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Longtime lawmaker who led on budget issues dies at 82

Sep 4, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A longtime legislator who his colleagues say used his budget savvy to guide the state through turbulent economic times has died. Luciano "Lucky" Varela died Saturday in Santa Fe after recent health issues, He was 82. Varela, who at one point during his long career in public service served as state controller, represented a state House district in the Santa Fe area from 1987 to 2016. Varela, a Democrat, was chairman of the powerful Legislative Finance Committee and was regarded as a top budget expert, The Albuquerque Journal reported. He played a major role in 2010 legislation aimed at curbing the practice of allowing retired state workers to return to work while still collecting pension benefits, the Journal reported. In the 2016 legislative session, he sponsored unsuccessful legislation that year to increase the state's minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and repeal dozens of tax breaks in state law, the newspaper said. "Other than being the leader and mentor of our family, he was a true public servant. He had a passion for public service in the legislature. He was a very reserved and humble man," his son Jeff Varela told The Associated Press. Several New Mexico leaders praised Varela in statements issued Sunday. "I was saddened to hear of the recent passing of Representative Lucky Varela and I'm grateful and honored to have had the opportunity to serve under his leadership in the New Mexico House of Representatives. He was a strong voice for New Mexico's children, families and state employees. Denise and I send our condolences to his family in this time of need. He will be greatly missed," Attorney General Hector Balderas said. House Speaker Brian Egolf said Varela "was always a stalwart advocate for working people, for using our resources wisely, and for the people of Santa Fe. Lucky was beloved in Santa Fe for many reasons, not the least of which was that he knew more about the state's budget than most of us ever will." U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján said Varela "made the world a better place. He was loved and respected by all who knew him."