immigrants.

Once it finally got underway, the governor’s speech was largely focused on serious policy issues, though it did feature some lighter moments.

At one point, Martinez referenced a still-pending lawsuit that leading lawmakers filed against her last year over 10 bills that were vetoed after being passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

“Since you all sued me and ask that I explain myself more, sit back and relax,” Martinez said to laughter. “I’ve got things to say.”

Meanwhile, the governor also recognized several New Mexicans in her speech, including Aztec High School custodian Emery Hill, who alerted students and teachers during a school shooting last month.

The shooting left two students dead – 17-year-olds Francisco “Paco” Fernandez and Casey Marquez – but Martinez said more would have died if Hill had not acted quickly.

She did not propose any gun control legislation in her address, but did call for stiffer penalties for individuals who use a firearm while committing a crime.

“Crime is costly,” said Martinez, who was a longtime prosecutor before becoming governor. “It inhibits economic growth, and I’ve seen firsthand how it destroys the lives of victims, their families, witnesses and perpetrators alike.”

Democratic response

Sen. Howie Morales, a Silver City Democrat and candidate for lieutenant governor, delivered a response to Martinez’s speech on behalf of Senate Democrats.

Democratic legislative priorities, he said, include increased funding for early childhood programs and education, a balanced approach to public safety that doesn’t rely entirely on stiffer penalties, and repairing the state’s finances after several lean years.

He also noted – more than once – that a new governor will be in office within a year.

“I’m confident there’s a brighter future for the people of our state,” Morales said, “and change is just around the corner.”

Journal Capitol Bureau reporter Dan McKay contributed to this report.

(Video courtesy NMPBS)

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