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Legislative Debrief from Mike Puelle

This year, AGC New Mexico entered the annual New Mexico legislative session with a jobs agenda. No surprise, given our state’s stagnant construction employment since the 2007 economic downturn, and our substantially slower economic recovery compared to both neighboring states and national trends. The difference this year was the new political landscape resulting from last year’s elections. What would the first House Republican majority since the 1950s, paired with an unchanged Senate Democratic majority, and the newly re-elected Republican Governor mean for a rejuvenated economic approach?

Perhaps the media headlines cut quickest and deepest to the results:  “acrimony,” “gridlock,” “finger-pointing.” All sides indicated their early intent to avoid “Washington DC-style paralysis.” At the session’s close, 191 bills passed both chambers and made it the Governor’s desk, the fewest in a 60-day legislative session since 1949. April 10 is this year’s 20-day bill signing deadline, for those measures that will become law.

The collapse of the $264 million capital outlay package was one of this year’s less predictable outcomes, but comes at a substantial and disproportionate cost to our own construction industry. The partisan details of the debate and the procedural disagreements mean less to our members and to our communities than the reduction in job prospects and infrastructure improvements for the coming year, or until a new deal might be struck. The greatest challenge appears to be the ability to get our policy makers across the board to fully internalize the urgency, and share the priority, for addressing today’s market and workforce challenges. The same might be said of certain special interest and constituency groups who still view the components and approaches to economic opportunity and prosperity the same as they did ten, twenty, or even thirty years ago.

AGC New Mexico’s top legislative priorities did not escape these controversial dynamics. The public-private partnerships (P3) bill passed the full House chamber, but received no hearing in the Senate. Part of this resulted from the well-funded, ideological, and often inaccurate opposition from the public sector unions and water activists. However, the gaping partisan divide opened by the Employee Preference (Right to Work) bill, which AGC New Mexico supported to generate more employment opportunities, also swallowed up the bipartisan support built for the P3 initiative during the 2013 session. Both the legislative and the stakeholder networks of support for these new and promising P3 approaches were impacted by the more high-profile and divisive partisan debates going on this year.

Two other policy priorities could not make the finish line for other reasons. Creating a path toward a New Mexico driver’s license that meets Federal Real ID Act standards failed, yet again. This issue is crucial for those companies and employees requiring access to secure Federal facilities. Since this issue continues to figure prominently in election campaigns, it remains toxic during the legislative season and, thus far, immune to compromise. What is less clear is how and when all our state elected leaders will meet a Federal workforce and regulatory challenge that our employers do not control and cannot ignore. 

Removing the annual statutory dollar cap and targeting the resident veterans procurement preference to smaller and newer companies was a compromise approach reached with participating stakeholders well before the legislative session began. Unfortunately, this compromise was sidelined for most of the session. Another compromise was eventually crafted that would still have improved the current administrative confusion and stalemate. But this late-in-the-game effort ran out of time, in its very last step, amidst the fallout from the equally frustrating implosion of the capital outlay bill.

So how do we move forward? First and foremost, we remain as clear and consistent as possible on those specific and tangible policy initiatives that we know from front-line experience are the most important for job creation and economic advancement in New Mexico. Second, we diligently avoid getting drawn into any and all finger-pointing and blame games that weigh down and wear out our state’s local economies and collective prosperity. Third, we tirelessly participate in constructive attempts from any quarter that aim to identify common goals, bridge gaps, and achieve mutually beneficial economic outcomes. And finally, we ensure that our efforts and experiences in these public policy endeavors inform and drive our commitments and activities during the next election season.

As always, thank you for all your attention, input, and participation in our advocacy efforts. 

 

Don't Miss the Legislative Debrief Luncheon on April 22

 

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