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State Visits

On the Road with CSG West: New Mexico

By Martha Castañeda

Two weeks ago, staff from CSG West conducted their annual state visit to the Land of Enchantment. Edgar Ruiz and Martha Castañeda connected with legislators February 7th-9th.

New Mexico’s first session of the 56th Legislature kicked off January 17 and will run for 60 days, until March 18th. As of the halfway point of the session, lawmakers had filed over 1000 bills and other measures. In even years, such as next year’s, the session is limited to 30 days and focused on the state’s budget.

New Mexico is in the enviable position of having a significant budget surplus. Just in the first four months of 2022, more than $1.7 billion were added as a result of oil and gas revenues from the Permian basin. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, New Mexico’s Permian basin produces the most oil than any other region nationwide and is second to the Appalachia region in gas production. Recognizing that this windfall is one time money makes the budget process tricky for policymakers.

Many of the same issues other states are weighing are on this year’s legislative agenda in Santa Fe. Among them are daylight savings time, gun safety, changes to pretrial detentions, reducing gross receipts tax, reproductive rights, and voting access just to name a few. A bill adding an official state aroma to the list of more than 20 state symbols was getting a lot of attention. Senate Bill 188, sponsored by CSG West legislative liaison Senator Bill Soules of Las Cruces, has garnered nationwide attention. In this NPR Weekend Edition interview with Scott Simon, Senator Soules explains the idea originated in a fifth grade classroom which invited him in November to learn what it’s like being a state senator. This is civics lesson the kids won’t soon forget, as a handful of the kids from that class at Monte Vista Elementary in Las Cruces spoke in support of the bill in front of the Senate Indian, Rural and Cultural Affairs Committee.

CSG West staff met with many members, both new and others that have been engaged with CSG West over time. The new Speaker of the House, Representative Javier Martinez, who is a 2017 graduate of the CSG Henry Toll Fellowship, was generous with his time in meeting with staff. Speaker Martinez has represented Albuquerque’s House District 11 since 2015 and previously served as Majority Floor Leader.

The Henry Tolls Fellowship Program is named after former Colorado Senator Henry Wolcott Toll, who founded CSG in 1933. The program is one of the nation’s premier leadership development programs for state government officials. Each year, the program gathers 48 of the nation’s top officials from all three branches of state government in Lexington, Kentucky for an intensive five-day “leadership boot camp.”

Staff met with House Minority Floor Leader Ryan Lane who is a 2022 graduate of the Western Legislative Academy (WLA). The WLA was established in 2000 at a time when many Western states had term limits in place. It is open to legislators in their first four years of cumulative service on a competitive basis as there are four slots available per state to fill. The goals of the program are to help legislators become more effective leaders and, in turn, build strong legislative institutions. It’s held in annually in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and includes experts in state legislatures, communications, time and focus management, governance, ethics, and negotiations.

Staff also met with key legislative staff such as the director of the Legislative Council Service (LCS), Raúl Burciaga, who previously served as Chair of CSG West’s Legislative Service Agency and Research Directors Committee. Raúl is also a graduate of the Toll Fellows Class of 2012.

From Left to Right: Senator Harold Pope, Edgar Ruiz,
Martha Castañeda and Senator Bill Soules