The state House of Representatives approved a $7 billion budget on Thursday, sending to the Senate a plan for the next fiscal year that would provide nearly half a billion dollars in additional funds for public schools but which Republicans say amounts to an outsize increase in government spending. House Bill 2 would mark an 11 percent bump in New Mexico’s budget, drawing on a surplus fueled by an oil and gas boom. That would leave about 22 percent of the state’s general fund in reserves, a far higher level than in recent years when the state burned through cash amid a stagnant economy and a bust in the oil business. In arguing for the spending plan Thursday, Democrats depicted the budget as a response to what they described as years of austerity and cuts under former Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and as a big step under a new administration towards meeting a judge’s order that the state improve education for at-risk students.
The New Mexico Public Education Department aims to scrap the state’s A-F grading system for public schools, which critics have said puts too much emphasis on student test scores. Under proposed changes to the state’s plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, the agency says it will replace an accountability system that identifies schools as failing with one that classifies them by the amount of state and federal support they require. “This is a shift in philosophy from seeing schools as failing to seeing a call to action,” said Tim Hand, deputy secretary of the education department. “This underscores how we see that our role at the Public Education Department is to lead with support.” The effort comes as Democratic state lawmakers have introduced two measures — Senate Bill 229 by Sen. Mimi Stewart and House Bill 639 by Rep. G. Andrés Romero — that would repeal a law creating the A-F grading system.
In 2017, Reuters published a map on lead poisoning among children across the nation. The story examined where children were tested for lead and how many had high levels of the toxic metal in their blood. At that time, NM Political Report spent months trying to speak directly with experts at the New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) about that exact issue. But Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration wouldn’t allow that. And we never got a complete picture of how state officials were handling childhood lead exposure.
It’s almost impossible to find a smooth ride in New Mexico. Most of the state’s major roads and highways are in poor or mediocre condition, and those potholes out there mean hundreds of dollars in additional fuel, repairs and other costs for the average driver, according to an annual survey published Wednesday. This may not be news for New Mexicans bouncing around on the state’s roads. But this year, the data come as lawmakers consider hundreds of millions of additional dollars in the budget for road repairs and debate raising the long-stagnant gas tax to pay for future maintenance. The report by The Road Information Program, or TRIP, says New Mexicans are already paying for the condition of the state’s highways.
On a frigid Tuesday morning, Mariah Peña drove from her home at San Ildefonso Pueblo to go grocery shopping in Santa Fe with her son and little sister. Inside the Market Street supermarket, 7-year-old Damian settled onto his back in Peña’s empty shopping cart, kicking his legs up in the air in front of a case of colorful donuts. “Why should food be taxed?” Peña said. “Just trying to make it as a single mom is hard enough.”
One of the biggest unanswered questions during this year’s legislative session is whether New Mexico will become the next state to legalize cannabis for recreational use. Legal cannabis is dependent on a handful of hold-outs in the state Senate, but one bill that would ease the state’s laws on cannabis, years in the making and sponsored by one of those hold-outs, cleared its first committee Tuesday. The Senate Public Affairs Committee passed Senate Bill 323 on a 5-1 vote Tuesday evening. Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, sponsored similar legislation to replace criminal charges with fines for possessing relatively small amounts of cannabis since 2015. With each attempt, the proposal has gained more support in the Legislature.