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State of the State: Governor lays out agenda

By Matthew Reichbach

Gov. Susana Martinez used her annual State of the State address to announce her agenda for the 2012 regular session. The speech featured few, if any, surprises.

Martinez outlined her positions on education reform and pushed for tax breaks for businesses in an effort to avoid “pyramiding” of taxes on small businesses. (For a good analysis of this issue, see Winthrop Quigley’s piece in the Albuquerque Journal.)

Martinez called for teacher evaluations, which she said would help reward the best teachers in the state. Martinez called for teachers to assess children annually beginning in kindergarten and to tie teacher bonuses to the evaluations.

“The teacher who takes kids three grades behind and gets them up to grade-level has arguably accomplished more than the teacher who has a class full of over-achievers,” Martinez said. “That’s why I’m urging you to support a teacher evaluation system that will identify these great heroes in our schools and reward them accordingly.”

The governor also supports a bill that would end “social promotion” or allowing students to move on from the 3rd grade unless they reach certain benchmarks.

Martinez called for legislators to “close the revolving door that turns citizen legislators into special-interest lobbyists, where one day they’re serving the public and the next day, they’re using those connections to serve a special interest.”

Most recently, state Sen. Kent Cravens (R-Albuquerque) resigned his position to take a high-paying job with the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association. Other well-known lobbyists are former state legislators.

One proposal that could have bipartisan approval is giving employers a $1,000 tax break for hiring veterans. In an interview with Clearly New Mexico before Martinez’s speech, Sen. Eric Griego (D-Albuquerque) mentioned the proposal as something he was interested in.

Of course, Martinez mentioned what has become one of her signature issues — repealing drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants.

Martinez said that the issue “has been debated thoroughly” and that “the desire of New Mexicans is clear.”

Martinez often cites a 2010 Albuquerque Journal poll that found a majority of New Mexicans agreed with repealing the law that allows undocumented immigrants to receive drivers licenses. Martinez does not cite a more recent poll that shows 64 percent of state voters support a compromise on the drivers license issue.

Democratic response

The Democratic Party of New Mexico had a response to the State of the State address shortly after Martinez finished.

State party chairman Javier Gonzales criticized a number of Martinez’s priorities, including the social promotion bill.

“The attacks on teachers who are dedicated to educating our children and the drive to have government – not teachers and parents – decide whether a child should pass the 3rd grade have led New Mexicans to be disenchanted by this Governor’s idea of education reform,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales also vowed that Democrats would fight against Martinez’s drive to repeal drivers licenses for undocumented workers. He said that her talk of compromise with Democrats was just that — talk.

“Saying you are willing to compromise doesn’t make it so, and this Governor’s idea of compromise is, ‘My way, or no way at all,'” Gonzales said. “That’s not compromise at all.”

Gonzales also outlined some Democratic priorities that Martinez did not address in her State of the State. Gonzales said that Democrats would push to eliminate a tax loophole that lets multi-state corporations, such as Wal-Mart or Home Depot, avoid paying taxes on profits made in New Mexico.

Gonzales said Democrats, “will once again push to close tax loopholes for out-of-state corporations, and provide real tax credits for small Main Street businesses which hire New Mexicans.”

One thing that was noticeable is the lack of attention on the budget. In contrast with recent years, the state of New Mexico has a budget surplus and the arguments is on how to divide the extra money.

Democrats want to give back to state employees, who have had their pay cut to help balance the budget, some of their salaries and pensions. Martinez advocates paying for her tax breaks to businesses.

Odds and ends:

  • Occupy protesters briefly interrupted Gov. Susana Martinez’s State of the State just as she began speaking. The protesters were ejected by police. The Republicans responded by giving Martinez a standing ovation.
  • Martinez told Speaker Lujan, “New Mexico is pulling for you.”
  • Gonzales said that he was “heartbroken” over hearing that Lujan has cancer.
  • The largest applause came for former governors in attendance and U.S. Sen. Tom Udall — as well as an exuberant reaction from Republicans for Secretary of State Dianna Duran.

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