The Legislature’s two chambers are at odds over a proposed $6.3 billion state budget. Unlike recent years when financial problems prompted rounds of cuts, partisan fights and depleted reserves, the disagreements that emerged Tuesday came down to comparatively minor questions about funding roads. The Senate overwhelmingly approved a spending plan on Tuesday that provides bigger pay raises for state police than a version of the budget passed by the House of Representatives. The Senate version of the budget, approved 40-2 by members of that chamber, also provides millions of dollars in additional funding for the district attorney in Albuquerque and returns some of the money cut from school districts last year. But the Senate also scaled back the amount of money the House had approved for roads.
A state Senate committee on Monday blocked a proposed constitutional amendment that backers argued would have helped depoliticize the often partisan process of selecting regents for the boards of New Mexico’s public universities. Instead of leaving it for governors to pick just about whoever they like to lead the biggest institutions in the state’s sprawling higher education system, Senate Joint Resolution 1 would have created nominating committees to vet applicants for each vacant board seat and recommend appointees. The governor could then choose from the committee’s list. But Republicans and Democrats alike on the Senate Judiciary Committee raised a range of sometimes contradictory concerns. The proposal was too vague, some argued.
A Senate committee dealt a blow to Public Service Company of New Mexico on Saturday by voting to stall a bill allowing the utility to sell bonds to pay for the early closing of a coal-burning power plant in northwestern New Mexico. The Senate Conservation Committee voted 5-4 to table Senate Bill 47, known as the Energy Redevelopment Bond Act. The vote followed a more than three-hour hearing, which drew a packed crowd to the Senate chambers. Proponents argued the measure would boost renewable energy in the state while offering aid to residents of San Juan County who heavily rely on jobs at the power plant and a nearby coal mine that supplies it. Opponents, however, painted it as a bailout for PNM and said it would weaken state regulators’ oversight of the utility.
A bill scheduled to come before the Senate Conservation Committee on Saturday has some environmental groups and the state’s largest electric utility facing off over financing the retirement of a coal-fired power plant. If passed, the bill would create a bond financing mechanism allowing Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM, to recover “stranded” costs associated with its planned closure of the San Juan Generating Station near Farmington. The bill would allow the utility to form a subsidiary that could issue low-interest “energy redevelopment bonds” and recover more than $300 million. Senate Bill 47 is sponsored by Albuquerque Democratic Sen. Jacob Candelaria, an attorney, and Republican Sen. Steven Neville, a real estate appraiser from Aztec. Its counterpart, House Bill 80, is also a bipartisan bill, sponsored by Rep. Roberto Gonzales, D-Ranchos de Taos, and Republican Minority Whip Rod Montoya, a miner from Farmington.
State Sen. Mimi Stewart will replace fellow Albuquerque Democrat Michael Padilla as Senate majority whip, elevating her to a leadership position for the first time after 23 years in the New Mexico Legislature. Senate Democrats, meeting behind closed doors Monday, chose Stewart to replace Padilla, who Senate Democrats voted to remove from the post because of an old sexual harassment case that took place before he was elected to the Senate. Stewart, a retired educator, said she believes she was chosen because of hard work. “You know I’m a teacher by trade,” she said. “I told my students, `I have eyes in the back of my head.’
State legislators have proposed a bill that would streamline the installation of small cellular facilities in public rights of way, which they say will accelerate internet speeds and enhance the state’s broadband capacity. The proposal, intended to prepare New Mexico for the arrival of 5G networks, would boost a signal that the state — in a climate where connectivity is essential for economic development — is open for more business, said Sen. Candace Gould, R-Albuquerque. “We’re just at a place where we need to upgrade,” said Gould, a co-sponsor of the measure. The proposed Wireless Consumer Advanced Infrastructure Investment Act, with identical bills filed in both chambers of the Legislature, could spur some backlash in a capital city where a handful of residents are still simmering after Mayor Javier Gonzales last month issued an emergency proclamation that allowed Verizon to install temporary telecommunication facilities on city structures. The state legislation would appear aimed at heading off the need for such a proclamation, which was lambasted by a vocal cadre of Santa Fe residents who believe radio frequencies are dangerous.
A self-proclaimed government watchdog could have his private investigator’s license revoked, depending on what a governing board could decide next month. Another private investigator filed an official complaint with the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department (RLD) last month against Carlos McMahon that alleged he obtained his private investigator license fraudulently and abused his position as an investigator. McMahon has been in and out of the news since he filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center, his former place of employment, in 2010. At that time his name was Carlos Villanueva. He changed his last name to McMahon this June.
Everybody has an opinion on millennials. Young people in their 20s and early 30s are often described by older generations as overly sensitive, technology-addicted, cynical kids who constantly need feedback and flexible work schedules. News stories, essays and polls have sought a better understanding of the generation born in the 1980s and 1990s. With titles like “3 Reasons Why Millennials Are Timid Leaders” and “Why do millennials keep leaking government secrets?”, it’s not surprising there might be a lack of faith in the upcoming workforce, especially in politics. In Albuquerque, two young men say there is a place for 20-somethings in politics.
Without much drama or even an attempt to override Gov. Susana Martinez’s vetoes of tax increases, legislators ended a special session where a budget deal became law. The legislators in both chambers came to order around 1 p.m. on Tuesday after recessing ahead of the holiday weekend. The legislators recessed last Thursday rather than adjourn after passing bills related to the budget and taxes. Staying in session while recessed meant Martinez had to make a decision on legislation to three days instead of 20 days. Martinez ultimately signed legislation on Friday reinstating funding for higher education and the state Legislature, both of which she vetoed entirely after the regular Legislative session earlier this year.
After the 2017 general legislative session adjourned, Gov. Susana Martinez vowed to veto any tax increases and to call legislators back to the Roundhouse for a special session soon to redo the budget. Democrats said their package would avoid any further cuts to education, which has seen several slashes in recent years because of declining revenue to the state. The governor’s office says a state government shutdown could happen as early as next month. This story also appears in this week’s edition of the Alibi. In a post-session press conference, Martinez blamed lawmakers, saying some “failed to do their jobs this session.” Her tone capped a tense few days between her office and the Legislature.