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Nibert discusses upcoming legislative session

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Despite likely debates on legalization of recreational marijuana and a controversial gun safety measure, a local state representative said he does not expect the upcoming legislative session to be a terribly divisive one.

New Mexico state Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell (Alex Ross Photo)

State Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, said there will likely be some contested legislative proposals during the 30-day session that begins Tuesday, but anticipates the number of hot-button issues will be kept at a minimum. Nibert represents District 59, which is made up of parts of Chaves and Lincoln counties.

“I think the governor, I think the speaker, I think the members don’t want to delve into too many, too many of the issues that cause a lot of angst,” he said.

In last year’s 60-day session, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, and lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled Legislature took up proposals on issues ranging from gun safety measures, abortion, a minimum wage increase and same-day voter registration.

“I don’t think that will be the case this time,” Nibert said.

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Unlike last year, the upcoming session will be shorter and comprised chiefly of budgetary issues and items listed on the governor’s legislative call.

Budget

The Legislative Finance Committee has proposed a $7.54 billion budget for the coming fiscal year, representing a 6.5% increase in spending from last year’s budget. The governor’s office has proposed a slightly larger budget of $7.68 billion, an 8.4% increase compared to the budget for the 2020 fiscal year.

Nibert said the final proposal will represent what he calls a “fairly significant” increase in spending.

The size of the budgets suggested by the governor and the Legislative Finance Committee are similar, but Nibert said the differences will likely come down to where the money is directed.

The final product will likely be a compromise between the two proposals, he added.

Like last year, the state is projected to see a surplus, attributed primarily to the increase in oil development in southeast New Mexico.

The state is projected to take in $7.88 billion in general fund revenue for the coming budget year, a 1% increase from this year. That will include $797 million in “new money,” revenue anticipated next year over the amount planned for spending this year, according to the Legislative Finance Committee.

Nibert though said he is worried much of that money will be utilized to fund new programs, which the state will have to fund each year, something that could present a challenge when the additional state revenues from oil and gas production dry up.

“Using these one-time monies for recurring programs and obligations, I don’t think is sound,” Nibert said.

Once a program is created, regardless of its effectiveness, it is hard to measure its effectiveness or abolish the program if it’s not doing what it was initially intended to do, he said.

In past years, when New Mexico was struggling financially, the state had to make deep across-the-board spending cuts at state departments, impacting some programs and services that are necessary and effective, he said.

“We took away money from a lot of things to shore up state coffers, but we never evaluated whether we should just get rid of X-Y-Z program because it is not doing what it was intended to do, or it is not accomplishing the results,” Nibert said.

Instead, Nibert wants surplus money to be used on nonrecurring items, such as helping shore up the state’s public employee retirement accounts, increasing access to high-speed internet or infrastructure repairs.

“So spending some of this money on improving infrastructure, improving the state of our highways, I think is important,” he said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.