COMMENTARY: During the 2016 Legislative Session, Senate Democrats worked – frequently in a bipartisan way – to do what is best for the people while being fiscally responsible with the taxpayers’ dollars.
We joined with Senate Republicans to pass bipartisan legislation that finally makes our driver’s licenses compliant with tougher federal REAL ID requirements. Our bill keeps our roads safe and supports the needs of law enforcement while giving U.S. citizens the choice to obtain a REAL ID driver’s license or a driving authorization card.
After five long years, we made sure our state can now put this issue behind us. It has divided us unnecessarily for far too long. Hopefully now we can move on to address important issues that urgently affect the lives of ordinary families, like the need for more and better-paying jobs and improving our children’s classrooms.
New Mexico is experiencing a steep decline in budget revenues, we learned midway through the session. Partly due to falling oil and gas prices, and partly due to falling income and other tax receipts caused by a stagnant economy, it was necessary to trim $125 million from state government spending in both the current and the coming budget year. Still, Democrats protected our priorities from deep cuts, and even increased resources in some areas, including public education, Medicaid, law enforcement, and a corrections system in crisis.
We put more resources into classrooms, and carved out more time for student learning, instead of test-taking.
Even as state revenues plummeted, making budget reductions unavoidable, public education was our priority. We made important progress, and we increased above-the-line funding overall by nearly $7 million for local districts to decide how best to spend money for their students and schools.
Senate Democrats passed Joint Resolution 3, a critically important measure for funding our public schools, championed by Senator Michael Padilla. It would have given needed additional funding to beneficiaries of the Permanent Land Grant Fund, including our K-12 public school classrooms. It would not have created any new beneficiaries or any new programs.
We gave hard-working teachers a long-overdue raise by passing legislation to increase pay minimums for experienced educators to $42,000 and $52,000, respectively. This will help us to address New Mexico’s historic levels of educator vacancies, and to retain our veteran educators. We call on the governor not to line item veto it.
Sanchez, a Democrat from Belen, is the majority leader in the New Mexico Senate.