BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Sen. Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales told attendees at the League of Women Voters of Los Alamos/American Association of University Women at their 2020 Legislative Preview last week that there’s absolutely no excuse for New Mexico not to have one of the top programs in early childhood education in the nation.
“We have built that fund to almost half a billion dollars in the last three years. The funding is there. As I mentioned to the individuals from the Department of Higher Education, if I was in your shoes, I would be jumping at what kind of programs we can build, what we can do, what we can work with to be top notch in the training and just producing the right elements and components of early childhood. That’s a big plus, we talked about it for many years and we’re there now,” he said.
Sen. Gonzales noted that this year the legislature will be going with a constitutional amendment that provides another one percent from the Land Grant Fund for early childhood education. He said it’s a big plus for the state.
Sen. Gonzales mentioned the press release issued January 6 by the governor (https://losalamosreporter.com/2022/01/06/governor-releases-fy23-executive-budget-recommendation/) which reflected the entire work of the Legislative Finance Committee of which he is a member.
“What happens is immediately after the last day of the session, the new process starts for next year. It’s a working committee that works throughout the year and we have a very dynamic staff that is very much into the research of all the agencies and they provide us with the feedback and everything that is needed for us to move forward with a framework for the decisions we come up with,” he said.
Sen. Gonzales said he will be starting his 28th year in the legislature this year.
“Never before have we had a year like this in terms of revenue. New Mexico is in a position that we have never been in before,” he s To give you a summary of this, just a few weeks ago – we’re talking about worldwide – the top producers of oil and gas are Texas, Russia, and then New Mexico. Recently, we have moved to #2 in the world and we have upgraded our rigs, the ones that do the drilling for oil and gas, and we’re at 94 and the highest level we have ever been at 117 rigs. We’re producing 1.4 million barrels a day,” Sen. Gonzales said. “This revenue builds our budget to at least a little over one-third of the entire budget that goes into state and this is what gives us those high levels.” ‘
He said the legislature we can’t completely open the floodgates.
“We have to be very careful. There’s two columns – there’s recurring revenue that is expected to be there for the following year and then the non-recurring, so the more we have loaded to the column of the recurring, our chances are that that money has to be secured and has to be there. It is correct, we’re at the level of 30 percent of our reserves. The reason for that is that the number we have has to match the reserves and if don’t have the reserves, that has potential liability to our bonding capacity. So we don’t want to lower our bonding capacity by any means. Our bonding capacity is what gives us strength in the money we go after when projects are being done. We are in a position that we have never been before. That is really something for our state,” Sen. Gonzales said.
He stressed the importance of protecting the state’s infrastructure including transportation and utilities. He also discussed broadband noting that there are a lot of federal dollars as well as the general fund.
“As you travel around the state, you see a lot of construction going on – that’s extremely positive. There’s momentum, there’s jobs, there’s opportunity, there’s improvement, and that’s what we want to see,” Sen. Gonzales said.
Sen. Gonzales said he has been working for six years on the issue of having state legislators paid.
“We’re the only state in the nation that does not receive compensation and we’re still operating under 1912 rules and it’s a big gap with today’s cost of living and what it takes and the majority of our services have to be in Santa Fe which is expensive. Throughout the years I have seen that it really discriminates in the fashion that you have to be retired and there’s nothing wrong with that, or you have to be wealthy or you have to have a very good employer to be able to serve. It shouldn’t be that way. It should be that you allow every person to have that opportunity,” he said.
He said there are many individuals that can’t afford it.
“We have had in the past legislators elected and after two or three terms they leave because they can’t afford it to be there. I really want to work with that. It takes time and will have to be a constitutional amendment also,” he said.
Sen. Gonzales commended the Department of Transportation for what he called some amazing, creative funding that was initiated.
Prior to that we were in such a debt – about 30 percent of our funding for the DOT was going to pay debt services. I came up with the refinancing part with our bond structure. We really need to look at every agency in our state with a complete structure of our bonding including our schools. It doesn’t make sense for everyone to be on their own because if you’re on your own you’re paying more because it’s more cost. We have the mechanism with the New Mexico Finance Authority to provide those kinds of service and we might need an expansion to that. Those are the kinds of things that bring savings,” he said.
He mentioned that he is hoping for a two percent increase for the education retirement fund this year and another percent next year to product the fund and the liability that’s there that’s constitutionally owed to the employees. He also addressed the need for teacherages as living quarters for teachers statewide.
“The further you go out in the rural areas it’s hard to recruit and retain if you don’t have adequate facilities for them to live in. For years, you would talk about the rural areas but anymore, Santa Fe is very expensive. You can’t attract teachers to come there if they can’t afford a place to live. We’re finding out that we have been really short on this and hopefully this will help more individuals to get into education,” Sen. Gonzales said.
“We are having a lot of federal dollars coming into our state. We really have to be careful between federal dollars and our general fund. We have to be very careful on the supplanting part and we have to be very careful on the recurring and non-recurring. Right now it’s coming to us at such a fast pace that we really have to have a lot of technical assistance throughout the state. Everyone working with these federal dollars, their intentions are good but we have to show that it’s being done right and that we work with them,” he concluded.