House votes to hike statewide minimum wage

The state House of Representatives voted Friday night to raise the hourly minimum wage to $9.25 from $7.50 in 2018. The 37-30 vote, just days after the state Senate overwhelmingly passed a slightly smaller increase to $9, signals that a raise in the statewide minimum wage is increasingly likely as the legislative session enters its final weeks. The issue has been a priority for Democrats, who promised a raise during last year’s election, but it also has won some support from Republicans. The House vote on HB 442 was not strictly along party lines. Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, broke with her party to vote in favor of the bill, while Rep. Candy Sweetser, D-Deming, voted against it.

‘The race is on’ between NM, CO for chile specialty license plate

Colorado continues trying to steal New Mexico’s thunder when it comes to chile, for some reason. This time, legislators in New Mexico’s neighbor to the north want to create a special license plate in Colorado for chile growers. The proposal cleared the Colorado House on a voice vote Tuesday. New Mexico’s effort cleared its first committee Wednesday morning. “The Pueblo chile is Colorado’s chile,” Colorado state Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, said on the floor according to a press release.“Our local growers deserve recognition of their outstanding chiles.”

New Mexico state Rep. Cathrynn Brown’s proposal to have a green chile license plate cleared the Taxation and Revenue Committee on a unanimous vote Wednesday morning.

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.

House Energy committee clears solar tax bill

The House Energy and Natural Resources Committee narrowly passed a bill to extend the state’s solar energy tax credit for another eight years. Two Albuquerque Republicans, one of whom is co-sponsoring the measure, supported the bill while all GOP representatives from rural communities opposed it. The final tally was 6-4. Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, is carrying the bill in the House, with Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque as a cosponsor. “I see this bill as critical in terms of maintaining a key area of our economy,” Maestas Barnes said.

Capital outlay projects dead on arrival

Proposals for statewide capital outlay were left languishing Saturday as a bitterly divided battle over funding methods consumed the state House of Representatives’ last day of the 2015 session. A narrow 36 to 32 vote minutes before the House adjourned sine die meant approval of late-hour committee changes to a capital outlay plan favored by the Senate, but that chamber ran out of time to concur with the House adjustments. The Republican-controlled House Ways and Means Committee made the controversial amendments Friday, adjusting road improvement funding mechanisms to honor preferences of the governor’s office. The committee changes would fund road improvements through $45 million in severance tax bonds rather than drawing down reserves from the state’s general fund. Rep. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs, described the measure as state government “borrowing short to build long-term assets,” adding it constituted “a sound practice from a business perspective.” Democrats vehemently objected to the changes, which they said would result in the denial of tens of millions of dollars from high- and critical-priority projects identified over the last year by local governments.

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.