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Would reform in Santa Fe make budgeting more transparent?



It is a common lament that, in spite of the efforts of our representatives and the local leaders who frequent Santa Fe during legislative sessions, there is a distant relationship between the Roundhouse and the lower Rio Grande. I often joke about the “Belen wall” and it seems to connect.

The nonprofit New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, with sponsorship by the Thornburg Foundation, is coming to Las Cruces next week for a free town hall addressing the budget process and gathering feedback from the community. Among those participating will be lawmakers and representatives of the Legislative Finance Committee (for which Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces, serves as vice chair), according to NMFOG’s announcement.

The meeting will also address a question: “Would modernizing the New Mexico Legislature make the budgeting process more transparent?”

New Mexico’s legislative body is unique in that it is part-time and unpaid. Senators and representatives receive no salary. They are required to work out living arrangements near the Capitol building in Santa Fe for 30- or 60-day legislative sessions, during which hundreds of bills are crammed into just a few weeks, truncating debate and causing a great many bills to die unheard; plus special sessions, such as the one called by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for next month.

Granted, the public is welcome to the Roundhouse while legislative work is done, and the proceedings are streamed live. Legislative committees hear reports, discuss public business and conduct outreach in between sessions. There have been strides in making the capital outlay process more transparent. Yet the lawmaking process moves fast, lawmakers are hurried and many citizens aren’t familiar with avenues for acquiring information about state governance.

Reformers have called for a salaried legislature, longer legislative sessions and staffing for lawmakers. Yet even if these major changes were achieved, would it enhance transparency or public trust? Are there other reforms that would help?

It promises to make this workshop more than a civics presentation on the budget; and it’s an opportunity for us to give input. Registration is free at NMFOG.org. It happens at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 18, with sign-in at 6:30 p.m. Let’s turn up.

Desert Sage, Opinion