The New Mexico Senate voted Tuesday night to raise the limit on tax credits paid to the film industry and pay off a mounting backlog. Senate Bill 2 has been a priority for newly elected Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and a burgeoning sector of the state’s economy that has brought a certain renown to New Mexico. But budget hawks on both sides of the aisle have been wary of eliminating the current $50 million annual limit on tax credits, arguing that the state needs some sort of cap for reliable budgeting. And critics contend efforts to subsidize the film industry here just aren’t worth it and amounts to sending money to out-of-state corporations. Still, when it came times to vote, the bill passed by a vote of 32-8, with several Republicans joining Democrats to back the measure.
The lowest paid New Mexicans are closer to getting a raise. The Senate passed a bill Friday night that would raise the statewide minimum wage to $9.25 from in October, phasing in increases all the way up to $11 in 2022, which would still be below the wage floor established in cities like Santa Fe. While it passed 25-17, Senate Bill 437 represented a messy compromise after the state House of Representatives had approved a higher increase backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and in turn stirred heavy opposition from the business sector, particularly the restaurant industry. The Senate’s industry-backed proposal goes now to the House. But even though it would allow Democrats to follow through on a central campaign promise from last year’s election, several lawmakers from the party argued Friday night it does not go far enough.
In the New Mexico Legislature, Democratic Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas’ name could be synonymous with criminal justice reform. Now, in his 12th year as a lawmaker, Maestas wants to overhaul the state’s criminal justice system. In 2016, when the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives and then-Gov. Susana Martinez championed legislation to increase criminal penalties and reinstate the death penalty, Maestas was the leading voice against those efforts. Now, Maestas, a former prosecutor, is headed into the 2019 legislative session armed with what he calls an omnibus package of bills that have historically seen bipartisan support, but fell victim to Martinez’s veto pen. Maestas thinks, with a new governor, this is the year for reform.
If an interim legislative committee meeting on Thursday is any indication, 2019 could be a year when New Mexico lawmakers pass a slate of criminal justice reform efforts that were previously blocked by Gov. Susana Martinez. The Courts, Corrections and Justice interim committee met to hear recommendations from a subcommittee tasked with reviewing and crafting possible legislation, some of which addresses probation and parole standards and changing punishments for non-violent crimes. Most of the bills the interim committee discussed previously passed the Legislature with bipartisan support before they were vetoed by Martinez. A bill to “ban the box,” or prohibit private employers from asking about criminal convictions on employment applications, for example, was cosponsored by a Republican and Democrat in 2017 and made it to Martinez’s desk with significant Republican support. Still, Martinez vetoed it, saying it limited employers’ ability to properly vet potential employees.
Billions of taxpayer dollars have flowed out of state since 2013 due to government purchases that are not filled — or cannot be filled — by New Mexico companies, a Searchlight New Mexico analysis finds. Over the past five years, 43 cents of every dollar the state paid companies and consultants went outside New Mexico’s borders, according to Searchlight’s analysis. That price tag stands at $3.2 billion and is growing. According to the state’s own data, spending on outside vendors grew faster than spending on in-state vendors over the past five years of Gov. Susana Martinez’ administration. That dynamic is unlikely to change without a significant overhaul of the state’s economy, according to several experts interviewed for this article.
The public is one step closer to learning how the governor spends the tens of thousands of tax dollars she is provided every year for miscellaneous expenses, from entertaining dignitaries to hosting parties. But there is a catch. A bill approved Monday without opposition by the state Senate would subject the governor’s contingency fund to an audit and to New Mexico’s open records law, but not until after Gov. Susana Martinez leaves office. Unless specified, a bill usually takes effect a few weeks after it is signed by the governor. The Senate Finance Committee, however, amended the measure last week to ensure it would not take effect until Jan.
New Mexico finally received some good news on the budget after two years of sharp downward trends. Of course, recovering from those losses will still take time. This morning, two cabinet-level secretaries and the Legislature’s top economist presented revenue estimates to the Legislative Finance Committee that project the state will have $199 million in new funds for the budget next year. Presenters warned they were only cautiously optimistic on the budget surplus because of a number of potential risks that the state has little to no control over. The news is better than what the committee heard in August, and the revenue is expected to come from larger-than-previously-expected growth revenues from personal income taxes, corporate income taxes and money received from the oil and gas industry.
Republican state Sen. Sander Rue didn’t take kindly to a nasty tweet by one of Gov. Susana Martinez’s political committees, sent shortly after the Senate approved Rue’s bill to shine a light on how the governor spends her contingency fund. The tweet was sent Wednesday by Advance New Mexico Now, which is run by Jay McCleskey, political adviser to Republican Martinez. McCleskey’s group said Rue sponsored the transparency bill on the governor’s expenditures because Martinez vetoed a legislative pension bill. Rue, a veteran senator from Albuquerque, then sent a written statement to The New Mexican. Related: Guv’s office doesn’t keep financial records of contingency fund
“It is telling that a political action committee linked to Gov. Martinez has attacked my ongoing efforts to create more transparency about how New Mexican taxpayer dollars are spent,” Rue said.
The state Senate on Wednesday night defeated a bill that would have legalized assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. In a 22-20 vote, seven Democrats joined 15 Republicans to stop the measure. Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, sponsored Senate Bill 252 to allow people expected to die within six months to obtain a prescription for drugs meant to end their own lives. In addition, a patient would have to be deemed mentally competent by two doctors. The bill called for a mandatory 48-hour waiting period between the time the prescription was written and filled.
New Mexico lawmakers are delivering on a promise to improve one of the state’s last-in-the-country rankings — the speed of broadband internet. Several bills are moving through the Legislature, and two have cleared the Senate and House of Representatives and are heading to Gov. Susana Martinez for her consideration. Each would make it easier to expand broadband internet to underserved rural areas where the sparse population makes it difficult for companies to recoup their costs. House Bill 60 would allow private companies installing fiber optics to share a trench unearthed by the state or a local government. The change reclassifies broadband as an economic development project and exempts it from a constitutional provision that prohibits taxpayer support to private companies.