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Governor outlines agenda; Democrats say it’s politically driven
SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez called on New Mexico lawmakers to focus largely on job creation and education during the 30-day legislative session that began Tuesday, but Democrats responded warily and blasted the governor for having what they described as a politically driven election year agenda.
In a 47-minute State of the State address, Martinez said more work must be done to make the state’s economy less reliant on federal government spending. She cited water, health care and tax incentives as ways to go about that task.
“Our charge this session is to build an economy as diverse as the state we are proud to call home,” the Republican governor said.
She also asked people to pray for the victims of a Jan. 14 school shooting in Roswell. No one was killed in the shooting, but a 12-year old boy remains hospitalized.
Gov. Susana Martinez’s State of the State address touched on a broad range of policy issues for the current 30-day legislative session. Here are some of her proposals:
A 10 percent increase in the minimum starting salary for new teachers; merit pay for teachers; mandatory retention for third-graders who cannot read proficiently.
Broader sexual abuse reporting requirements; tougher penalties on repeat DWI offenders.
Repay student loans for workers who agree to serve in rural areas; expand training programs for doctors and nurses in New Mexico.
However, the governor did not mention gun control measures as a priority for the 30-day session. A Martinez spokesman said no decision has been made on whether to add a bill to the session’s agenda that would require background checks for private sales at gun shows, which she supported last year but it did not clear the Legislature.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bill Soules of Las Cruces, who delivered the Democratic response, said Martinez’s initiatives don’t do enough to address poverty and job creation.
He described Martinez’s speech as “gimmicky” and said Democrats will push during the session to increase the state’s minimum wage, earmark more money for early childhood programs and give salary increases to all state employees and teachers.
“We need someone who’s going to lead and govern, not someone who’s going to play politics,” Soules said.
While many Democratic lawmakers have dug in their heels against Martinez’s education ideas, the first-term governor cited recent gains in academic proficiency and urged legislators to “choose reform over the status quo.”
Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, backed the governor’s push for the third-grade retention bill, which has been stymied in previous legislative sessions.
“I can’t believe we can’t do that reading thing,” Ingle told the Journal after Martinez’s speech. “It’s so basic … if you can’t read, you can’t succeed, period. … I think that’s such an elementary thing that we just need to do.”
Citing a massive tax package approved on the last day of the 2013 legislative session, Martinez called on the Democratic-controlled Legislature to embrace bipartisan cooperation.
“While we won’t agree on everything, and there will certainly be spirited debates, I am committed to working with you to find common ground, just like we have in the past, because the people of New Mexico deserve nothing less,” Martinez said.
House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, also sought to tamp down election-year politics in his opening speech to the House of Representatives, saying political issues should be just a “small portion” of what the Legislature does.
However, several Democratic gubernatorial candidates immediately blasted Martinez’s speech, claiming the governor has not done enough to create jobs and improve New Mexico’s standing in national rankings.
Martinez entered the House chamber for the State of the State address Tuesday alongside her sister, Lettie Martinez, who is developmentally disabled and had never previously attended a legislative opening.
The governor touted her administration’s budgetary track record, saying Republicans and Democrats can both be proud of the state’s firm fiscal footing.
In addition to economic and education initiatives, Martinez urged lawmakers, once again, to repeal the 2003 law that allows New Mexicans to receive driver’s licenses regardless of whether they are in the country illegally.