Flickr/cc

Gas tax increase posed as a solution to failing roads

Moderately low gas prices and an increasingly dire budget situation in the state has lawmakers eyeing new sources for revenue. Gov. Susana Martinez has adamantly opposed any new or increased taxes, but some lawmakers are looking to grab several more cents from drivers at the gas pump. At least two state senators and one Albuquerque city councilor have introduced legislation to increase gas taxes to help pay for road repairs and infrastructure. The move appears to be a trend in several other states. New Mexico state Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, chairs the Senate Finance Committee and is considered one of the most fiscally conservative Democrats in Santa Fe.

Gov. Susana Martinez delivering the 2017 State of the State Address.

Pomp, circumstance and State of the State in photos

As is often the case, the first day of the 2017 legislative session began with lawmakers, lobbyists and reporters catching up and getting their bearings straight. The first day began with lawmakers settling into their new seating assignments and making new leadership official. Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, was elected Speaker of the House, while Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, was elected by the Democratic caucus to serve as the Majority Floor Leader.  

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The New Mexico State Capitol, or Roundhouse, via Wikicommons.

Senator aims to exclude public job applicants from open records law

A southern New Mexico state senator Thursday filed a bill that would exclude job applications for public positions from the state’s open records law. Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, filed SB 93, which would exclude “records that would reveal the identity of an applicant for public employment” from the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). Papen told NM Political Report the bill is aimed at protecting job applicants’ privacy. “People should be able to apply for a job without having their name on the front page of the newspaper if they’re not a finalist,” Papen said. The bill specifies that finalists’ names and applications would be made public “no fewer than seven days prior to the final decision to hire the individual.” But the bill does not provide a definition for what a finalist is.

An Initiative To Legalize Marijuana In California To Appear On Nov. Ballot

Med pot bill to include all veterans and opioid dependents

A bill that would update the state’s medical cannabis law could see some changes before it’s ever heard in a legislative committee. Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, prefiled his aptly named Medical Marijuana Changes bill last month. Now McSorley is working with a group of producers and patient advocates to make changes to his bill one week before the legislative session starts. McSorley told NM Political Report he wants to add opioid addiction to the list of medical conditions that qualify patients to buy cannabis. He also said he wants to allow all veterans to use cannabis medicinally.

Official photo of State Auditor Tim Keller

Keller officially announces run for ABQ mayor

New Mexico State Auditor Tim Keller officially announced his run for Albuquerque mayor Wednesday. Keller issued a statement in the morning saying he would focus on the city’s economy and reforming the Albuquerque Police Department. “Albuquerque is my home – I was born and raised here – and this is where my wife and I are raising our family,” Keller said in a press release. “I’m running for mayor because I believe, together, we can meet these challenges head on and build a safe, inclusive and innovative city that works for all of us.”

If elected mayor, Keller would leave an open spot in the auditor’s office, which would be filled by appointment from Gov. Susana Martinez. Later in the day, Keller told NM Political Report he is not concerned about leaving his current position if elected mayor.

Money

Gov. Martinez announces budget solvency plan

Gov. Susana Martinez announced Tuesday her proposal to balance the state budget, which involves moving $268.5 million from various state agencies. “This is a responsible budget that reduces the size of government while at the same time protects the progress we’ve made in diversifying our economy, reforming our education system, and keeps our communities safe,” Martinez said in a press release. The proposal includes taking $120 million from public education in funds that Martinez’s press release referred to as “slush funds.”

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, told NM Political Report that the proposal is a “starting point for negotiation purposes,” but that real discussions will happen in committee meetings once the legislative session begins next week. Smith, a fiscal conservative, also criticized Martinez’s proposed sweep from public schools. “I’m not as harsh on education as she is,” Smith said.

Children at school

Excused or not, CYFD says school absences could mean neglect

The state department that has been criticized for letting child abuse cases slip through the cracks is now under fire from some Albuquerque parents and school administrators for a lack of discretion when looking into student absences. Days before Albuquerque Public Schools teachers, students and parents were gearing up for a two-week winter vacation, one mother said she got an unexpected visit from Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) case workers. The mother recounted her story in an email to APS board members. NM Political Report obtained the mother’s email from CYFD, but the state agency redacted her name. “I asked through the door who it was, and a woman yelled in a very loud voice, ‘WE ARE WITH THE CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT DEPARTMENT AND WE ARE INVESTIGATING YOU AND YOUR FAMILY,’” the mother wrote.

Albuquerque City Hall
Photo: Andy Lyman

The line starts here: ABQ’s crowded mayoral race

The race for Albuquerque mayor became a major focus for a group of Democrats, one Republican and one independent over the weekend. On Saturday, a group of Democrats spoke about their respective visions of what the next mayor of Albuquerque should focus on, while Republican City Councilor Dan Lewis officially announced his intention to run for the city’s top office on Sunday afternoon. Lewis told supporters gathered at the business incubator Fat Pipe ABQ that he will focus on public safety, economic development and education. More specifically, Lewis said he wants the city to hire roughly 300 police officers under new leadership at the Albuquerque Police Department. As for paying for more police officers to bring the APD street officer total to 1,200 cops, Lewis suggested that the department could cut “duplications” in dispatch and instead focus on “one professional dispatch center.”

Lewis added that APD must “get ahead of the [federal Department of Justice] reforms” rather than being “dragged” into them by the federal government and the courts.

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Business leader files defamation suit against NM GOP

The president of a New Mexico business advocacy group filed a lawsuit against the state Republican party for defamation. Carla Sonntag, the president of the New Mexico Business Coalition alleges the Republican Party of New Mexico falsely accused her of attacking party chair Ryan Cangiolosi in a series of anonymous emails to party members ahead of the state party’s election. In December 2016, the state’s Republican Party sent an email to committee members apologizing for a series of anonymous emails disparaging Cangiolosi. In the email, the party blamed Sonntag for sending the emails. “The Republican Party of New Mexico, in consultation with our legal team, has done its investigative research and has uncovered that these emails come from accounts registered to Carla Sonntag and family,” the email from the party read.

The seal of the state of New Mexico in the House

2016 Top Stories #5: NM Dems buck national trend, retake House

As Democrats around the country were reeling from an unexpected loss in the presidential and many congressional races, New Mexico saw Democrats take back control of the state House of Representatives. Previously: Top ten stories of 2016: 10-6

This came two years after Democrats lost control of the House—where they held a majority for almost half a century. Conservative super PAC Advance Now New Mexico shelled out large amounts of cash towards unseating Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. But some critics felt that the PAC didn’t spend enough time focused on on maintaining the majority in the House or unseating other Senate Democrats. Hatch Mayor Andy Nunez, a Republican, lost his legislative seat in southern New Mexico to Las Cruces City Councilor Nathan Smalls.