Tax revenues across the state are plummeting in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and municipalities are struggling to plug holes in their budgets. For its part, Santa Fe expects a $46 million shortfall for fiscal year 2020, much of it stemming from an immense drop in revenue from the Gross Receipts Tax (GRT). Austerity measures like a spending freeze and the release of temporary employees along with tapping the city’s reserve funds still leaves Santa Fe officials with about $16.5 million unaccounted for.
Fiscal year 2021, which begins on July 1, looks even more dire; city officials are expecting a $100 million shortfall. There is another option for raising revenue, however. According to a study by the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) from 2018, Santa Fe charges less than half of what the state allows for property taxes.
After years of efforts by drug-law reform advocates, could this be the year that New Mexico legalizes marijuana? There’s little doubt that the state is closer now than ever, with Republican Gov. Susana Martinez — an unyielding opponent of marijuana for recreational use — out of the picture and new Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on the record saying she’d sign a legalization bill as long as it had proper safeguards. But few, if indeed any, people at the Capitol are predicting House Bill 356, introduced last week by Rep. Javier Martinez, will make it out of the Legislature this year. “It’s time to be smart about the war on drugs,” Rep. Martinez, D-Albuquerque, said in a recent interview, calling the state and federal governments’ decade-sold anti-marijuana policy a failure. If the bill passes the Legislature and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs it into law, possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana would be legal for those over 21.
The debate over enforcement of immigration law was front and center this week, with images of children separated from their parents and held in cages along the border in newspapers and TV news. The White House flip-flopped on its explanations and who was to blame, as shown by a damning video in the Washington Post. Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order aimed at stopping the same separations the White House said previously could only be ended by Congress. Even that didn’t stop the outcry, with critics pointing out that it would still allow family separations in some cases and that it would allow indefinite detention of families. While children would not be taken from their parents to be put in federal facilities, they would be held together with their respective families until immigration prosecution could take place.
Both major political parties saw some signs of encouragement in municipal elections Tuesday. The most high-profile election took place in Santa Fe. Not only is the state capital one of the largest cities in the state, it also used ranked choice voting for the first time. Santa Fe voters chose Alan Webber as the next mayor. The election had high turnout with 38 percent of the city’s registered voters taking part.
Santa Fe’s mayoral election next March will likely look similar to Albuquerque’s current race in terms of the number of candidates already showing interest. The current mayor, Javier Gonzales, announced he would not run for a second term, leaving no incumbent. Six people have already announced they plan to run for mayor in Santa Fe, and there’s still time for more to enter. The winner will be the first since the city passed an amendment to the city charter making the city a “strong mayor” governmental system. This means the mayor will have more power than the current system, where a city manager does much of the day-to-day work in the city.
Out-of-state money in local elections is nothing new. Statewide and legislative races in New Mexico are often funded, to varying degrees, by individuals or Political Action Committees from other parts of the country. With less than three months before the mayoral race, candidates are filing their campaign contribution reports with varying donation amounts from around New Mexico—and in some cases all around the country. Both New Mexico and Albuquerque campaign finance laws allow for out of city and out of state contributions. Common Cause New Mexico Executive Director Viki Harrison said members of the public may not like the idea of out-of-state money funding a mayoral campaign, but that ultimately without a clear instance of quid pro quo it’s allowed.
U.S Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham reported raising nearly $900,000 since announcing her candidacy for governor in December. The reports came in the first mandated campaign finance filings since she announced she would leave her congressional seat to run for governor of New Mexico. Gov. Susana Martinez is term-limited and cannot run for a third-consecutive term. So far, Lujan Grisham is the first major candidate to announce she will run for the position. Lujan Grisham also spent over $150,000, including $31,719.35 to the Washington D.C.-based Anne Lewis Strategies.
Marijuana-related businesses and their executives donated at least $13,500 to House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, a report filed Sunday reveals. Of that, $10,000 came from Ultra Health LLC and its founder, Duke Rodriguez, a former Lovelace Medical Center executive. The Scottsdale, Ariz., based for-profit recently took over management of Santa Fe’s New Mexico Top Organics, according to Peter St. Cyr’s recent report in the Santa Fe Reporter. Gentry, an Albuquerque Republican, received $5,000 each from the company and Rodriguez.