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January 21, 2003

Lawmakers Convene, Richardson Outlines Priorities

By Barry Massey
The Associated Press
SANTA FE   —   Gov. Bill Richardson appealed to the Legislature on Tuesday to rally behind his extensive policy agenda and allow his administration to quickly tackle problems ranging from educational reforms to tax cuts.
    "We need to get moving. We must put our state on a path to progress," Richardson said in remarks prepared for delivery to a joint session of the House and Senate.
    In his first State of the State address, Richardson outlined proposals that he promised to deal with during his campaign for governor   —   lowering the personal income tax, incentives for businesses to create jobs, eliminating the state tax levy on food, improving teacher pay and investing more in water projects around the state.
    "I want you to give me the tools in this session to jump on our problems," Richardson said. "We need to move now, not next summer, not next year. Give me the tools and I'll give you   —   and New Mexico   —   the results."
    Richardson acknowledged that there would be disagreements over some of his initiatives, and he defended his requests to increase spending on the governor's office by 68 percent next year.
    "I need a sufficient staff of good people with their attention focused on all these issues and challenges," Richardson said. "There is much to do and I need professional people to do a professional job for all of New Mexico."
    The governor's speech came as the Legislature convened for a 60-day session and it marked the beginning of Richardson's task of translating campaign promises not state policy and programs.
    On education, Richardson advocates a 6 percent pay raise for teachers and a revision of the public school governance system. The governor proposes to abolish the state Board of Education and establish a cabinet-level secretary of education who would answer to the governor.
    Democrats and Republicans predict the legislative session will be much different from those during the past eight years under the administration of Richardson's predecessor, Republican Gary Johnson.
    "We feel that this is going to be a can-do administration, and that we're there to support it," said House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe.
    Democrats hold a majority of the seats in the House and Senate, just as they did during Johnson's two terms. However, Democrats and Johnson rarely agreed on policy and spending priorities. Johnson often used his veto power to reject proposals that the Legislature approved. Democrats complained that Johnson refused to negotiate compromises with them.
    With a Democrat in the governorship, Democratic lawmakers expect more cooperation and compromise.
    "This governor has got some great political skills . . . and he's already demonstrated that," said Senate President Pro Tem Richard Romero, D-Albuquerque. "And he wants to work with every legislator."
    Sen. Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, said lawmakers and Richardson would need to resolve questions over how to finance several of the governor's proposals, such as tax cuts and hefty pay raises for teachers. Richardson contends there's waste and inefficiency in programs that can be trimmed to provide savings to help pay for his initiatives.
    "I think it'll all settle down and be pretty smooth," Jennings said of the session. "There's concern over his 6 percent education proposal, and how to get there. He has a very ambitious economic development plan, which we want to support. But it's going to take money to do that."
    Richardson, a former congressman from northern New Mexico and energy secretary in President Clinton's cabinet, is new to the day-to-day operations of the Legislature but he's experienced in the give-and-take of politics and federal policymaking.
    "I hope that we can get along and work for the people of New Mexico, and make sure that their interests are what's important   —   not a specific governor, not a specific senator, not a specific House member," said Senate Republican Leader Stuart Ingle of Portales.