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The legislature is poised to pass a bill to raise the state’s minimum wage and benefit nearly 250.000 New Mexican residents and families, providing a boost to communities across the state. The New Mexico House of Representatives version of the bill phases in a raise of $12 by 2022. It also includes provisions to index the minimum wage to rise with the cost of living and eliminate the sub-minimum wage for workers who rely on tips. Instead of the current basement wage of $2.13 per hour, tipped employees would earn the same minimum wage as other workers, plus tips. But big business and the restaurant industry are engaged in intense lobbying at the Roundhouse mischaracterizing what it means to work for a basement wage.
We have the opportunity in New Mexico to become a national champion for women’s healthcare by creating a Medicaid Buy-In. This straightforward proposal, championed in the Legislature by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Rep. Debbie Armstrong, will allow some New Mexico families to pay for the trusted care that Medicaid already provides. I know personally how Medicaid helps women and families right now. My sister-in-law was rear-ended while seven months pregnant, bringing my beautiful nephew into the world prematurely. Fortunately, they were already covered by Medicaid and didn’t have to be overly worried about the cost of care while they were frightened for their newborn son’s well being.
A few weeks ago, as I sat through the State of the Union, I mentally prepared for another long list of insults and verbal attacks against me and the rest of the country’s immigrant community on behalf of our nation’s highest elected official. And of course, Trump delivered. However, this time around, I was pleasantly surprised to see the breaking news report on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s removal of National Guard troops from our southern border. When you live in a border community like I do, news like this is life changing. For the first time in three years I walked into Trump’s speech knowing that at the end of the day my governor had not forgotten me.
Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, has proposed legislation (SB 459) that would place a four year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (i.e. fracking) of oil and gas wells in New Mexico. Before passing such legislation our elected leaders and the public must understand if fracking really is a problem that requires such action. Fracking involves injecting a slurry of water, sand and chemicals under very high pressure to fracture oil bearing rocks to improve the flow of oil and gas to a well. It sounds scary, but in fact it’s been done for many decades. The difference now is that instead of fracking a few hundred feet of rock in a vertical well, the industry is fracking horizontal wells up to two miles long.
The Fifty Fourth Legislature is being ushered in by forward-minded policy proposals supporting a “go big” approach to New Mexico economic development alongside environmental progress. It’s a policy session for the Legislature, and the best way to create good policy is to work together in ways that benefit voters and the state’s economy and environment. A good example would be to address the closure of old-style coal plants that generate electricity. This can be done in a way that punishes utilities that built coal plants – then a sensible investment – more than 50 years ago, or instead in ways that allow them to close the plants and invest in environmentally and economically intelligent alternatives that recognize today’s priorities. Progressivism suffers when it relies on punishment.
New Mexico has a renewable portfolio standard which requires our utility providers to produce 20 percent of the electricity we consume – the electricity that powers our homes and businesses – by 2020. At the time it was passed it was an incredible step to take to help diversify our energy production and produce more clean energy. It has had a dramatic impact on lowering the cost of the production of clean energy—wind and solar. Now, our neighbors—Colorado and Arizona—are updating and increasing their respective renewable portfolio standards, to further increase the amount of clean energy produced in those states. With our legislature and Governor in support, New Mexico is now on the path to join this group of clean energy leaders.
During this legislative session, we can choose to continue tax cuts that benefit the wealthy and well-connected, or we can choose a new path and prioritize our children and families. It’s time to reverse course on excessive tax breaks and invest in healthy and thriving communities instead: investments in our schools to set our children on a path to success, investments in health care to keep people healthy and working, and investments in infrastructure – roads, bridges, and modern technology – that will benefit our families and businesses. But in order to support these foundations for a thriving community, New Mexico needs dependable revenues that are equitable, sustainable, and adequate. Our current revenue stream fails to meet these principles because our tax system: asks the most from those with the least incomes, is over-reliant on the volatile oil and gas industries, and fails to raise enough revenue to meet the educational needs of our children of color.
Now is the time to enact bold tax reform and improve our tax system so we can begin to generate key, sustainable resources that are not ruled by the boom-or-bust cycle of the oil and gas industries.
One of my jobs as your Secretary of State is to act as the state’s chief elections officer. As such, I’m committed to modernizing our elections for the 21st Century and same-day voter registration is integral to that goal. My life in public service has been dedicated to expanding access to the ballot box and fulfilling the promise of our democracy by increasing participation in elections. Our representative form of government can only be of, by, and for the people if the people are actually participating in it. Though New Mexico is already a national model for safe and secure elections because of our paper ballots, post-election audits, and other best practices, there is much more we can do to make it easier, not harder, for eligible New Mexicans to vote.
There is new leadership for our state’s classrooms, bringing winds of change that are long overdue. The new Secretary of the Public Education Department, recently appointed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, is Karen Trujillo – a New Mexican with over a decade teaching in the classroom and twenty years in teachers’ professional development. Special Advisor Pedro Noguero is an internationally recognized counselor and researcher to schools seeking improvement. The governor called her seven education appointees an “all-star team,” and she is right. They bring hands-on understanding of the classroom, deep expertise in the areas where we most need it, with a combined 100-plus years of experience in New Mexico among them.
New Mexico has a lot to offer, and we all share in the benefits of the state’s beautiful land and clean water, roads and bridges, and public services like education, health care, and public safety. We should all share in the responsibility of paying for them, too, but we don’t. Corporations get a big pass here in the Land of Enchantment. Not only did federal reform give a huge tax break to big businesses this past year, but here in New Mexico, we’ve given away more and more of our tax revenue over time in the form of corporate handouts. We’ve also allowed multi-state corporations to play shell games with the profits they earn here.