Solar tax credit heads to Guv’s desk

A bill to reinstate a solar tax credit is headed to the governor’s desk. The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, passed the House floor Wednesday by a vote of 51-19. SB 29 would create a personal income tax credit to cover 10 percent of the costs of a solar thermal or solar photovoltaic system for residential, business or agriculture applications. Democratic Rep. Matthew McQueen of Galisteo is the House sponsor of the bill. 

New Mexico initiated a similar tax credit in the last decade, which expired in 2016. The Legislature passed a bill to reinstate the credit that same year, but it was pocket-vetoed by then-Gov. Susana Martinez.

Gas tax bill dies in committee

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 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.

Coyote-killing contest ban now up to governor

The Legislature has sent Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham a bill that would outlaw coyote killing contests in New Mexico. A 37-30 vote late Tuesday by the House of Representatives to pass Senate Bill 76 came after the Senate approved the measure last week on a vote of 22-17. As to whether the governor plans to sign it into law, spokesman Tripp Stelnicki on Wednesday said only that, “At this point, we’re reviewing the legislation.” The House vote came after a two-hour plus debate that was often punctuated with imagery of bloodshed, ambushes and shootings and which highlighted the divide between rural and urban communities when it comes to dealing with coyotes. Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, and Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, introduced Senate Bill 76, saying they see such contests as inhumane.

Bill would require more accountability from oil and gas industry in NM

SANTA FE, N.M. – Oil and gas production may be New Mexico’s biggest economic driver, but supporters of legislation at the Roundhouse say the companies need to be held accountable when they create spills or discharge excessive methane. Fines for such violations have not been comprehensively enforced since the state Supreme Court ruled that the Oil Conservation Division doesn’t have the authority. Beyond the environmental impact, said Senate Bill 186 co-sponsor Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Santa Fe, it’s an issue of fairness. “What this does is, it levels the playing field, because we probably have some operators who are good operators and are following the law, and maybe we have some who are cutting corners,” he said. “And if they’re getting a competitive advantage by cutting corners, that’s not really fair.

House committee debates bill eliminating tax break for apartments

The elimination of a property tax break for apartment owners would lead to higher rents and force some owners out of business, representatives of the rental industry told a committee of state lawmakers Tuesday. But supporters of legislation to wipe out the tax break countered that the potential effect on rents is unclear, that property taxes would decline for some apartment owners and homeowners, and that the bill would encourage development of new rental housing. “There will be some winners and losers here, but overall it will be a fairer system and more rational system” for levying property taxes, said Mike Loftin, CEO of Homewise, a Santa Fe nonprofit that works to get families in affordable homes. The House Local Government, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs Committee didn’t act on the legislation, House Bill 647. The committee is scheduled to resume consideration of the bill Thursday morning.

Trapping bill highlights state’s urban/rural divide

Mary Katherine Ray has seen traps up close. One caught the leg of her dog Greta while they were hiking. “I will never forget the sound of Greta’s screaming,” Ray told a New Mexico legislative committee on Thursday. It was a story lawmakers heard over and over again — a story of beautiful days outdoors turned bloody by traps lurking in the brush. Animal welfare advocates and others are renewing a years-long effort to ban trapping on public lands in New Mexico.

Some Martinez vetoes get pushback

Some vetoes by Gov. Susana Martinez are raising eyebrows among legislators and others—and at least one partial veto may be challenged in court. Wednesday was the final day for Martinez to decide whether or not to sign bills from this year’s legislative session. She signed 80 bills into law, but vetoed 31 others. Some she rejected using her veto pen, while with others she just allowed time to run out in what is called a “pocket veto.”

One portion of a bill that may see a new life was part of the crime omnibus bill the Legislature passed in response to the spike in crime, particularly in Albuquerque. The bill combined a number of ideas aimed at reducing crimes.

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.

Martinez vetoes bill on access to public databases for ‘political’ purposes

Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed two bills and signed two more Friday afternoon. One bill Martinez vetoed dealt with the release of public databases through the state Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). Rep. Matthew McQueen introduced the bill after reading about problems one citizen had when requesting information from the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commision. That issue was reported by NM Political Report and co-published in the Santa Fe Reporter. Currently, IPRA allows agencies to release databases but also authorizes agency officials to make the requester agree “not to use the database for any political or commercial purpose unless the purposes and use is approved in writing by the state agency that created the database.” McQueen’s bill would have struck “political” from the law.