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.
A bill to increase spending oversight on a proposed diversion on the Gila River passed the Senate Conservation Committee this morning—and will head next to the Senate floor. Sens. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, and Sander Rue, R-Albuquerque, introduced Senate Bill 340, which would require the Interstate Stream Commission’s spending on the Gila River diversion to go through the normal legislative budget process. Before putting more money toward the project, officials would need to show the project is technically feasible, explain how much water is available from the river and who would use it, estimate the project’s price tag and determine how New Mexico will cover the difference between the federal subsidy and the project’s actual cost. The bill passed the committee, though four objected to the pass including Republican Sens.
The Senate approved a bill that would allow some 17 year olds to participate in primary elections, sending it to the governor’s desk. The proposal passed 24-16. It would only apply to those who turn 18 between the primary elections and the general elections. New Mexico’s primary elections are currently in June, so it would only apply to those who turn 18 in that five month period between June and November. Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, co-sponsored the legislation and said it would help create more involvement in politics by young voters.
A proposal to see the state finally institute a state ethics commission died, once again, in the Senate Rules Committee. This time, the legislation went down without even a vote, as the committee sponsor asked for his bill to be rolled over instead of having the Senate vote on a proposed committee substitute. Related Story: A brief history of the Legislature rejecting ethics commissions. “We have great differences and I’m concerned that if this went forward and became a committee substitute, it would be something that I certainly would not to have my name on the bill or resolution,” Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, said. And so, with a whimper, the ethics commission once again died, a common result in the last decade since a task force determined an ethics commission is one of the top things needed for ethics in New Mexico.
The Senate Rules Committee sliced and diced a proposed constitutional amendment to create an independent ethics commission and delayed a decision until Tuesday. The discussion on the independent ethics commission proposal by Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, went so long that the committee rolled the legislation over until the next meeting so Senators could join the rest of the chamber on the floor. “Please do not mistake the deliberative nature of the Senate for trying to kill something,” Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, said, referring to tweets he saw that said the Senate Rules Committee was trying to kill the bill. “We’re trying to get it right.” He mentioned that because it is a constitutional amendment, it is particularly important to get the wording right.
Two campaign ethics bills moved forward from a Senate panel on Monday as the end of the legislative session neared. The Senate Rules Committee passed both bills, but they received very different receptions. Sen. Lee Cotter, R-Las Cruces, had a bill that would give the Secretary of State’s office access to campaign banking records to better accomplish audits. “It allows the Secretary of State to go into my account, your accounts, and check what the checks were written for and how the deposits were without getting a court order,” Cotter said. The proposal passed with no recommendation after Senators expressed concerns that it would provide access to campaign banking records by political appointees in the Secretary of State’s office.