How the IRS was gutted

In the summer of 2008, William Pfeil made a startling discovery: Hundreds of foreign companies that operated in the U.S. weren’t paying U.S. taxes, and his employer, the Internal Revenue Service, had no idea. Under U.S. law, companies that do business in the Gulf of Mexico owe the American government a piece of what they make drilling for oil there or helping those that do. But the vast majority of the foreign companies weren’t paying anything, and taxpaying American companies were upset, arguing that it unfairly allowed the foreign rivals to underbid for contracts.Pfeil and the IRS started pursuing the non-U.S. entities. Ultimately, he figures he brought in more than $50 million in previously unpaid taxes over the course of about five years. It was an example of how the tax-collecting agency is supposed to work.But then Congress began regularly reducing the IRS budget.

Lujan Grisham’s choice of Education Secretary will send big message

In the coming days, governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham will take the first major step to fulfill her sweeping campaign promises on education – appointing a secretary to lead New Mexico’s troubled Public Education Department. Her choice will speak volumes – not only about her approach to education but also about her commitment to reform in a state that is primed for change. With a Democratic majority in both chambers of the Legislature, the governor-elect is in a position to address what many regard as New Mexico’s gravest problem: the fact that it sits at rock bottom in national rankings of student achievement. The state is under court order to fix a school funding system that was struck down as unconstitutional for its failure to provide adequate resources for at-risk students. So the choice of the new secretary will speak worlds about the degree to which Lujan Grisham intends to follow through on her pledge to “build a Pre-K-through-grade-12 education system that works for every single student and family.”

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.

With contract set to expire, still no word on what’s next for immigration center at Tornillo

With just weeks before a federal contract to operate a West Texas detention center for undocumented immigrant minors is set to expire, there is still no word whether the Trump administration plans to keep the site open into 2019. 

But the shelter operators maintain that another contract extension would be just one more short-term solution to a larger problem that needs a permanent fix. 

The contract between the federal Health and Human Services’ Offices of Refugee Resettlement and San Antonio nonprofit BCFS to operate the controversial detention camp at Tornillo is due to expire at the end of this month after being extended several times since the original 30-day contract in June. 

“The ball is in their court,” said BCFS spokeswoman Evy Ramos. “We have said to them just recently this week, we can’t just keep extending this, this is not a permanent solution. Something else has to be figured out.” 

The facility — a collection of dozens of military-grade tents on the grounds of a federal port of entry surrounded by acres of farmland — has swelled from a few hundred immigrants in June to about 2,300. Its capacity was expanded to about 3,800 after the administration realized the flow of unauthorized minors seeking asylum in the United States did not dwindle despite efforts to deter asylum seekers by turning them away at the international ports of entry and urging the Mexican government to block Central Americans from traveling through that country. 

If the government didn’t extend the contract for Tornillo, it would have to build or find another facility that’s designed for long-term detention, Ramos said. But that decision is ultimately up to ORR officials.

Feds fail to prosecute crimes in Indian Country

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice declined to prosecute more than a third of cases referred to them in Indian Country. That’s business as usual according to a new report by the department. The report reveals that U.S. attorneys’ offices left 37 percent of referred cases from Indian Country unprosecuted in 2017 — a figure slightly up from 2016 and steady with data since 2011, after then-President Barack Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act into law. The percentage continues to plateau despite funding for tribal law enforcement from the Trump administration. Lawmakers like Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., see the department’s prosecution rate as failing members of federally recognized tribes.

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.

Hospital competition leaves kids in the lurch

The two pediatric heart doctors made for an odd couple at the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee: Bill Stein in his conservative gray suit and Jon Love with his blond ponytail, three earrings and shiny blue blazer – both testifying to their desire to work together. Their respective employers had been in open – at times cutthroat – competition for years. The result has been a health system in which very sick kids are more likely to be sent out of state than two miles down the road to the competitor. Stein, 42, who is employed by Presbyterian Healthcare Services, is the state’s sole pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon. Love, 56, is the lone pediatric interventional cardiologist at the University of New Mexico. Together, the specialists put forward a simple answer that pediatricians and parents of medically fragile children have been longing to hear: collaboration.

Proposed NM rule change would allow immigrants to work as lawyers regardless of federal status

Interpretation and enforcement of immigration laws seemingly change as fast as finicky weather patterns under President Donald Trump and his advisers, mostly a group self-styled “immigration hardliners.”
In some cases, the courts have thwarted the administration’s attempts at unilaterally limiting who can enter the United States. Contrarily, Trump, without evidence, continues to tout progress on “The Wall” along the nation’s southern border and, most recently, deployed US military forces to stop what he sees as an “invasion” of migrants from the south. The uncertainty leads to big, philosophical questions on governance such as: How far does presidential power go when it comes to immigration policy? In New Mexico, the charged debate over immigration has raised a narrower question for the state’s legal community. Should people in the United States illegally—regardless of whether they are eligible to hold jobs—be allowed to practice law here as long as they’ve passed the state bar exam?

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.

State lacks policy allowing inmates to breastfeed their children

The New Mexico Department of Corrections does not have a current policy that would allow inmates to breastfeed their children, despite a judge’s order last year to put one in place. While Corrections implemented a lactation policy, it only covers access to electric breastfeeding pumps, a department spokesman told NM Political Report. Despite the order, the spokesman said in-person breastfeeding only applied to one woman. Last June, inmate Monique Hidalgo sued the Corrections Department to be able to use an electric breast pump and breastfeed her then-newborn daughter, Isabella, in-person. The injunctive order handed down last August by state District Court Judge David K. Thomson ordered the department to allow inmates to breastfeed their children.