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.

InClime announces community solar projects

After two delays, InClime announced the projects selected for New Mexico’s community solar program on Monday. InClime is the contractor hired by the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission to oversee the program. Six projects in the El Paso Electric service area, 10 in the Southwestern Public Service Company service area and 29 in the Public Service Company of New Mexico service area were selected. Each service area also has a waitlist of projects should one of the selected projects fall through. The first deadline the developers face is coming up on June 21.

Federal legislation seeks to update mining law

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, is leading efforts to modernize mining laws as the transition away from fossil fuels increases demand for certain metals and minerals. Heinrich introduced the Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act on Friday in the Senate while U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona, introduced the legislation on the House side. Current mining laws date back to 1872 and have left a slew of unremediated sites across the west, placing watersheds at risk of contamination and people recreating outdoors at risk of collapsing structures. “We cannot go all in on a clean energy future with a 19th century mining policy on the books. This antiquated law has become a driving force behind centuries of legacy mining pollution that is leaking toxic heavy metals and acid mine drainage into streams and rivers all across the West,” Heinrich said in a press release.

SunZia transmission line receives key approval

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management approved the right-of-way for the SunZia transmission line on Thursday. The transmission line will take clean power from New Mexico to utilities in Arizona and California. “The Department of the Interior is committed to expanding clean energy development to address climate change, enhance America’s energy security and provide for good-paying union jobs,” Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Laura Daniel-Davis said in a press release announcing the record of decision. “Through robust engagement with states, cities and Tribes, we are proud of the part we play in the all-of-government efforts to diversify the nation’s renewable energy portfolio while at the same time combating climate change and investing in communities.”

The BLM’s New Mexico State Director Melanie Barnes called it “an important step in the development of our country’s renewable energy and transmission infrastructure.”

The project includes two 500-kilovolt transmission lines that will span about 520 miles, crossing federal, state and private lands in central New Mexico and central Arizona. In New Mexico, the project will cross through areas of Lincoln, Socorro, Sierra, Luna, Grant, Hidalgo, Valencia, and Torrance counties.

New report ranks New Mexico in top 10 for access to pre-K for three-year-olds

A report released by the National Institute for Early Education Research ranks New Mexico near the top for access to pre-Kindergarten. 

The report ranks the state in the top 10 for access for three-year-old children for pre-K and ranks New Mexico as number 13 for access for four-year-old children for pre-K. NIEER, a program of Rutgers University, also ranked New Mexico in the top 10 for state spending on early childcare and gave it a score of 9 out of 10 for a quality standards checklist. The reason the state didn’t receive a 10 out of 10 is because it does not require a B.A. as a minimum credential to be a lead teacher in the pre-K classroom, according to the report. A lead teacher in a nonpublic pre-K can be working toward a B.A. degree, according to the report. Overall, 42 percent of New Mexico’s four-year-old children are attending pre-K, while 11 percent of the state’s three-year-old children are enrolled in pre-K.

Xochitl Torres Small closer to being Deputy USDA Secretary

Former U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small is one step closer to being named Deputy Secretary of Agriculture following a hearing in the U.S. Senate Committee in Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. “Torres Small is well-qualified to serve as deputy secretary at USDA. She has shown herself to be a thoughtful leader while overseeing the rural development mission, and I believe those qualities will be an asset in this new role,” committee ranking member John Boozman, an Arkansas Republican, said. “Additionally, it will be beneficial for committee members to have someone who has served in Congress, who understands our role, as the second in charge at USDA. I encourage the Senate to move swiftly to confirm her as deputy secretary.”

Torres Small served in New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District for one term.

Community solar projects delayed once again

The announcement of community solar projects was once again delayed this week following complaints and concerns about the process for scoring the applications. InClime, the contractor that the state is using to oversee the community solar program, announced the postponement on Tuesday and provided more details on Wednesday. “While we recognize the importance of timely project awards, our dedication to addressing concerns and ensuring a robust selection process necessitates carefully considering these matters,” InClime wrote in the postponement announcement. On Wednesday, InClime provided details about the scoring system. The Community Solar rule does not contemplate a sliding scale for workforce development.