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State awaits address by governor Tuesday

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By Carol A. Clark

A packed house is expected when Gov. Richardson presents his annual State of the State address Tuesday in the House Chambers at the State Capitol.

The Legislature convenes at noon to kickoff the 2009 session with the governor’s address scheduled to follow around 1 p.m.

In the last few weeks, Richardson’s office has sent out a number of news releases detailing issues at the top of his agenda he hopes to move through this year’s legislature.

The governor has outlined expanded education initiatives reiterating his support for changing the current education funding formula.

Two years ago, he signed legislation to fund a task force to study the funding formula that New Mexico has used for more than 30 years. The task force found the funding formula to be outdated saying it underfunds schools by $350 million.

Richardson supports changing state law so voters, rather than the Legislature, decide how funding changes to the formula.

Rep. Jeannette Wallace, R-Los Alamos, Santa Fe and Sandoval counties, sits on the powerful Legislative Finance Committee responsible for assessing the state's budget.

She does not agree with Richardson on this bill.

“It’s the same bill that didn’t pass last year and it would have hurt Los Alamos Schools by some $2 million,” Wallace said during a Saturday morning interview. “And also, I always have a problem with who is appointing the members of the task force – and believe me – if it’s Richardson – I don’t want it.”

Richardson says he will press lawmakers to pass meaningful ethics reforms. The governor has pushed for legislation to place limits on campaign contributions and to enact an ethics commission and says he will work aggressively pursuing ethics reforms this year.

In a recent statement, he applauded Attorney General Gary King’s support of his Ethics Reform Package.

“I look forward to working with the attorney general and lawmakers to once and for all pass a comprehensive ethics reform package,” Richardson said. “I’ve proudly signed the ethics bills that have made it to my desk in recent years. This year, I look forward to signing those important reforms that, in past years, have failed by only a few votes.”

He is asking lawmakers in this session to pass:

• Establishment of independent ethics commission - The commission would provide independent oversight of the executive and legislative branches and all state employees.

 • it would receive and investigate complaints by concerned citizens and whistleblowers. The commission would also have strong powers to investigate and discipline, including the ability to fine, censure, and reprimand public officials, state employees, lobbyists, contractors and officials.

• Set contribution limits - The bill places limits on the amount of campaign contributions that can be contributed to candidates and political committees.

The limits are $2,300 for non-statewide candidates and $5,000 for statewide candidates. PAC’s would be limited to $10,000 in contributions by a single donor.

• Legislator to lobbyists rules - The bill bans former lawmakers from being paid to lobby the legislature for one-year after they leave office or their term expires.

Richardson has spelled out what he calls his fiscally responsible plan to cut spending, save money and improve tax collections by nearly half a billion dollars to prevent a budget shortfall.

Richardson is proposing budget cuts and improved tax collections totaling $498 million for the current 2009 budget year, which ends in June.

“Because we have been fiscally responsible by expanding our economy and saving money during the good times, we are well positioned to deal with this worldwide financial crisis,” he said.

Wallace doesn’t completely agree with that statement.

“Actually, we’re changing the corporate tax collection law because we messed up, not on the amount but on the timing,” she said. “We’ve been collecting three times a year and it’s suppose to be two times a year. The amount will remain the same.”

Wallace predicts a contentious session in some respects, adding that her committee has been unable to obtain the governor’s Capital Outlay Plan.

“We disagree with some of what he is saying and he has been unwilling to let us see his plan,” she said. “We have prepared our list… we’re all just kind of in limbo… we’re starting without an FY2010 budget, which is something we never do…”

Wallace also predicts the governor will call a special session as he did last year after not getting some of his bills passed.

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com, 662-4185 ext. 25 or visit her blog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.