New Mexico’s roadways are in terrible shape, and they’re costing the average driver $767 annually in additional vehicle operating costs, according to a new report. But motorists don’t need to read a narrative to understand the condition of New Mexico’s interstates, highways and roads. “All you have to do is hop in your vehicle and drive a couple of miles,” Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, said Thursday during a virtual news conference. “Our roads at the moment are a complete disaster, and we do need to take it seriously,” added Padilla, vice chairman of the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee. The report by TRIP, a national transportation research nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., found 56 percent of major roads and highways in New Mexico are in poor or mediocre condition due to inadequate state and local funding.
The Senate Taxation, Business and Transportation Committee on Saturday endorsed a bill that would create new funding for New Mexico’s damaged highways and roads. Senate Bill 168 would increase the gasoline excise tax from 17 cents to 22 cents per gallon, and the extra contributions would raise over $63 million annually once fully phased in by 2025, mostly for the state road fund, according to a legislative analysis. The bill passed on a 7-4 vote with support from the committee’s Democrats and objection from four Republicans. “We don’t have a single legislator that doesn’t say there are needs in their area. We even go to the extreme of school buses that can’t cross bridges because of delays in maintenance,” state Sen. Bobby J. Gonzales, a Ranchos de Taos Democrat who is co-sponsoring the legislation, said during the committee meeting.
A bill that would raise the state’s gasoline tax was tabled in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee Monday evening and is unlikely to advance in the remaining ten days of the 30-day Legislative session. “New Mexico has the fourth lowest gas tax in the nation, and we have the third worst roads in the nation. And those two items are connected,” said bill sponsor and Democratic Rep. Matthew McQueen, who represents parts of Bernalillo, Santa Fe, Torrance and Valencia counties. HB 173 would create a new gasoline and special fuel surtax of 10 cents per gallon, which would take effect in Fiscal Year 2021. The surtax would then increase by 5 cents per gallon annually until 2026.
New Mexico’s government has not raised the tax on gasoline since 1993. This year, that could change. A sweeping tax bill sponsored by Democrats in the state House of Representatives would increase the tax on gasoline by 10 cents a gallon, from 17 cents to 27 cents, starting in mid-2020. The special fuels tax would go up a nickel, too, from 21 cents to 26 cents. Backers say New Mexicans do not have to look any further than the wear and tear on the state’s highways for a reason to raise the tax, proceeds of which have traditionally paid for road maintenance.
Senate Democrats said Tuesday that New Mexico’s future looks bright — partly because it doesn’t include outgoing Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who also struck a combative tone at the start of the 30-day legislative session. “There’s a new day on the horizon for the state of New Mexico,” said Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, who delivered the response from his caucus to Martinez’s final State of the State address. “Soon, we will have a new leadership team that will guide the state in providing more jobs, better classrooms, protection for our environment [and] safer places for our communities to raise our families and lead prosperous lives,” he said. “New Mexico has been on too many of the lists, at the bottom, for far too long.” In her speech, Martinez, who leaves office at the end of this year, focused on issues she has been working on since she was first elected governor in 2010.
Members of the Senate Finance Committee say they have reached an agreement on a package of taxes and fees that would help New Mexico resolve its projected budget deficit and shore up cash reserves to about 3 percent next year. The proposal amends several provisions of House Bill 202, including a tax that was opposed by doctors and hospitals. The Senate measure also would incorporate a gasoline and diesel tax increase that has already passed the Senate as a separate bill. By bringing all the elements together, Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, the finance chairman, hopes to stabilize the $6.1 billion general fund and guard against further credit downgrades. It also would buffer the state against expected federal cuts in education and health care.
Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle was in office 15 years ago, the only time the Legislature overrode a governor’s veto of the entire state budget. That showdown pitted Republican Gov. Gary Johnson against a Legislature controlled by Democrats. Ingle, R-Portales, said he is confident the impasse this year over spending and tax increases between majority Democrats in the Legislature and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez will not be a repeat of what happened in 2002. He said all parties agree on the priorities. Namely, the state needs to boost revenue to pay for education and day-to-day services included in the proposed $6.1 billion operating budget and stash away more in savings to help its credit rating.
The New Mexico Senate, hoping to improve state roads and rebuild cash reserves, approved a bill Thursday that would increase the state gasoline tax for the first time in more than 20 years. But the bill has little chance of becoming law. “If it reaches the governor’s desk, she will veto it,” said Chris Sanchez, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. An override of Martinez’s veto is unlikely because the tax bill received support from only three of the Senate’s 16 Republicans. The measure, Senate Bill 95, would raise about $180 million annually through a range of taxes and fees.
Lawmakers looking for every possible penny of new revenue to balance the state budget moved ahead with an omnibus tax package Wednesday over the objections of hospitals and medical providers that claimed paying more to the state would harm health care in New Mexico. House Bill 202 is part of an effort to bring in revenue from the fastest-growing part of the state’s economy — physicians, hospitals and clinics, most of which now pay little or no gross receipts tax. Rep. Carl Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, said his bill equalizes the tax among the entire health care sector at just over 3 percent — and that amount is paid on just 40 percent of patient revenue. “I don’t know how you can be more fair than everyone in this profession paying the same,” he said. The measure would raise $250 million for the general fund and restore cash reserves to about 4 percent, Trujillo said.
Republicans and Democrats joined together Friday to advance a bill that would allow cities and counties in cash-strapped New Mexico to find out if voters are willing to pay more at the gas pump in order to support better roads and bridges. Lawmakers have had difficulty finding agreement on any tax issue the past two years, but HB 63 seems headed toward approval. The House Taxation and Revenue Committee gave it a unanimous thumbs up. Under the proposal, voters could impose a local-option tax on gasoline and diesel fuel sales to residents and visitors alike to fund road work. Sponsored by Reps.