Debt crisis averted: NM delegation responds to debt ceiling deal

The debt ceiling saga neared its end this week after both the U.S. House and Senate approved a deal to raise the debt limit, with provisions. The U.S. The Senate voted Thursday night 63-36  to pass a bipartisan bill reflecting a deal made between President Joe Biden and House Republican leadership. The U.S. The House of Representatives voted 314-117 to approve the deal on Wednesday. The Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 suspends the federal debt limit through January 1, 2025 and adds new discretionary spending limits for FY24 and FY25. Members of the New Mexico congressional delegation released statements about the bill and their votes.

Former GOP candidate faces federal charges for shootings of homes of prominent Dems

A federal grand jury indicted the man and two alleged co-conspirators who allegedly shot at prominent Albuquerque Democrats’ homes in late 2022 this week. Former Republican state house candidate Solomon Peña and alleged co-conspirators Demetrio Trujillo and Jose Louise Trujillo were charged on counts including conspiracy, interference with federally protected activities and using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a violent crime, possessing a firearm in furtherance of such crime and aiding and abetting in all but the conspiracy count. U.S. District Judge Kea W. Riggs unsealed the federal court documents on May 31. In 2022, Peña ran for the state House District 14 seat against incumbent Democrat Miguel Garcia. Garcia won the race with 74 percent of the vote to Peña’s 26 percent.

Lincoln National Forest Botanist Phillip Hughes points to a meadow where Wright's Thistle has been known to grow.

The good, the bad and the endangered: New Mexico’s thistles are more than just weeds

In a meadow near Silver Lake in the Sacramento Mountains, one can look out onto a small patch of habitat containing several species of plant and animal life 

Although spring is too early to see many of the species of plant life, such as a few species of thistles which do not bloom until late summer, other plant and animal species are already present, including the New Mexico Meadow Jumping Mouse, Sacramento Mountain Butterfly, the Mexican Spotted Owl along with invasive species like the Musk Thistle. “It’s an island,” District Biologist for the Sacramento Ranger District Philip Hughes said, referring to the species of plants and animals that are endemic to the Sacramento Mountains. Endemic means these species live in a specific geographical area and do not grow naturally elsewhere. Recently, the Wright’s marsh thistle was listed as threatened. This thistle is native to marshlands in New Mexico, such as those seen in the meadow near Silver Lake and in a preserve in Santa Rosa, Bitter Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Roswell and in the Rio Grande Valley.

ECECD Home Visiting Manager and Monitor Josephine Salas at an ECECD baby shower at Explora on May 26, 2023.

ECECD hosts baby showers to let parents know about resources

Friday afternoon, a line of people formed outside a room in the Explora Science Center and Children’s Museum in Albuquerque. 

The line was made up of expectant parents, some with children, who came to a baby shower put on by the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department to bring attention to the home visiting program. Participants who had signed up for the baby shower received a diaper bag with diapers, clothes, grooming kits and more. The baby shower was one of four being done across the state this spring and summer. “(Home visiting) is open for any family and it’s available prenatal to age five,” ECECD Division Director for Family Support and Early Intervention Mayra Gutierrez said. “I want to share that this program is open to anybody.

Santa Fe Roundhouse

LFC reports $3.1 billion in outstanding capital outlay funds

A legislative report found about $3.1 billion in unused capital outlay funds for FY23’s third quarter. 

This is according to the Legislative Finance Committee’s quarterly capital outlay reports, which were presented by LFC analyst Cally Carswell on May 23. The outstanding capital funds includes $1.8 billion in unspent funds for projects authorized by the legislature through 2022 which do not include the 2023 funds, Carswell said. Other unused capital funds include $158 million in balances and earmark funds for projects funded by the Water Trust Board, the Colonias Infrastructure Fund  and the Tribal Infrastructure Fund. There was also $463.8 million from supplemental severance tax bonds for public schools and $605.8 million for special appropriations to capital projects from 202 and 2022, according to the report. “The balances are distributed over roughly 4,000 active projects in the state and we expect that number, as well as the balances, to get bigger when funding becomes available for the projects you all appropriated to this last session, and that will happen in July,” Carswell said.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham speaks during a press conference announcing the re-establishment of the Organized Crime Commission.

Gov reestablishes organized crime commission

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced on Wednesday that she reestablished a multi-agency Organized Crime Commission. The governor said during a press conference that the reestablished commission is “indicative of the kind of leadership that is occurring in the state of New Mexico that is laser-focused on public safety” and holding “individuals conducting criminal activity accountable at every level in every single place in the state and doing it in such a fashion that lends itself to our federal partners and other states so that we’re collaborating across state lines on activity that we know is impacting individuals public safety right here in our state.” 

Lujan Grisham said she brought back the commission to combat human trafficking, drug trafficking and illegal gun access. “The individuals who participate here today are going to be looking at ways to enhance our success and holding those individuals accountable,” Lujan Grisham said. “The individuals on the street that they recruit drug trafficking, human trafficking, illegal gun access and distribution… which all lends itself into some of the worst public health outcomes the country has ever seen.”

Lujan Grisham did not know how long since the commission was last active; however’ the last formal report from the commission came in 1978. Gov. Bill Richardson, who held office from 2003-2011, reestablished the commission but the Lujan Grisham administration could not find documents from that era.

LFC report says New Mexico economy doing well, for now

The New Mexico economy, as of May 23, is doing well. It is going so well that state economists raised revenue estimates in the two fiscal years leading up to this year’s legislative session. That’s what the Legislative Finance Committee post-session report released on Tuesday said. 

“Recurring revenues for [Fiscal Year 2023] were estimated at almost $10.8 billion in the December 2022 estimate, up $928 million from the August estimate and up $1.7 billion from estimates a year earlier. Fiscal year 24 recurring revenues were estimated at almost $12 billion,” the report stated. Projected recurring revenues were estimated at nearly $3.6 billion, 42.7 percent growth over the previous year, for FY 24 which begins on July 1.

NM unemployment rate sticks at 3.5 percent

Unemployment rates in New Mexico remained unchanged from March, but are down compared to last year. The Department of Workforce Solutions monitors unemployment insurance claim numbers and is watching the then numbers closely as they are reported. The DWS also does not make speculations about what may come should the debt ceiling talks fail and the U.S. defaults on its debt, DWS spokeswoman Stacy Johnston told NM Political Report Monday. “As soon as we see any type of red flag indicators or even an orange or a yellow, we’ll definitely be looking a little bit closer at that,” Johnston said. “New Mexico’s a little bit different than the nation.

Sen. Martin Heinrich speaks to Rio Rancho Elementary students during an assembly celebrating the school being listed as one of ESPN’s Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools for 2022.

Heinrich touts universal school meals and outdoor learning at school visits

On Friday, Rio Rancho Elementary faculty and students celebrated the school’s recent listing as one of ESPN’s Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools for 2022. It was the only elementary school on the list. Rio Rancho Elementary was recognized for its inclusivity measures pertaining to school sports that includes all learners including those with intellectual disabilities. One of the people at Rio Rancho Elementary to celebrate the day was Sen. Martin Heinrich. “I’m here today because what you’re doing is super cool,” Heinrich told a group of Rio Rancho Elementary students.

Luján proposes legislation to make Hatch Act violation decisions more transparent

U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, a New Mexico Democrat, introduced a bill that would require Congress to be notified of alleged Hatch Act violations. The Hatch Act regulates partisan political activities for most federal executive branch employees and some state and local employees. “The Hatch Act was signed into law to prevent public officials from using their position for political gain while protecting federal employees from political influence,” Luján said in a news release. “However, when potential violations do occur, the Office of Special Counsel has failed to investigate and prosecute some of the most serious claims, undermining the American people and the rule of law.”

Luján’s bill, which has not been assigned a number yet, would require the OSC to report to Congress in the event it declines to investigate an alleged Hatch Act violation and to provide an annual report to the Chair and Ranking Members Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. The proposed public report would include the number of allegations received by the Special Counsel in the previous year and the number of allegations that resulted in an investigation, with separate data sets for political appointees and career federal workers.