Latest projections for state budget: $1.1 billion in ‘new money’

Analysts told lawmakers projections show New Mexico will have $1.1 billion in “new money” to spend compared to last year. But they also urged caution on how to spend that money, given the state’s reliance on volatile oil and gas revenues and the need to replace the money legislators used money from various state programs in recent years. Members of the Legislative Finance Committee, which hears regular budget updates throughout the year, were briefed on the numbers from their chief economist and members of outgoing Gov. Susana Martinez’s cabinet. The sky-high budget numbers were slightly lower than the August forecast, but still much higher than the state has seen since 2005, before the Great Recession of the late 2000s. The budget boom doesn’t necessarily mean that legislators will fund new recurring programs.

Committee chairwoman, and House Appropriations and Finance Committee chairwoman, Patty Lundstrom, outlined in the most-recent LFC newsletter where the money would likely go.

Candidates report spending in high-dollar elections

Both federal and state candidates filed campaign finance reports this week, showing how much they spent on their races this year. The reports showed several very high-cost races. Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham spent nearly twice as much as her Republican opponent on the way to her victory in last month’s elections, and spending by the two exceeded $14 million. In all, Lujan Grisham spent over $9.5 million, while Steve Pearce spent just under $4.9 million. Lujan Grisham’s total includes money spent during a primary, which she easily won, while Pearce didn’t face a Republican opponent.

Lujan Grisham’s transition members on education, Indian affairs

After two terms of clashing with the governor, teachers unions will have a loudervoice, at least during the transition period. Governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham is rushing toward her inauguration on Jan. 1 and is working with various people to fill her administration in different areas, including education and Indian Affairs. Previously: Lujan Grisham names transition team for environment, energy and water

Earlier in November, Lujan Grisham named former New Mexico Governor Garrey Carruthers, former Santo Domingo Governor Everett Chavez and Principal and CEO of the Native American Community Academy Kara Bobroff as co-chairs of the Education and Indian Affairs transition committee. Last week, Lujan Grisham named more people to her transition team.

The next legislative session could echo 2003

An incoming Democrat is replacing a Republican in the governor’s office, and will get to work with a large Democrat majority in the Legislature. The new governor will have a large budget surplus and many potential projects to fund, both those sought by legislators and by the governor. No, this isn’t a preview for next month’s legislative session, the first with Michelle Lujan Grisham as governor, but a look back at 2003. When Democrat Bill Richardson replaced Republican Gary Johnson, “it was like a dam burst,” former State Sen. Dede Feldman said, speaking of the laws enacted. In the 2003 session alone, 439 bills became law, compared to 110 the year before.

Luján elected to House leadership post

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, a Democrat, entering his sixth term in office, was unanimously elected the Assistant Democratic Leader for the next Congress. In a statement, Luján said he was “honored” to be selected for that position, which makes him the number four Democrat in the House. “As Assistant Democratic Leader, I will welcome ideas from all corners of our Caucus to build our agenda, protect our majority, hold the Trump administration and Congressional Republicans accountable, and make a positive difference in people’s lives,” the congressman said. “Just like the midterm elections, the road ahead won’t be easy. But I’m confident that if we are all willing to come to the table, listen, ask the hard questions, and put in the work, we will successfully meet this moment.”

Luján led the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a group tasked with electing Democrats to the U.S. House, throughout the past two election cycles.

Heinrich: ‘White House is attempting to cover up a murder’

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and two other Democrats want a public report on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Heinrich says that by not saying Saudi Arabia was responsible for Kashogghi’s death, the “White House is attempting to cover up a murder.”

Khashoggi was murdered in Istanbul at the Saudi Arabian Consulate in October. While Saudi officials at first denied Khashoggi was dead, they later admitted he died in the consulate. The New York Times reported the Central Intelligence Agency concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s killing. President Donald Trump disputed the finding, and received pushback from lawmakers of both parties, including some who said the president lied about the findings by U.S. intelligence.

Secretary of State talks turnout, support for same-day voter registration

The staff at the Secretary of State’s office is still working on elections as the final statewide canvass approaches next week, but also looking forward to the upcoming legislative session. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver spoke to reporters Tuesday about the elections and legislation she will back in next year’s session when lawmakers meet. Toulouse Oliver said she was “very, very, very pleased with the overall turnout,” which was the highest midterm turnout in decades in New Mexico. She questioned if the increased midterm turnout was due to the current political climate or efforts by the government and others to facilitate voting or a combination of both. “We had a very active, engaged electorate this year in New Mexico this cycle, and that’s a positive, that’s a plus,” she said.

NM near bottom of wage growth over last year, since Great Recession

New Mexico’s personal wage growth continues to lag behind the country as a whole and the region. The latest numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, compiled by the Pew Charitable Trusts, shows that through the 2nd quarter of 2018, New Mexico’s personal income has grown just 1.1 percent since the Great Recession. That’s compared the national average of 1.9 percent. Looking at just the most recent year, through the end of the 2nd quarter of 2018, New Mexico also saw just a 1.1 percent growth. The West is home to many  states with the largest growth rates, both since 2007 and in the most recent year.

2nd CD race ranks among the most-expensive in NM history

The southern New Mexico congressional district won by Democrat Xochitl Torres Small may prove to be the most-expensive race in state history. Torres Small defeated Republican Yvette Herrell and will replace Republican Steve Pearce, who ran for governor instead of seeking another term. As anyone who watched TV in the weeks ahead of the election, candidates and outside groups targeted the race in the national battle over the U.S. House of Representatives. In all, candidates and outside groups spent $12.7 million on the race according to the Center for Responsive Politics, with several weeks of spending from candidates not due until Dec. 6.

Herrell sues to impound Doña Ana County absentee ballots

Republican congressional candidate Yvette Herrell filed a suit Tuesday, asking a judge to order the impound of absentee ballots in a key southern New Mexico county after she lost to Xochitl Torres Small in last week’s election. Herrell filed the suit in state district court and asked the court to order State Police to take control of absentee ballots and associated documents from Doña Ana County. She also wants an investigation into “reports of chain-of-custody issues and other improprieties” though she provided no evidence of problems.

The Doña Ana County Canvassing Board unanimously certified the results of last week’s election hours before Herrell filed the suit. In the filing, Herrell claims she was “stripped of [the] title” of winner of the election because of the results from the Doña Ana County absentee ballots. Some media outlets had already projected Herrell to win, but at least one, the Albuquerque Journal, did not know of the absentee ballots.