State Rep. Andy Nuñez will rise at 5 a.m. Friday to drive 250 miles to represent his constituents in Santa Fe for a special legislative session that starts at noon.
He’s just not sure he’ll have a place to sleep.
The Republican from Hatch has been coming to Santa Fe since 2001 and usually stays at La Fonda on the Plaza, the historic hotel just a few blocks from the Capitol. During the regular session in January and February, the hotel has a special $99 per day rate for lawmakers.
But when he called Thursday to reserve a room, there was no guarantee that one would be available — and if one is, the price might be more than twice what he pays in winter.
“If I don’t get a room, I have a pickup truck with a back seat,” Nuñez said. “There’s no shower but I’ll manage. I may be out there on Cerrillos Road.”
The governor calling a special session that begins on a Friday is unusual, but having it on the first weekend of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta presents a particular challenge as House and Senate members from outside the commuting area have to find a place to spend the night. Legislators say the session could last two or three nights.
“Balloon Fiesta means we get an overflow from Albuquerque,” said Cynthia Delgado, director of marketing for Tourism Santa Fe. “If their hotels get booked, they move north.”
New Mexico legislators do not receive a base salary but get $163 a day for expenses such as meals and lodging. Lawmakers from Santa Fe and many from Albuquerque can drive back and forth, but other, more distant legislators have to pay for a room, even if it costs more than the reimbursement.
Last year’s Balloon Fiesta drew a record 955,000 visitors across nine days. Delgado said tourists often choose to stay in Albuquerque for a few days, then come up to Santa Fe to see Northern New Mexico.
In addition to accommodating overflow from the Balloon Fiesta, Santa Fe is hosting the annual meeting of the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association. The convention includes two golf tournaments this weekend, one at Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe and another at Las Campanas Country Club.
The association is expecting 850 people will occupy about 500 hotel rooms from Friday through Tuesday, said Wally Drangmeister, a spokesman for the association.
“The Eldorado is our host hotel, but people are staying all over downtown and beyond,” he said Thursday. “I’d say we’ll see a really big number of people come into Santa Fe tomorrow.”
Santa Fe has about 6,000 hotel rooms and perhaps 1,000 short-term vacation rentals.
The typical hotel vacancy rate in January and February, during the regular legislative session, is less than 50 percent, and many lawmakers can find a room downtown for under $100.
Rates climb in the summer, and even in October, rooms downtown cost more than $200. A search on hotels.com shows there is availability this weekend at the Drury Plaza for $250 a night and $269 at the Eldorado.
“Right now, there is just not a lot of availability,” said Jane Weiske, director of marketing at La Fonda. Room rates are $379 for Friday night, $429 for Saturday, and Sunday is sold out.
She said the hotel will be able to accommodate a few lawmakers, but as of Thursday afternoon, just four rooms were available out of 180.
Cerrillos Road properties are running $122 a night at La Quinta, $114 at the Baymont and $142 at Best Western. The Motel 6 in Española was showing a nightly rate of $50 for the weekend.
La Fonda also mails 2-for-1 meal coupons to lawmakers during regular sessions so they can dine with a colleague for half-price.
“There’s no way we can do it this weekend,” Weiske said.
State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn will be one of the speakers at the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association forum Monday. If the special session is still going next week, he said, “I’m thinking maybe I can rent out my couch.”
Contact Bruce Krasnow at [email protected].
This BBSNews article originally appeared on NMPolitics.net.