Bills to exempt Social Security from tax tabled

The House Taxation and Revenue Committee tabled two bills Friday that proposed to eliminate or reduce the state’s tax on Social Security income. Key legislators had previously voiced support for House Bills 29 and 77, and the majority of public attendees who spoke favored it at Friday’s committee hearing. Yet Democratic and Republican legislators alike said they were worried about altering the tax without having a plan to replace lost revenue. 

“You can’t have it both ways. Somewhere you have to pay the piper,” said Rep. Jim Trujillo, a Santa Fe Democrat and co-chair of the committee. “Let’s find a way to pay for it so we don’t create a hole in the general fund.”

New Mexico’s capital outlay process is often a crazy mess, lawmakers say

On Friday morning, three Santa Fe firefighters in uniform walked up to state Sen. Peter Wirth in a Roundhouse hallway. They came bearing a form, and if the majority leader would sign on the dotted line, they’d be one step closer to getting new equipment. 

They weren’t the only ones to seek Wirth’s help. The Palace of the Governors wanted interior renovation. The yet-to-be-constructed Vladem Contemporary art museum needed solar. Tesuque Pueblo was after remote monitoring for a drinking water system.

Dem leaders, shoppers don’t want food taxed again

On a frigid Tuesday morning, Mariah Peña drove from her home at San Ildefonso Pueblo to go grocery shopping in Santa Fe with her son and little sister. Inside the Market Street supermarket, 7-year-old Damian settled onto his back in Peña’s empty shopping cart, kicking his legs up in the air in front of a case of colorful donuts. “Why should food be taxed?” Peña said. “Just trying to make it as a single mom is hard enough.”

Lujan Grisham’s choice of Education Secretary will send big message

In the coming days, governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham will take the first major step to fulfill her sweeping campaign promises on education – appointing a secretary to lead New Mexico’s troubled Public Education Department. Her choice will speak volumes – not only about her approach to education but also about her commitment to reform in a state that is primed for change. With a Democratic majority in both chambers of the Legislature, the governor-elect is in a position to address what many regard as New Mexico’s gravest problem: the fact that it sits at rock bottom in national rankings of student achievement. The state is under court order to fix a school funding system that was struck down as unconstitutional for its failure to provide adequate resources for at-risk students. So the choice of the new secretary will speak worlds about the degree to which Lujan Grisham intends to follow through on her pledge to “build a Pre-K-through-grade-12 education system that works for every single student and family.”

House overhauls lottery bill to ensure more funds for students

The state House of Representatives on Saturday approved a bill seeking to create bigger prizes in the state lottery, but not before heavily amending the measure to protect the lottery scholarship fund for college students. House Bill 147, sponsored by Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park, cleared the House on a vote of 37-30. It eliminates a requirement that the lottery turn over 30 percent of its gross revenue for scholarships. The lottery staff and lobbyists for lottery vendors said scrapping the funding requirement actually would one day lead to significantly more money for scholarships. Democrats and Republicans alike were skeptical of that claim.

Does everyone need a lobbyist?

Only 328 people live in Red River, but even they have a lobbyist. The mountain town known as a vacation destination pays $2,000 each month plus tax for the services of Gabriel Cisneros, who represents a short list of local governments at the state Capitol. He is just one in a small army of lobbyists at work in Santa Fe during this year’s 30-day legislative session representing towns, counties, villages, school districts, colleges and even charter schools — mostly if not entirely on the taxpayers’ dime. They may seem like a waste of money given that these communities are already represented by legislators and an alphabet soup of advocacy groups from the New Mexico Association of Counties to the New Mexico Municipal League and the Council of University Presidents. Government officials counter that lobbyists are worth the price to keep up with a legislative process that can affect local budgets and institutions, from the county jail to the water treatment plant.

Funding issues put pre-K providers at odds while young children miss out on early education

ANTHONY — A tall chain-link fence splits the preschool campus behind Anthony Elementary in southern New Mexico: federally funded classrooms on one side, state-funded classrooms on the other. The fence serves as a literal and symbolic divide segregating two sets of classrooms outfitted with the same child-size tables, chairs and toys; two sets of highly trained teachers; two separate playgrounds — and a bitter competition for 4-year-old children. As New Mexico has expanded early education for toddlers over the past decade, the state has created a system that bars providers from mixing state and federal funds in the same classroom. It’s a policy – not a law – that effectively separates kids into rival programs, often divided by income. Head Start serves the lowest income families in New Mexico; the state programs serve families from a range of income levels.

Infrastructure funding reform would lead to significant change

Memorials to honor veterans, Bernalillo County public safety officers and gun violence victims.

“Shade structures” at schools and parks. Improvements for tracks, baseball fields, and basketball and tennis courts and baseball fields. This piece originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. Those are some of the “infrastructure” projects lawmakers funded by divvying up capital outlay money in 2016. Meanwhile, a state-owned reintegration center for troubled young people in Eagle Nest requested $673,400 last year for renovations.

Food tax opponents vow it ‘will stay dead’

There are few proposals in New Mexico that will draw quicker opposition than reimposing the food tax. Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, introduced such a proposal earlier this week and opponents mobilized quickly. The think tank Think New Mexico made sure the media and their supporters knew about the bill. “Unbelievably, on the final day for bill introductions, Senate Bill 281 was introduced to reimpose the food tax on New Mexico families,” the think tank said in an email to supporters. Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops, said they were ready if the idea gains traction this year, which he doesn’t expect.

Think tank wants to take on capital outlay process

New Mexico’s capital outlay process isn’t transparent, doesn’t spend money wisely and results in projects that are half-finished—or never begin in the first place. So says Think New Mexico, a Santa Fe-based think thank that in recent years has successfully pushed to repeal gross receipts taxes on food and stripped the Public Regulation Committee of some responsibilities. Taking on the entrenched interests of capital outlay, however, will be a “heavy lift” as executive director Fred Nathan acknowledged in an interview last week with New Mexico Political Report. Still, that’s the task that Think New Mexico’s board said should be next. One reason it was on their mind?