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.

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.

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.

Shutdown hurting workers outside government

Federal employees and contractors aren’t the the only ones suffering because of the government’s nearly monthlong partial shutdown. A local construction company with an $8.4 million contract to build two new hangars for private aviation companies at the Santa Fe airport is unable to begin work on the project because it needs approval from the Federal Aviation Administration — whose employees are furloughed because of the budget impasse in Congress. “It’s a design-and-build project,” said Peter Brill, president of Sarcon Construction, referring to the work his company has done on the architectural and engineering side. “We’ve been on this for about nine months, getting construction documents ready.” But the company hasn’t been able to break ground because the FAA approval has been held up by the shutdown.

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.