State budget troubles are prompting the New Mexico Higher Education Department to make cuts to a program local students use to attend colleges in nearby states for programs not offered at home. New Mexico pays into the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE) Professional Student Exchange Program that allows local students to go to dentistry and veterinary schools outside of the state at a reduced rate. To qualify for the loan for service, students must sign a declaration of intent to return to and work in New Mexico once they finish school. Currently, 67 students from New Mexico benefit from the WICHE exchange program. By next fall, that number will drop by six students.
After the 2017 general legislative session adjourned, Gov. Susana Martinez vowed to veto any tax increases and to call legislators back to the Roundhouse for a special session soon to redo the budget. Democrats said their package would avoid any further cuts to education, which has seen several slashes in recent years because of declining revenue to the state. The governor’s office says a state government shutdown could happen as early as next month. This story also appears in this week’s edition of the Alibi. In a post-session press conference, Martinez blamed lawmakers, saying some “failed to do their jobs this session.” Her tone capped a tense few days between her office and the Legislature.
One of the biggest winners in the just concluded 60-day session of the New Mexico Legislature was a man who never set foot in the Roundhouse and, in fact, never came close to crossing the state border. His name is Donald J. Trump, the president of the United States. Republican Trump lost New Mexico in November by 8 percentage points, and Democrats control both the state Senate and House of Representatives. Even so, several pieces of legislation aimed at Trump failed to get traction in the Legislature. Senate Bill 118, sponsored by Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, would have required presidential candidates to disclose five years of personal income taxes to get on the general election ballot in New Mexico.
House Republicans defeated an attempt to override a veto by Gov. Susana Martinez on a bill relating to teacher absences. This means Martinez’s veto remains in effect. The Friday vote to override Martinez’s veto failed on a 36-31, party-line vote. The vote would have needed 47 votes to succeed. Earlier this month, Martinez vetoed a bipartisan bill that allow teachers to take 10 days of sick leave before effecting their evaluations.
Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed two bills Tuesday that passed the Legislature with overwhelming support, including legislation that would have allowed high school students to count computer science classes toward math and science credits needed for graduation. The second vetoed bill would have made what appeared to be a minor change to state law dealing with tax increment development districts. Such districts are formed by local governments as a means to finance public infrastructure, like streets and utilities, for new development
Martinez did not provide explanation in her veto messages to legislators. The governor also signed two bills Tuesday. House Bill 230 allows horse-racing tracks that are combined with casinos, known as “racinos,” to change the number of days it hosts races each week.
In a late-night surprise Wednesday in the House of Representatives, Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, who has missed most of the legislative session because of a heart operation, showed up to help pass a proposed constitutional amendment that would take an extra one percent of interest earnings from New Mexico’s $20 billion land grant permanent fund to help pay for early childhood education. The House voted 37-32, mostly along party lines, to pass House Joint Resolution 1, a vote which had been delayed for more than a week, partly because of the Santa Fe legislator’s absence. Trujillo, a long-time advocate of the proposal, received a standing ovation when he walked into the chamber immediately before the House ended a three-hour debate. Related: Education chiefs fail to appear at hearing
The measure now goes to the Senate, where the road is expected to be much rougher. The proposal is certain to meet resistance from the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, a longtime opponent of taking extra money out of the land grant fund.
Solar energy companies would have to provide more information about the cost and energy savings on residential solar systems under a bill that passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday night by a large bipartisan margin. The House voted 56-6 to pass House Bill 199, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española. The bill now goes to the Senate, which last week approved a similar measure, Senate Bill 210, sponsored by Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants. Rodella told fellow House members that most solar companies have not been a problem. “But a few bad actors ruin it for everyone,” she said.
Legal recreational marijuana won’t be coming to New Mexico anytime soon. The House Business and Industry Committee voted 9-1 on Monday to block a bill that would have legalized, taxed and regulated marijuana for adults over 21. The hearing lasted for more than two hours, but it became apparent during the debate that the measure would fail. The bill sponsor, Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces, tried to persuade the committee by telling members that marijuana legalization in New Mexico is inevitable. “This is going to happen, whether it’s this year or 10 years from now,” McCamley said.
New Mexico will not become the nation’s 29th “right-to-work” state, at least not this year. After testimony Saturday from a long line of union members and nearly two hours of debate, Democrats on a committee of the state House of Representatives killed a Republican bill that would have prohibited unions from imposing mandatory fees on workers. Republicans argue such policies take money from workers who do not wish to join a union. Republican lawmakers also say banning compulsory union fees would create a better business environment, drawing investors and boosting employment. Opponents counter that such a law would push down wages and unfairly require labor unions to represent workers for free.
The New Mexico House of Representatives passed a spending plan late Wednesday that boosts funding for classrooms and the courts, while cutting money for colleges and universities and leaving most other agencies with no new money. A companion bill also headed to the Senate, House Bill 202, would raise more revenue for future years by boosting fees and taxes. The $250 million a year in new ongoing revenue is needed to avoid more spending cuts and to replenish cash reserves, said sponsor Carl Trujillo, D- Santa Fe. “We are bleeding, we need to stop that bleeding,” Trujillo said as he held up a graph showing the state’s diminished reserves. The House approved the revenue measure first, because the proposed budget needs some $157 million in additional money to meet the constitutional requirement for a balanced budget.