Minimum wage fight continues as session nears end

The state House of Representatives and the Senate may be on a collision course when it comes to how best to reset New Mexico’s minimum wage law, a priority issue for Democrats in this year’s legislative session. That’s because the House on Wednesday night refused to budge on its proposal to the raise the statewide minimum wage to $12 an hours by Jan. 1, 2022 and then increase it in future years with a cost-of-living bump. The Senate, however, has approved a more modest proposal designed to increase the minimum wage to $11 an hour by Jan. 1, 2022, without any further cost-of-living increases.

Minimum wage hike passes House with phased-in raise for tipped workers

The New Mexico House of Representatives voted Wednesday night to raise the statewide minimum wage to $10 an hour in July and increase it annually starting next year. But amid heavy opposition from the restaurant industry, lawmakers backed off immediately abolishing the lower minimum wage for tipped workers and instead elected to phase it out over the next few years. Democrats made boosting the minimum wage a central promise of last year’s campaign and argue House Bill 31 will amount to a raise for about 150,000 workers across the state. With a bigger Democratic majority in the House this year, legislation proposing an increase of several dollars per hour was bound to pass the chamber. But HB 31 is still likely to meet opposition in the state Senate, even from some Democrats, spurring what will likely be a round of negotiations over just how high legislators on both sides of the Capitol can agree to raise the minimum wage.

Republicans block bill criminalizing false water quality data

Cloudy, brown and rank water flowed from the taps of homes in the northwest corner of New Mexico. Some of those who drank it say they became nauseous. They complained of cramps, headaches and diarrhea. Thousands of people were told to boil their water to guard against illness. Farmington-area residents whose homes are hooked up to the Animas Valley Water system said the water also damaged their water heaters, washing machines and clothes.

Local-option fuel tax gains bipartisan support in House

Republicans and Democrats joined together Friday to advance a bill that would allow cities and counties in cash-strapped New Mexico to find out if voters are willing to pay more at the gas pump in order to support better roads and bridges. Lawmakers have had difficulty finding agreement on any tax issue the past two years, but HB 63 seems headed toward approval. The House Taxation and Revenue Committee gave it a unanimous thumbs up. Under the proposal, voters could impose a local-option tax on gasoline and diesel fuel sales to residents and visitors alike to fund road work. Sponsored by Reps.

Lawmakers told ‘we’re on fumes’ when it comes to the budget

Legislators were told by the Legislative Finance Committee director Monday that the budget situation is still dire. “We’re on fumes,” LFC Director David Abbey told the Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy Interim Committee. The legislators will have to deal with revenue that is down ten percent from last year, Abbey said. The state predicted a five percent drop in revenue. Abbey said a special session may be needed to address any shortfall.

Low oil prices prompt bills to reduce some industry taxes

As energy prices remain low, a handful of New Mexico lawmakers will attempt to lower taxes on some oil and gas production this upcoming legislative session. Two bills, one in each chamber, target tax relief for specific types of oil and gas extraction. In the state House of Representatives, James Strickler, R-Farmington, pre-filed a bill to increase the threshold of oil prices to qualify for an existing state tax incentive. In the Senate, Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, has a bill to reduce the severance tax rate on oil extraction. Both lawmakers say they filed their bills in response to stubbornly low oil prices that they say have hurt the state’s oil and gas industry.

Legislature votes to extend solar tax credits

Successful bipartisan support for a bill to keep state tax credits for solar power installation in place until 2024 could bode well for final ratification by the governor. Sponsored by Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, SB 391 would prevent tax breaks enacted in 2006 from expiring in five years. The Solar Market Development Tax Credit now pays up to 10 percent of the cost for purchasing and installing solar photovoltaic or solar thermal systems. Stewart’s proposal will gradually phase that down to 5 percent. 

According to the bill’s fiscal impact report, a growing number of New Mexicans claim solar tax credits mostly for new photovoltaic systems. The report also notes that in 2014, more than 1,000 residential-scale solar power systems added six megawatts to the power grid. A vocal minority of Republicans, some of whom work in the petroleum industry, opposed the measure. Rep. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs, argued Friday night that sun-generated energy would actually be cheaper without subsidies.