Democrats split on charter school cap in New Mexico

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s plan to cap charter school enrollment met a wave of opposition Monday, and at least one Democratic senator said he would break party ranks to oppose the initiative. The attempt to limit enrollment in charter schools is contained in wide-ranging Senate Bill 1, which has sponsors from both political parties. Critics of the bill include Sen. Bill O’Neill, a Democrat from Albuquerque and co-founder of a charter school in that city. The measure would limit charter schools statewide to 27,000 students for at least one year. Charter schools have nearly that many students now.

Gas tax hike backers say NM roads need funding

New Mexico’s government has not raised the tax on gasoline since 1993. This year, that could change. A sweeping tax bill sponsored by Democrats in the state House of Representatives would increase the tax on gasoline by 10 cents a gallon, from 17 cents to 27 cents, starting in mid-2020. The special fuels tax would go up a nickel, too, from 21 cents to 26 cents. Backers say New Mexicans do not have to look any further than the wear and tear on the state’s highways for a reason to raise the tax, proceeds of which have traditionally paid for road maintenance.

Federal shutdown continues to hammer at New Mexicans

Speaking in downtown Albuquerque Monday afternoon, New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall called the federal shutdown—currently in its 31st day—“sheer madness.”

According to what Udall called “conservative” estimates, 10,800 federal employees in New Mexico are working without pay or have been furloughed. The shutdown is also affecting government contractors and local economies. “I’ve heard from merchants all around Albuquerque, ‘We’re not seeing the business, people are not coming out to restaurants, they’re not coming out to stores,’” he said. And the longer the shutdown lasts, the deeper the economic impacts will be. The shutdown, he added, is hurting the country’s ability to move forward.

Register and vote on the same day? Dems want to make it a reality

Right now, if New Mexicans want to participate in elections, they have to register four weeks before Election Day. But legislative efforts look to change that. Right now, if New Mexicans want to participate in elections, they have to register four weeks before Election Day. But legislative efforts look to change that. State Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, is the Senate sponsor of a same-day registration bill, which he says will help the state reach its “obligation to citizens to enfranchise their voting rights.”

“Year after year, we meet people who really are not plugged in or tuned into an election until really close to it, at which point it’s too late for people to register to vote,” he said.

Lawmakers pressed to devise plan for improving public education

State Rep. Bobby Gonzales shook his head from side to side after listening to all the suggestions about how to meet a judge’s order to provide more resources to New Mexico children who, in the court’s view, are not receiving a good public education. “About 15 different ideas,” the Democrat from Taos said following a hearing on the topic last week in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. “Maybe we need to break it all down. Maybe we can’t do it all in one year.” But the state doesn’t have a year, or even half a year, to comply with a mandate handed down in June by state District Judge Sarah Singleton of Santa Fe.

Morales adds visibility to lieutenant governor’s role

A bell on a desk greeted visitors to the lieutenant governor’s office during Howie Morales’ first couple weeks on the job. Ring for service, a sign said. Not particularly glamorous, it seemed to sum up the office of lieutenant governor, which comes with few official duties and even fewer prospects for higher office. But Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in her early days in office has handed Morales a more expansive profile than many of his predecessors. She asked the former state senator, teacher and high school baseball coach to oversee the Public Education Department until she names a cabinet secretary.

GOP blasts idea of paying New Mexico legislators

Republicans in the state House of Representatives are blasting a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow legislators to receive a salary. House Joint Resolution 5 would ask voters to create a commission that would set pay for statewide elected officials and lawmakers, who currently receive a daily stipend but no annual salary. Related: Bill seeks voter OK to pay legislators a salary

In a statement, House GOP leaders signaled they would not support the measure in the face of proposals by Democrats to raise taxes. “House Republicans are standing against the Democrat plan to raise taxes on all New Mexicans including needy families to possibly help pay for salaries for Legislators,” a statement from caucus leaders said. The statement pointed to proposals in House Bill 6 that would raise the tax on gasoline by 10 cents a gallon and raise personal income tax rates.

Chief justice: NM court system in better shape

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Judith Nakamura told a joint session of the New Mexico Legislature on Thursday the state’s justice system, which her predecessor described in 2017 as a patient on life support, is beginning to breathe on its own. Nakamura said funding appropriated over the past two years means the judicial branch can now pay Magistrate Court rents without worry and no longer loses employees to better paying jobs to discount retail stores such as Wal-Mart and Target. And, she said, a new jury management system has resulted in savings that mean jurors are paid in a timely fashion for the first time in eight years. “Are our courts thriving?” Nakamura said.

Professor warns legislators: Get serious on climate

Walk around the Capitol, and much of the talk is about an oil boom that is buoying the state’s finances, providing more money for schools and whatever else. But for an hour on Thursday, a climate scientist urged one committee of legislators to look past all of that. “The world will be moving away from fossil fuel production,” David Gutzler, a professor at the University of New Mexico and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told members of the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Gutzler went on to paint a stark picture of New Mexico in a changing climate. The mountains outside Albuquerque will look like the mountains outside El Paso by the end of the century if current trends continue, he said.

Bill seeks voter OK to pay legislators a salary

Rep. Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales has been in the state House of Representatives for nearly 25 years. Plenty of colleagues have come and gone. And he’s noticed something about many of those who can afford to stick around in nonsalaried jobs as state legislators. “You have to be wealthy, retired or have a very supportive employer,” says the Democrat from Ranchos de Taos. New Mexico is one of only a few states that do not pay lawmakers an annual salary.