Sparks flew between Republicans and Democrats Sunday during a lengthy debate on a health care tax bill that supporters say would help the uninsured. Passed by the House on a vote of 41 to 25, HB 278 would create a health care fund for New Mexicans who are uninsured. The bill would replace a federal tax that Congress repealed. The state health insurance tax would result in $99.1 million to go to a new “health care affordability fund” and the remaining $25.6 million would go to the general fund. Republicans tried twice to amend the bill to exempt small business owners from the bill.
If legislation had taglines, this one’s might be: “How a highly technical bill became the latest partisan punching bag.”
On Friday, the Democrat-controlled House Taxation and Revenue Committee approved House Bill 341, which proposes to transfer money from the state’s enormous Tax Stabilization Reserve fund into its operating reserve if the latter drops to less than 1 percent of total appropriations. The legislation’s proponents say the measure would fix a structural issue created when the rainy-day fund was set up, and would even help the state avoid calling a special session when it’s not necessary. But it became a flashpoint for discord Friday, with Republicans critics contending the bill is a cover for Democrats spending too much during the session. “If we refuse to address the technical problem that has arisen, we’re not doing our job,” House Speaker Brian Egolf said Friday at the committee hearing before voting in favor of the bill. At issue is the balance in the state’s operating reserve, a sort of holding account for the general fund that provides a buffer in case there’s a revenue shortfall.
With a vote of 6-0, Democrats on the House Taxation and Revenue Committee passed a bill that advocates say would help the uninsured and the underinsured. No Republicans voted on HB 278. Committee co-chair Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, tried to go to a vote at one point but then appeared to stall. He asked Rep. Deborah Armstrong, also a Democrat from Albuquerque, to talk more about the bill. A few advocates of the bill ran out of the hearing to try to find more Democrats who could return to the hearing.
A bill to make big changes to the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) passed its first committee despite lingering questions over the proposal. After a length debate, the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee passed the bill Thursday with a vote of 8-5 along party lines. Democratic Reps. Nathan Small of Las Cruces and Rep. Linda Trujillo of Santa Fe presented HB 11 to the committee. The legislation would restructure the PRC with the aim of streamlining operations and improving efficiencies that Small and Trujillo contend are holding the state back and hurting New Mexico residents.
A proposal to expand access to solar energy for New Mexico residents through the development of community solar projects passed its first committee Tuesday. Community solar projects, also referred to as “solar gardens,” are programs in which the energy generated by local solar systems are shared among energy subscribers. The power generation is typically located in a central location and distributed to subscribers in the area. Albuquerque Democrat and bill sponsor Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero presented HB 9 to the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee. Santa Fe Democratic Rep. Andrea Romero and the Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, who also represents Santa Fe, are co-sponsors of the bill, along with Albuquerque Democratic Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez.
The state House of Representatives and the Senate may be on a collision course when it comes to how best to reset New Mexico’s minimum wage law, a priority issue for Democrats in this year’s legislative session. That’s because the House on Wednesday night refused to budge on its proposal to the raise the statewide minimum wage to $12 an hours by Jan. 1, 2022 and then increase it in future years with a cost-of-living bump. The Senate, however, has approved a more modest proposal designed to increase the minimum wage to $11 an hour by Jan. 1, 2022, without any further cost-of-living increases.
The New Mexico House of Representatives voted Wednesday night to raise the statewide minimum wage to $10 an hour in July and increase it annually starting next year. But amid heavy opposition from the restaurant industry, lawmakers backed off immediately abolishing the lower minimum wage for tipped workers and instead elected to phase it out over the next few years. Democrats made boosting the minimum wage a central promise of last year’s campaign and argue House Bill 31 will amount to a raise for about 150,000 workers across the state. With a bigger Democratic majority in the House this year, legislation proposing an increase of several dollars per hour was bound to pass the chamber. But HB 31 is still likely to meet opposition in the state Senate, even from some Democrats, spurring what will likely be a round of negotiations over just how high legislators on both sides of the Capitol can agree to raise the minimum wage.
Cloudy, brown and rank water flowed from the taps of homes in the northwest corner of New Mexico. Some of those who drank it say they became nauseous. They complained of cramps, headaches and diarrhea. Thousands of people were told to boil their water to guard against illness. Farmington-area residents whose homes are hooked up to the Animas Valley Water system said the water also damaged their water heaters, washing machines and clothes.
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.
Legislators were told by the Legislative Finance Committee director Monday that the budget situation is still dire. “We’re on fumes,” LFC Director David Abbey told the Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy Interim Committee. The legislators will have to deal with revenue that is down ten percent from last year, Abbey said. The state predicted a five percent drop in revenue. Abbey said a special session may be needed to address any shortfall.