January 31, 2023

Legislative roundup: Jan. 31, 2023

Daniel J. Chacón/The New Mexican

Former Rep. Phelps Anderson of Roswell has been hired as a legislative analyst for the Senate Finance Committee.

Days remaining in session: 45

Money in state politics: The oil and gas industry isn’t just a major source of revenue for state government coffers.

The industry is also a big source of money in state politics, contributing more than $4.5 million to political campaigns during the 2022 election cycle, according to a report released Tuesday by New Mexico Ethics Watch.

The report — Oil And Gas Industry Influence During The 2022 Election Cycle: So Much Spending, So Much Losing — found a large share of the contributions went to unsuccessful campaigns.

“The most glaring example was Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti, who decisively lost his race against incumbent Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham,” the report states. “The industry gave Ronchetti more than four times the amount it gave to Lujan Grisham.”

Of all the oil and gas contributions in New Mexico last year, almost 20 percent went to Ronchetti’s campaign, the report states.

The report found the oil and gas industry spent significantly more on political causes last year than in the 2020 election cycle, when it contributed $2.8 million. “That’s likely because there was no governor’s race in 2020,” the report states.

Yellow socks: First-term Sen. Joshua Sanchez, R-Bosque, is perhaps the quietest member of the Senate.

His socks are a different story.

Sanchez likes to pair his suit and tie with socks that make a statement.

On Monday, he wore a maroon suit with green Yoda socks. On Tuesday, his black suit contrasted with bright yellow Tweety Bird socks.

From legislator to legislative staffer: Phelps Anderson of Roswell didn’t run for reelection in November, but he’s been at the state Capitol every day nonetheless.

Phelps, a Republican turned independent, is working as a legislative analyst for the Senate Finance Committee.

“You know, public service gets in your blood,” he said.

Phelps said he’s been tasked with work on the budget and capital outlay because of his past experience.

“I tell people it’s great to see the forest and not just the trees. You realize that when you’re in the Legislature, after about the third week, it’s this,” he said, covering his eyes with his hands.

Phelps, who had been elected to the House of Representatives as a Republican, had a falling out with leaders of the GOP after he joined a majority of Democrats in 2021 in support of repealing a 1969 law that criminalized abortion. After a redistricting that would have put him in a matchup against a sitting Republican legislator, Phelps opted not to seek reelection in the heavily Republican area.

Money for wildlife corridor: According to the state Department of Transportation, an average of 900 crashes a year were caused by collisions with wildlife between 2002 and 2018.

Lawmakers on the Senate Conservation Committee unanimously voted Tuesday to support Senate Bill 72, which would provide $50 million for the state to build wildlife corridors — underpasses, overpasses and game fencing — to protect humans and animals along some prioritized roadways.

Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, told committee members the funds could be used to leverage hundreds of millions of federal dollars to use to support all aspects of the Wildlife Corridors Act, which the state Legislature passed into law in 2019.

Stewart said funding the act will help with “fixing cars, fixing people, health care costs — and that doesn’t include the animals” hurt or injured in crashes. She said such crashes cost the state about $20 million.

SB 72 next goes to to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.

New funds for Funds?: The Senate Conservation Committee also unanimously voted to support Senate Bill 9, which would add two new funds to the State Treasury: The Conservation Legacy Permanent Fund and the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund. The bill appropriates $150 million from the general fund to the Conservation Legacy Permanent Fund, which will be invested by the State Investment Office.

On July 1 of every year, the fund would distribute any income in excess of $833,000 to the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund.

The money from the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund would be distributed to six state agencies to support water, land, wildlife and other conservation and preservation programs and entities in the state. SB 9 next goes to the Senate Finance Committee.

Quote of the day: “Be careful — if you’re not wearing a mask, stay 6 feet apart.” — Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, speaking Tuesday to about 75 people at a Senate Conservation Committee hearing, including about 15 who were wearing face masks. Stefanics was not one of them.