FARMINGTON — The 2013 state legislative session could prove historic for San Juan County, its representation and its residents.

The 60-day session wrapped up just nine days ago. In that time, local representatives and senators passed bills funding multi-million dollar projects at San Juan College and the Kirtland Lagoon. Cities and counties statewide learned they may soon have to grapple with the loss of millions in state funding.

With the specter of sequestration's forced cuts still looming across the nation, local representatives and senators said they've banded together to provide the best leadership for San Juan County and to ensure its residents a prosperous future.

For freshman Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, R-Kirtland, serving in her first legislative session was an eye-opening experience.

"I felt that overall it was a good experience," Clahchischilliage said. "It really was a learning experience. I was really happy with the representation from San Juan County. I witnessed their leadership. I was very happy to see that. They basically guided me through the mechanics (of the session)."

Clahchischilliage said she was able to get a clear picture of San Juan County's underlying needs through serving on the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

"The lobbyists usually are swarming all over," she said. "This time, there were less. That says there's less money.


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Now being back, I know I'm going to be meeting with the community to figure out priorities for the next session."

Two projects, $5 million for a new building for the San Juan College School of Energy and $2 million toward emergency infrastructure updates at the open sewage treatment facility Kirtland Lagoon, highlighted local legislators' ability to work with each other to benefit the community at large, Clahchischilliage said. Although no single legislator was able to secure enough money to fund either project on their own, both projects are poised to move ahead because the area's representatives and senators pooled their money together.

Working on the budget was another learning experience, Clahchischilliage said.

"I didn't support the budget put before us because many areas were changed in the Senate," she said. "There were a lot of projects eliminated, and some tribes were left out. I had to vote against it. I had to look beyond partisanship to my district's needs."

Rep. James R.J. Strickler, R-Farmington, said this year's session was marked by a significant change in tone.

"Generally, I thought the session went well," he said. "The bottom line is that Speaker (Ken) Martinez (D-Grants) was fair. Our old speaker (Rep. Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe), was a real fighter. He was always good to me, but (the legislature) would get into these battles."

The change in leadership will not solve all the state's problems, Strickler said.

"The state's really hurting," he said. "We've lost 48,000 jobs statewide since 2008. Our county's really suffered."

Recent drops in San Juan County's overall population combined with a variety of other economic stressors are a significant cause for concern, he said.

The session, however, was not all doom-and-gloom, said Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec. One highlight was blocking legislation that would have "raided" the Land Grant Permanent Fund, which helps fund public schools and education across the state, he said.

"There were three different proposed constitutional amendments that would have raided the fund," he said. "It needs to stay like an endowment."

The failure of drivers' license reform to pass was disappointing, as was the repeal of the so-called "hold-harmless" payments to cities of more than 10,000 and counties of more than 48,000 residents, Bandy said.

"The municipalities and counties aren't very happy, but they have plenty of time to adjust," he said. "The idea (behind the tax package) is that we'd stimulate the private sector."

That stimulus could help make New Mexico more competitive in attracting businesses and could provide a much needed boost to the state economy, Bandy said.

For Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, the budget was a top priority.

"I actually think it was a good budget," he said.

Another highlight was working to bring funding to the School of Energy and the Kirtland Lagoon, he said.

"The (school) is a huge economic engine," Sharer said. "It looks like there'll be thousands of students moving through per year."

Sen. Steven Neville, R-Aztec, said taxes and the budget were the overriding theme of the 2013 legislative session.

Although the economy statewide has not yet reached its pre-recession levels, there are significant signs of improvement, he said.

"We're still $300 million off from 2008 levels," Neville said. "But we're starting to reverse the trends. First, we've got to patch the (budgetary) holes."

A number of projects and areas in the state budget were cut off from funding after the nationwide recession reached New Mexico, he said, describing the list of projects and programs effected as, "almost endless."

"We need to fix the things we had to put off," Neville said. "It'll still be another year or two before we're back."

Overall, however, he said he found this year's session to be a refreshing change of pace.

"We're all dealing with different things, but it wasn't as stressful," Neville said. "When you have opposing forces in the governor's administration and in the Legislature, it keeps things in check. It keeps things civilized."

Greg Yee may be reached at gyee@daily-times.com; 505-564-4606. Follow him on Twitter www.twitter.com/GYeeDT.