Bill to restrict food stamp purchases dies

Five Democratic state senators banded together Tuesday to block a Republican bill aimed at prohibiting people on food stamps from buying soda pop, candy and other junk foods. The Democrats said they appreciated Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, sponsoring the bill to encourage healthy eating habits in hopes of reducing New Mexico’s high rates of obesity and diabetes. But Democrats on the Senate Public Affairs Committee still found flaws in Pirtle’s proposal. “I’m bothered by this because it’s going after our lowest-income folks,” said Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque. “I don’t support this at all because it focuses on one group of people and implies they’re wasting taxpayers’ money.”

Budget woes and beyond: Legislators have work to do this session

The biggest issue for legislators this session is New Mexico’s perilous financial situation—and how they plan to fill a projected $67 million budget deficit. Gov. Susana Martinez has proposed moving  $268.5 million from state agencies into the general fund budget. Of that $120 million would come from local public education reserve funds. Martinez’s plan also would require state employees to pay roughly 3.5 percent more into their retirement plans. This piece also appeared in this week’s edition of the Weekly Alibi.

Beyond the food tax: Legislators aim for an overhaul of the system

Media coverage of planned tax legislation has so far focused on one hot-button topic of the proposal—reinstating a state tax on food. Santa Fe Archbishop John C. Wester and advocacy groups like New Mexico Voices for Children have vocally opposed the idea. But the two state representatives behind the proposal have not actually filed any legislation on the matter for the session that begins in January. Legislators could begin introducing bills on Dec. 15.

BernCo resolution would ask for tougher methane requirements

The battle over restricting methane emissions from the oil and gas industry is headed to Bernalillo County. It’s in the form of a proposed resolution by Democratic County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins, with the support of groups such as New Mexico Voices for Children and Hispanics Enjoy Camping, Hunting and the Outdoors (HECHO). The resolution is expected to be heard during Tuesday evening’s meeting. While acknowledging that “energy development is critically important to the economy of both Bernalillo County and the State of New Mexico,” the resolution calls for the Bernalillo County Commission to support stronger rules from the federal government on methane flaring and leakage and to charge royalties on “wasted, vented or flared methane gas” released into the atmosphere. “It really seems to us to make no sense to allow these oil companies to basically waste a resource that should belong to the public, that the production of which should benefit the public,” NM Voices for Children Executive Director James Jimenez said in a short interview.

Critics use same arguments against corporate tax cuts, film incentives

Legislators on opposing sides of the aisle are using remarkably similar arguments on two bills that would delay tax breaks and subsidies to businesses to help balance New Mexico’s projected $460 million shortfall between last year and this year. One would delay incoming corporate tax cuts for two years, saving the state an estimated $13.8 million this fiscal year, according to the Legislative Finance Committee,

The other bill would generate $20 million by cutting New Mexico’s film industry subsidy by that much this year. While both bills bear similarities in delaying tax breaks and subsidies for businesses, they’re being both supported and opposed on nearly opposite partisan lines. Democratic leadership in the Roundhouse argued that businesses must participate in the “shared sacrifice” of cuts to solve the state’s budget crisis when supporting the corporate tax cut delays that the Senate passed last weekend. House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, emphasized this point when criticizing proposed cuts to services in the Republican budget plan Monday morning in his office.

Expert: Court documentation of HSD scandal ‘unprecedented’

Two things about New Mexico’s scandal over the state allegedly falsifying applications for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program stand out to Samuel Chu. The first is documentation of the scandal in federal court, which in May included three top state Human Services Department officials refusing to answer a total of nearly 100 questions from lawyers. Instead, they asserted their Fifth Amendment rights, which allow people to avoid possibly incriminating themselves. “We generally don’t see that,” Chu, the national synagogue organizer with Mazon, a California-based anti-hunger organization that tracks food stamp issues across the country. The Fifth Amendment pleadings came after multiple HSD employees told the court of an alleged statewide practice of adding false resources to applications for emergency benefits through SNAP, the federal program formerly known as food stamps.

NM’s not alright for children: Again ranks 49th for child well-being

New Mexico is “falling behind” on some key indicators according to a new report released this week. The annual KIDS COUNT report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that New Mexico ranks 50th in education and 49th in overall child well-being—again at or near the bottom of the list on key indicators for the state. New Mexico has ranked at or near the bottom on education for years. The number of eighth graders not proficient in math in 2015 worsened since 2013, while the number of high school students not graduating on time in 2012-2013 worsened since 2011-2012. New Mexico still sees 30 percent of children living in poverty, which ranks 48th.

Cheering against ourselves

Bill Jordan, MA, is Senior Policy Advisor/Governmental Relations for NM Voices for Children, an advocacy group based in Albuquerque. Gas and oil prices have dropped and New Mexico families are getting a break on their home energy costs and a big break every time they fill up their gas tanks. This is great news for family budgets and is helping families make ends meet in a time when wages have stagnated and our economy is flat. When a family has to balance its budget, it helps when basic expenses like gas for the car and home heating costs drop significantly. Thanks to low energy prices, some families are seeing savings of $50 or more a month.

Latest tax break for Intel didn’t stop job cuts

Just three years ago, the New Mexico Legislature significantly changed what manufacturers owe in taxes in the state. Legislators squarely aimed the changes at one big company: Intel. Next year, the tax changes will fully eliminate payroll and property taxes for manufacturers and instead only tax them on their in-state sales. Related Story: After report of layoffs, Intel future in NM still unclear

Over the years, the computer microprocessing giant has enjoyed at least $2.6 billion worth of state and local subsidies for its facility in Rio Rancho. But the company also fell on hard times this decade as personal computers, which Intel’s microchip is used for, ceded ground to cell phones and mobile devices.

One in ten New Mexico children have or had a parent in jail

One in every ten children in New Mexico have at least one parent incarcerated at some point in their lifetime, according to a recent report. That’s the third-highest rate in the nation and just one of three states with a rate in double digits. In raw numbers, this is 52,000 children throughout the state. The findings came from a new Kids Count report called “A Shared Sentence: The Devastating Toll of Parental Incarceration on Kids, Families and Communities.”

New Mexico Voices for Children executive director Veronica C. Garcia, Ed.D., explained the reasons why this is detrimental to the youth of the state. “Often their families lack the financial resources to cover basic needs such as food and housing.