Antonio “Moe” Maestas, state representative for District 16, told a recent town hall meeting that the upcoming state legislative session — while focusing on the budget — may foster discussions about subjects ranging from penalties for murder to early childhood programs and voting processes.
Maestas, in his sixth term, said revenue estimates for FY 19 are approximately $200 million over the current year, which would allow for some budget flexibility. He presented a proposed spending plan that includes increases for public schools and higher education, as well as the departments of public safety and corrections, and children, youth and families.
Among the specifics Rep. Maestas proposed are:
- Crime and Prosecution: He advocates increased funding for the courts and the 14 district attorney’s offices around the state, with allocations taking into account needs in each district. He said he will attempt to educate members of the Legislature from rural areas and small towns about unique issues related to the city. Albuquerque, for example, has 70 percent of all the auto thefts in the state, but when it comes to allocation of funds, “rural areas outvote us all the time.” He noted that many of the senior committee posts are held by members from smaller cities. He will also push to increase the penalty for second degree murder from 15 to 18 years.
- Early Childhood Programs: While increased funding for programs is included in the proposed budget, he said he would offer a constitutional amendment to stabilize funding by taking one percent of the top of the $17 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund each year to support child welfare programs.
- Support for Educators: Teachers, he said, should be receiving salary increases of 2.7 percent while administrative and other staff would get 1.5 percent raises. This is long overdue, he noted.
- Economic Development: New Mexico has one of the country’s largest gas and oil energy reserves, but the boom/bust cycle of the industry seriously affects state finances, and while recent price increases are reflected in greater government income levels, it is time to diversify the economy. He noted that there was “very little discussion increasing revenue” among his colleagues
The potential for solar and wind energy in the state is a clear advantage that should be exploited, he said, but tourism is already a healthy part of the economy that could also be fostered. The University of New Mexico does not have a program for hotel management and related services, he noted, adding that such a program would not only help the state economically but ensure that graduates remain here because of growing opportunities.
Noting that “Albuquerque is the driver of the New Mexico economy,” Rep. Maestas added that the state should be supporting programs to contract with small local businesses, similar to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Historically Underutilized Business program, or HUB. The program is being instituted in Texas and other states.
- Elections: Rep. Maestras believes that the state should explore having primary elections that are not limited to registered members of each party, but open to independents and those who choose not to identify their affiliations.