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Friday, January 24, 2003

State Senate Passes $20.2 Million Feed Bill

By David Miles
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE The Senate on Friday approved a bill to pay for legislative operations during the 60-day session and to spend nearly $800,000 to expand staffing in the Governor's Office.
    Senators passed the so-called feed bill on a vote of 24-12 vote, exactly securing the two-thirds majority needed to put the spending measure in effect immediately after it is enacted.
    But the bill first goes back to the House for consideration of Senate changes.
    On a voice vote, the Senate approved an amendment by Sen. Roman Maes, D-Santa Fe, to provide $50,000 to the Administrative Office of the Courts to pay for jury and witness costs for the rest of this fiscal year, which ends June 30.
    The Senate, on a 20-13 vote, defeated an attempt by Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, to remove $793,500 for the Governor's Office and $78,200 for the Lieutenant Governor's Office.
    In an unusual move, Gov. Bill Richardson asked legislators to include in the feed bill funds to pay for an additional 10 staff members and related costs for the rest of this fiscal year. The Democratic governor wants to expand the number of full-time staffers in his office from 27 to 37, with an annual spending increase of $1.4 million, or 68 percent.
    Senate Minority Whip Leonard Lee Rawson, R-Las Cruces, questioned the need to pay for a state office in Washington, D.C., and two staffers requested by Richardson to man the office.
    "Is that going to be an office for New Mexico, or is that going to be a political campaign office for future runs?" Rawson asked.
    But Senate Majority Whip Mary Jane Garcia, D-Doña Ana, insisted that a Washington office would not be used for political purposes and said the office is needed to carry out Richardson's ambitious agenda for the state.
    "We're dealing with a very special governor," Garcia said.
    The $20.2 million feed bill includes $6.9 million for legislative operations during the 60-day session, an increase of nearly $50,000 over the amount appropriated for the 2001 session, the last time lawmakers met for 60 days.
    The bill also contains $11.6 million for year-round legislative expenses and an additional $297,000 to provide pay raises to about 175 full-time legislative staffers.