State senators talk priorities at Fuller Lodge

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By Tris DeRoma

State senators representing Los Alamos also weighed in at the Legislative Preview Wednesday at Fuller Lodge.
Carlos Cisneros assured those in attendance that this legislative session will be a “relatively smooth” one, one that promises much success for his legislation as well as for those of his colleagues, Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard and senator Richard Martinez.
For one thing, for the first time in a long time there’s a budget surplus.
“As we emerge from this recession, we are finally beginning to see a little bit of light at the end of this tunnel,” Cisneros said. “It’s taken us four years to get through this recession and start to see some positive revenues coming into the state coffers.”
He said this should really help the state’s early childhood initiatives, of which should receive about $35 million in funding this year.
Cisneros also praised Garcia Richard for her work on the lottery scholarship fund. Though he added the fund is funded for this year, he warned if a fix does not happen by next year, the fund will truly be in trouble —and so will New Mexico’s students.
“If we don’t fix it, our students are going to be hurt, because it means the secretary for higher education will have to initiate cuts, and unfortunately, that means the cost for a higher education will go up,” Cisneros said. “I hope with the bright minds we have working on this issue that we are going to come up with a viable solution.
The budget surplus will mean higher salaries for state police. He said there will be at least a 5 to 8 percent increase, a number that should help with retention and new equipment.
“We learned that we are losing a number of qualified state police to local entities as well as to other states because they are paying much higher salaries than we are paying,” he said.
Though he’s served as New Mexico’s senator for 13 years, Martinez informed the audience that the governor might already be planning to chip out a large part of his legacy this session by vetoing a piece of landmark legislation that he authored.
Martinez said the governor is planning on vetoing his bill that grants illegal immigrants driver’s licenses. Though they been able to have licenses since 2004, this may be the year the governor shoots the bill down, said Martinez.
“It’s not a constitutional right, it’s not a right to vote, a right to citizenship,” he said. “All it is a granting of the privilege to operate a motor vehicle inside the state of New Mexico.”
He applauded Los Alamos residents for “getting it,” for understanding what the license really means, and doesn’t mean.
Martinez also spoke about education, and the governor’s plans for teacher evaluation, as well as raise teacher’s salaries.
“There hasn’t been a single teacher I’ve spoken with that is happy with the idea of grading teachers, so I expect that to be an interesting conversation,” he said.
One issue he wanted to put on everyone’s radar was the governor’s plans to retain third graders who can’t read, another initiative he plans to take issue with. The reason being, he said was because he thinks the issue has been cast as too simplistic and not very well thought out.
“I think a lot of people can’t read for several reasons, maybe they can’t see very well, yet they can’t afford glasses.
He used himself as an example, saying as a young person, his grades greatly improved once his local Lion’s Club chapter bought him a pair of glasses, something his parents couldn’t afford.
“I think those are some of the issues we need to take into consideration before we pass legislation of this magnitude,” he said.