State legislators get Christmas in July

By Ned Cantwell

It is now officially illegal to hate in the state of New Mexico if one commits a crime based on that hate.
Hate is also a biblical no-no.
Interesting thought: If people paid attention to what’s in the Good Book, would we need legislators?
New Mexico legislators, though, certainly do adhere to the principle of being their brother’s keeper. Their brothers and sisters in the House and Senate have a pretty sweet retirement deal, thanks to a gift each one gave to the other.
The gift is in the form of a new law which became effective this month that puts the old retirement program on steroids. Gov. Bill Richardson allowed the bill to become law without his signature and promises that he had “agonized” over it. Well, that’s helpful.
Legislators work — for the record, free — in annual sessions that alternate between 30 and 60 days. And they serve on various committees during the year. For that service, they have awarded themselves the following pension plan:
For current legislators, $957 a year times the number of years served. So a 20-year veteran of the Santa Fe wars collects $19,140 a year as long as he lives. OK, not exactly like winning the Power ball lottery but, nonetheless, not a bad deal.
Former legislators had a similarly sweet “thank you oh so much” written into the law. They can collect $10,000 a year for 20 years of service.
By and large, these legislative folks aren’t scrapping by. They aren’t skipping their meds every third day to get through the month. Mostly, they are successful business types and professional people who can afford to take the time to go to Santa Fe each year.
That fact rather pooh-poohs the idea of a democratic citizen legislative body, but it is not all bad. I mean, you want your accomplished people leading the charge. You don’t want to send to Santa Fe a guy who is still working his way through “Dick and Jane Go to the Supermarket.” You want a woman who has more going on upstairs than, say, Anna Nicole Smith.
Whatever intellectual genius one may attribute to the current crop of legislators, it is certainly outshone by their sheer sense of generosity to state and local government workers. They’ve got more people double-dipping than a convention of Baskin-Robbins counter girls.
Thanks to a provision in the same law that made their own golden years shine just a little bit more brightly, public employees can now retire, collect full retirement pay, return to the job they vacated with no loss of retirement benefit. Check your wallet, New Mexico taxpayers, you’ve just been pick-pocketed.
You just know that on the day the legislators met to quadruple their own retirement benefits and shower blessings on state and local government retirees, they had to be wearing Santa Claus outfits. I see Manny Aragon over there hanging tinsel on the tree. I hear Republicans going “ho ho ho.”
Next session, when you hear legislators whining about how strapped for cash is our fair Land of Enchantment, remind them how we got there.

Ned Cantwell of Ruidoso is a retired newspaper publisher and member of the New Mexico Press Association Hall of Fame. E-mail him at: ncantwell@charter.net