College students: The New Mexico Lottery’s staff and various legislators wanted to rewrite state law to eliminate the requirement that 30 percent of gross revenue from the lottery go for college scholarships.
Lottery employees and their lobbyists said the proposed change, combined with more prizes, would someday funnel even more money to the scholarship fund. Opponents of the measure countered that students would be shortchanged for years and maybe forever.
House members heavily amended the bill to guarantee students at least $40 million a year for scholarships. That bill died, but the 30 percent requirement for scholarships remains intact — a good outcome for students trying to get a degree without accumulating debt from loans.
Think New Mexico: The Santa Fe-based policy organization fought the lottery staff’s proposal all through the session. Kristina G. Fisher, associate director of Think New Mexico, demonstrated encyclopedic knowledge of lottery revenues and distributions.
Spaceport America: Just a few years ago, some lawmakers were calling it a boondoggle. This year, it got $10 million to build a hangar, a boost in its operating budget and exceptions from the state’s open records law.
Lawmakers say the spaceport, which cost more than $200 million to build and opened in 2011, is on the verge of landing some big business.
The state has spent too much on the spaceport to pass on further investments, the reasoning went. And lawmakers have a lot of faith in Spaceport America’s CEO, Dan Hicks.
Now, Hicks has to deliver.
Public employees: State and public school employees get a 2 percent pay raise. Teachers get 2.5 percent and state police officers get 8.5 percent.
After hiring freezes, the news is likely welcome for civil servants. But the reason why lawmakers were so quick to agree to raises at all might be somewhat more unsettling. The state has had a hard time recruiting and retaining qualified workers. Raises may not be enough to change that.
Raúl Torrez: Albuquerque’s second-year district attorney gets a big boost to his budget — far bigger than that provided to any other state prosecutor.
Some legislators say that has stirred grumbling elsewhere in the state, given that some communities outside New Mexico’s largest city have even higher crime rates.
But Gov. Susana Martinez defended the outsize boost, citing case backlogs.
Still, if Albuquerque’s crime problem doesn’t turn around, Torrez won’t be able to say it was for lack of funds.
Los Alamos County: The Legislature approved Senate Bill 17, which allows the state to collect gross receipts taxes from nonprofits that operate government laboratories. That is a real possibility because at least two public universities have submitted bids to operate Los Alamos National Laboratory.
“We stand to lose about $30 million in gross receipts revenue to the state should a nonprofit contractor receive the [operations contract] at the national laboratory in Los Alamos,” Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, told the House of Representatives. The governor did not commit to signing the bill on Thursday, telling reporters she would have to take a close look at the wording.
Carlsbad: Lawmakers may have had plenty of heartburn about restoring $41 million cut from schools last year but they did not fight too hard over pouring tens of millions of dollars into a hole.
More specifically, an old brine well. Legislators moved decisively to fund a multimillion-dollar effort to prevent a sinkhole caused by the well from swallowing up a small part of Carlsbad and taking with it a mobile home park, as well as parts of two highways, a railroad and an irrigation canal.
It was a big victory for legislators from Carlsbad but others were left scratching their heads why the state is chipping in so much money for the local problem.
Elected state officials: The Legislature approved Senate Bill 176, which would give pay 10 percent raises to the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state auditor, state treasurer land commissioner and public regulation commissioners who win this year’s election.
No, they do not belong in the winners’ column. The sitting governor, Republican Susana Martinez, says she will veto this bill.
Advocates of early childhood education: They pushed hard to get a constitutional amendment through the House of Representatives that would tap the $16 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to expand early childhood programs. But the measure died in the Senate Finance Committee when the chairman, Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, declined to give it a hearing.
Public Service Company of New Mexico: Public Service Company of New Mexico wanted legislation allowing it to sell bonds to recoup losses from the planned closing of the the San Juan Generating Station, an aging coal-burning power plant.
But that plan ended when the Senate Conservation Committee voted to block Senate Bill 47.
The company had been negotiating with some conservation groups and had made several concessions, including a requirement for PNM to supply 40 percent renewable energy by 2025 and 50 percent by 2030.
San Juan County: After SB 47 stalled, Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, introduced House Bill 325, which was designed to help a large school district keep most of its tax base if Public Service Company of New Mexico closes the San Juan power plant by 2022.
The bill would have required state Public Regulation Commission to consider the economic effects on communities when deciding cases involving the shuttering of large power sources like San Juan. And the bill had strong incentive for the utility to procure replacement power within the school district where the plant sits.
The House approved Montoya’s measure, House Bill 325, but it stalled in the Senate.
School boards: Legislators took about $40 million from the reserves of school districts around New Mexico last year to shore up the state’s budget.
Now, with the state’s budget outlook improving, many schools still are not getting back the money.
The Legislature agreed to restore $5 million to districts that had been cut — only about one-eighth of the reserves that were raided last year. And the Legislature agreed to boost public school funding across the board by $10 million.
Lobbyists: The Legislature three years ago passed a lobbyist “reform” bill that included a section that received little, if any discussion.
It ended a requirement that lobbyists report cumulative spending on lawmakers for individual expenditures under $100. That meant lobbyists could buy a lawmaker a $99 dinner multiple times but never report it.
New Mexico Common Cause Director Viki Harrison said this has resulted in untold thousands of lobbyist expenses not being reported.
However, the Legislature this year passed Senate Bill 67, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, which closes that loophole.
Pecan thieves: Larceny of pecans is a problem in southern New Mexico, where the nut is grown. According to a fiscal impact report, the state Agriculture Department says “in-shell pecan theft in pecan growing counties has increased significantly. Although covered under existing theft statutes, the inability of agencies to identify ownership and origin of in-shell pecans has impeded enforcement actions.”
So the Legislature approved Senate Bill 217, sponsored by Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell. It would set up a license for in-shell pecan buyers. Growers asked for the bill.