Legislature pass budget, tax bills, waits on governor’s actions

Both the House and Senate recessed Thursday afternoon—without officially ending the special session. Now, the governor has three days to take action on four bills aimed at tax changes and reinstating funding to the Legislative branch and institutes of higher education. By recessing until Tuesday instead of adjourning, the House and Senate could still introduce new legislation to replace anything Gov. Susana Martinez might veto. Martinez, in an atypical statement, praised the Legislature for some of their work. “In a bipartisan manner, lawmakers passed my plan to put more funding toward cancer research and student financial aid, while at the same time forfeiting their pork projects and a small portion of their personal legislative retirement accounts to fill the budget hole — something I’ve urged them to do for months,” she said.

Two budget bills now await governor’s signature

The House of Representatives passed three pieces of budget legislation Wednesday afternoon and evening with little debate. The first restored funding to higher education and the state Legislature. Earlier this year, Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the entire budgets for both during the regular session, citing her opposition to tax increases. Two Republicans—state Reps. Jason Harper of Rio Rancho and Rod Montoya of Farmington—voiced concerns for the spending bill.

Legislature advances budget-balancing, tax measures

A House panel passed a bill to restore funding vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez for next year for higher education, courts and the state Legislature Wednesday afternoon. Meanwhile, tax packages that would increase taxes on things like internet sales and gasoline also moved forward. The budget vote came mostly on party lines save for state Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, who joined Democrats in supporting it. Maestas Barnes was also the lone Republican to vote for a failed override attempt of Martinez’s budget vetoes earlier in the day. In total, the bill appropriates roughly $765 million—$745 million for higher education and $19 million for legislative offices—for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Legislature fails to override governor’s vetoes

Attempts to override Gov. Susana Martinez’s vetoes of money for higher education and the Legislature failed in the first hour of the special session. Both the House and Senate moved quickly to attempt the budget veto overrides, a rarity in New Mexico politics. In the House, state Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, was the only Republican to join all Democrats in voting for the override. The final vote tally was 39-29; the measure needed two-thirds of lawmakers present, or 45 House members, to vote yes to pass. The motion failed in the House with no debate.

ABQ mayoral candidates face off in forum

Six Albuquerque mayoral candidates faced off Tuesday evening in one of the the first forums of the campaign and answered questions on a wide range of issues like community policing, immigration and economic development. While there were many nuanced differences in the candidates’ answers, they also agreed on a number of issues. During a “lightning round” of yes or no questions in front of an audience of 250 people, all candidates agreed that the Albuquerque Police Department wasn’t doing enough to meet the Department of Justice consent decree and that the department’s chief, Gorden Eden, should be replaced. Each candidate also said they would support relocating Syrian refugees to Albuquerque. The forum was sponsored by the community group Dukes Up Albuquerque and the two moderators were from the Weekly Alibi and NM Political Report, which helped organize the event.

Guv, legislators take ‘first crack’ at agreement ahead of special session

Gov. Susana Martinez met with legislative leaders Friday morning to discuss a budget fix ahead of the upcoming special session scheduled to start next Wednesday. Martinez’s spokesman, in a statement, called the meeting “productive” and said the governor is confident her office would come to an agreement on funding the coming fiscal year, “including funding for higher education.”

“The Governor reiterated that she will not support standalone tax increases, but is hopeful that we will be able to find a bipartisan path forward on tax reform,” spokesman Michael Lonergan said. The statement potentially leaves room for tax increases as a part of a comprehensive tax overhaul similar to what state Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, spearheaded during the recent general legislative session. Martinez last week told the Santa Fe New Mexican that she would support reinstating the food tax as part of such a reform—a marked contrast from even just two months ago when she vowed to “definitely veto every tax increase on my desk.”

State House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, however, told NM Political Report that “there is still tremendous uncertainty about what sort of tax reform proposal is going to be offered during the [special] session.”

Egolf described the meeting with Martinez as “a first crack” at agreeing to a budget solution. “It wasn’t really a horse trading kind of thing,” Egolf said.

Three NM Planned Parenthood clinics to close this year

Three Planned Parenthood clinics in New Mexico—one in Albuquerque, one in Rio Rancho and one in Farmington—will close by this fall. Whitney Phillips, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which oversees clinics for the women’s health provider in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Nevada, attributed the closures to “reduced patient volume” and challenges in the healthcare industry. “There’s no secret that the reproductive health landscape right now is tough,” she said, referring to the “defund Planned Parenthood” campaigns from opponents of abortion. None of the three clinics slated to close perform surgical abortions. She also ascribed some of the troubles to the federal Affordable Care Act, which “impacted the way we operated, the way we bill things.” Still, she said Planned Parenthood still supports ACA “because the more people with insurance, the better.”

The coming closures will drop the number of New Mexico Planned Parenthood clinics from six to three by this September.

Medicaid renewal delays balloon as HSD gets control of SNAP backlog

Tens of thousands of Medicaid recipients in New Mexico are not receiving their health benefits on time, according to numbers from state government. As of February of this year, more than 48,000 Medicaid cases up for renewal are not being processed by the state Human Services Department (HSD) on time, according to a federal court filing in April citing HSD’s own numbers. And that number of Medicaid renewal delays has only grown to more than 59,000 as of May 10, according to Maria Griego, a staff attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “They’re pretty bad,” Griego said of the delays. While the number of New Mexicans who haven’t received their Medicaid benefits on time has been expanding, HSD erased a large part of the backlog of renewal applications for the federal Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.

House GOP unveil budget proposal which would divert money from Legislature’s retirement

State House Republicans unveiled a spending plan for the upcoming special legislative session that would transfer $12.5 million from the state Legislative Retirement Fund to the general fund to solve the New Mexico’s budget shortfall. Martinez announced the special session will begin Wednesday, May 24. GOP House leaders announced the plan publicly in a press release Tuesday, touting it as a solution to fix the state’s budget issues without raising taxes. “This plan covers New Mexico’s budget needs for the upcoming fiscal year and increases funding for cancer care as well as support for students working to obtain a college degree,” state Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, said in a statement. “I urge my colleagues in the Legislature to adopt these proposals so we can resolve this budget impasse fairly and for the benefit of all New Mexicans.”

But the ranking lawmaker in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee questioned whether the Legislature could legally transfer money already invested the retirement fund.

Inaugural ‘News and Brews’ series deconstructs Trump’s first 100 days

The kickoff of NM Political Report’s monthly News and Brews summer series Thursday night featured a candid discussion about how the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency affected New Mexicans from different perspectives. Our own Environment Reporter Laura Paskus moderated the event, which featured insight from immigration attorney and Santa Fe Dreamers Project Director Allegra Love, former U.S. Department of Agriculture New Mexico State Director for Rural Development Terry Brunner and former Islamic Center of New Mexico President Abbas Akhil. Brunner, who headed USDA grants for New Mexico for rural development under the Obama administration, described Trump’s first 100 days as “fast and scary, kind of like a rollercoaster.”

“You wake up in the morning, it’s something completely new and different every day,” he said. Brunner warned that the effect of Trump’s “drain the swamp” rhetoric combined with picking officials without traditional qualifications to run federal agencies will “spread fear throughout the bureaucracy” and cause federal workers to “hunker down” and bring government’s delivery on services to the public “to a really slow lethargic pace.”

Brunner mentioned how in January, House Republicans evoked an obscure rule allowing them to drop federal employees’ salaries to just $1, which he argued is meant to “intimidate federal employees.”

“The [James] Comey firing is a sign that nobody’s job is secure,” he said, referring to Trump’s abrupt dismissal of the FBI director earlier this week. Love, who directs the Santa Fe Dreamers Project, a legal services group that helps undocumented families, said the immigrant community began to feel the effects of Trump‘s incoming presidency the day after he was elected.