As the work begins, violence threatens the New Mexico legislature

SANTA FE, NM (AP) — New Mexico lawmakers are preparing to tap into a multibillion-dollar budget surplus as they face the daunting challenges of rising gun violence, lagging student performance in an early 60-day legislative session the schools and the low participation of the workforce put Tuesday noon.

The Santa Fe legislature begins with a state of the state address by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham begins her second term.

The Democrat-dominated state legislature projects a budget surplus of $3.6 billion as it prepares a spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year. Leading lawmakers want to expand preschool access, increase annual public school tuition, raise public salaries and provide at least $1 billion in tax breaks and rebates.

Rising gun violence in Albuquerque and concerns about nationwide mass shootings have prompted proposals for improved criminal justice and new gun control measures. New bills would ban large-capacity magazines and impose criminal offenses to ensure children don’t have access to guns.

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Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe says he will support a bill banning firearms at all polling stations in response to the fears and frustrations of poll workers.

Lujan Grisham based her re-election heavily on her support for maintaining widespread access to abortion as a foundation of women’s rights and democracy following the US Supreme Court decision last year that saw Roe v. Wade was repealed and legalization left to the states. Leading Democratic lawmakers hope to introduce her to a bill that would ban local government restrictions on abortion and protect patients and abortion doctors from harassment by extrastate interests.

New Mexico is also grappling with the aftermath of the catastrophic 2022 wildfires related to climate change and drought. State legislators want to make the state more resilient to climate-related disasters by accelerating the delivery of federal disaster relief and allowing small water districts to band together to recover from wildfires. Lujan Grisham hopes to fund the first New Mexico-based corps of elite smokejumper firefighters to ensure a rapid response to future fires.

Environmentalists are renewing their efforts to enshrine the right to clean air and clean water into the state constitution, while Democratic Representative Patricia Lundstrom of Gallup is touting investment in hydrogen fuel production as a transition from burning fossil fuels in transportation and industry.

State government revenue is expected to reach new heights — $12 billion in revenue for the fiscal year running July 2023-June 2024. That’s about $3.6 billion more than current annual spending commitments.

The governor and leading lawmakers are proposing a pay rise of at least 4% for government employees and public school educators. Beyond the government, Democratic lawmakers want to provide for automatic future increases to the statewide minimum wage of $12 an hour.

Lawmakers also hope to put billions of dollars in specialized trust funds and use future investment returns to fund programs ranging from smoking cessation to freeway construction to medical school teaching.

It’s an investment strategy that has helped sustain New Mexico public schools for generations through a $26 billion trust sustained in part by income from oil and gas leases on state trust lands.

Legislators in the Republican minority are emphasizing support for greater competition among K-12 schools and broader options for students while expanding public funding to private and church schools.

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