The toughest battle for right-to-work legislation in New Mexico may take place in the state Senate during the 2015 legislative session.
Sen. Michael Sanchez, a Democrat from Belen and the Senate floor leader, has the power to call — or not call — legislation to a vote on the floor. And on Tuesday, he told Business First he’s not interested in hearing right-to-work legislation during the 2015 legislative session.
“I don’t believe right-to-work is anything for our state,” Sanchez said. “Those are philosophical beliefs of both Democrat and Republican parties we tend to disagree about.”
Mayor Richard Berry, who is a Republican, as well as the new Republican Speaker of the House, Don Tripp of Socorro, are both pushing for the legislation, which could fundamentally change New Mexico’s labor laws and prohibit requiring workers to join or pay dues to a union. Right-to-work laws in New Mexico could affect fewer than 10 percent of the workers in the state.
Berry, Tripp and others have said passing right-to-work legislation could help bring in more manufacturers that are concerned about union representation here.
But this year, as Republicans take over the House for the first time since the 1950s, passing right-to-work legislation will not just be a possibility, but a priority, Tripp added. “It’s one of those things that you check off when you’re doing economic development. We need it,” he said.
“I believe we can get it out of the House; the Senate is a challenge,” he said.
Sanchez, however, said he’s interested in hearing other economic development proposals that will help the state and, he said, stop brain drain here. He’s said he’s pushing for more Job Training Incentive Program funds, as well as a larger Local Economic Development Act fund for the next fiscal year.
“I believe I’ve indicated that New Mexico is at a critical stage, and we’ve been in this critical stage for the last four years, since Governor Martinez has come into office,” Sanchez said. “We’re losing jobs and we’re losing people, and I don’t know if the LEDA fund would generate leading people back, but it could help us turn a corner by attracting good clean jobs that can pay good salaries. I’m in favor of generating special funds. Last year, we asked for $15 million [for LEDA]; the business community is looking at $50 [million].”
That $50 million LEDA proposal was made when the state thought it would receive millions more from oil taxes, he said. But as oil prices slide, “it doesn’t help, in terms of the state’s coffers,” he said. “We rely on oil and gas to make it through. I’m going to make sure we have money in that LEDA fund.”
Though much of the special fund, which is used to build public infrastructure around businesses, is used for recruiting out-of-state firms, “we forget our mom’s and pop’s,” Sanchez said. “We can be looking at incentives for them as well.”
Because the session is only 60 days long this year and allows presentation of legislation that is not germane to the budget, it will be busy for all legislators.
“We have a full agenda; we’re going to move full speed ahead, and I understand it’s a different dynamic,” he said. “The Senate will move forward the way the Senate has, and the Democrats will have an agenda for families, economic development, and we’ll make our state better and better every single year.”