NM lawmakers face tough budget year

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By Barry Massey

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico lawmakers return to work next week to deal with a troublesome election-year assignment: potentially raising taxes, cutting money for schools and slashing government services to balance the state budget.

The Legislature convenes Tuesday for a 30-day session that offers Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson a last chance to shape his political legacy with changes in state law. Richardson's second term expires at the end of the year. He can't run for a third term because of term limits.

"They should not treat me as a lame duck because I am not going to be a lame duck," Richardson said.

If dealing with budget problems wasn't enough work, Richardson will ask lawmakers to consider an ambitious and potentially contentious package of proposals ranging from domestic partnerships for same-sex couples, creating a governmental ethics commission and mandatory jail time for first-time drunken driving convictions.

Under the state Constitution, 30-day sessions are limited to budget and revenue measures and those proposals added to the agenda by the governor.

Domestic partnerships failed in last year's Legislature, as did an ethics commission, but Richardson said they're "unfinished business" for his final year in office.

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