After failure of previous efforts, ‘baby hydrogen bill’ emerges

One day after a controversial bill to make New Mexico a hub of hydrogen activity died in the Legislature, another — deemed a “baby hydrogen bill” by its sponsor — sprung to life. But the new legislation, House Bill 228, sponsored by Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, includes significant changes from two previous bills. For one, it does away with offering tax credits to public and private entities that team up to create clean hydrogen projects — a point of contention to critics who said those credits will benefit the oil and gas industry. 

Instead, interested parties wanting to develop the hydrogen industry in the state will apply for public/private partnership money to be vetted and approved by a hydrogen hub development board and approved by the New Mexico Finance Authority. 

The House of Representatives passed a bill authorizing such partnerships Tuesday. That bill, which Lundstrom co-sponsored, now goes to the Senate for consideration. 

HB 228 is intended to gradually reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions in the production of clean, or “blue”, hydrogen over time. The bill calls for the level of emissions to start with two kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilogram of hydrogen produced. By 2035, the bill requires that ratio to drop to one kilogram of carbon dioxide per kilogram of hydrogen produced and, by 2045, zero carbon dioxide per kilogram of hydrogen. 

“I think it’s a major economic generator,” Lundstrom said Tuesday.

Hydrogen Hub Act on hold after Egolf puts it on ‘Speaker’s Table’

State Rep. Patty Lundstrom’s effort to jump-start what Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other proponents call a clean hydrogen economy might be blocked again — this time by House Speaker Brian Egolf. Egolf, a Santa Fe Democrat, announced Monday he was putting Lundstrom’s second bill calling for a Hydrogen Hub Act on the “Speaker’s Table” — where it can remain on hold until the session ends or can be put back into play by the speaker. Egolf wrote in a text message House Bill 227 “will not be heard” before the end of the session. He did not explain why he made the move. Environmental activists who oppose the governor’s plan to make New Mexico a hub of so-called blue hydrogen production, arguing it will increase emissions amid a global climate crisis, cheered Egolf’s action.

House passes bill to appropriate $504 million in federal relief funds

An amended version of a spending bill passed both the full House and the House Appropriations and Finance Committee Friday which, if passed by the state Senate and signed by the governor, will appropriate $504 million of the $1.1 billion provided by the American Rescue Plan Act into state relief funds, state Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces said. The bill ultimately passed the House on a 65-1 vote, including changes made in a committee. Small, a co-sponsor of HB 2, introduced the amendment to the HAFC meeting Friday morning. He said the $504 million is slightly less than half of the total funds the state is transferring into a contingency account of the general fund. The $504 million would be expected to be made available to the agencies and is intended, based on federal guidelines, to provide relief due to losses incurred from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Changes coming to appropriations bill after Senate Finance Committee hearing

During a two-hour Senate Finance Committee hearing on HB 2, the committee learned of issues with the bill that will likely require change to the legislation. Department of Game and Fish Director, Michael Sloane, told the committee during the hearing that the department did not request the $5 million appropriated in the bill for property acquisition. He said the department is not currently considering any property acquisition projects. This led to concern among some committee members who brought up Bar L Ranch in Sandoval County, that the money was appropriated for that purchase but Sloane said any talk about the state purchasing that land was premature. Senate Finance Chair George Muñoz, D-Gallup, clarified how the appropriation happened by saying that the Legislative Finance Committee had reached out to the department but, he said, didn’t hear back.

Senate committee hears discussion on $35 million of relief act money

The state Senate Finance Committee heard from two departments that will receive one-time funds of $35 million total if HB 2 passes. The state Senate Finance Committee did not take action on HB 2, as the bill still sits in the  House Appropriations and Finance Committee which originally intended to meet Wednesday to vote on the bill. But state Rep. and HAFC Chair Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, said during the House floor meeting Wednesday that HAFC would not meet that day. Lundstrom said on Tuesday that HB 2 needed some language cleanup, and appeared to be willing to consider a new appropriation to help the state’s chile farmers with the red chile harvest. HB 2 appropriates the federal American Rescue Plan Act money of $1.1 billion into a contingency fund of the state’s general fund.

Committee discusses how to spend some of the $1.1 billion in federal aid

The House Appropriations and Finance Committee held a three-hour hearing on allocating some of the $1.1 billion in federal pandemic relief aid but will wait until Wednesday to vote on the bill. HB 2, a general appropriations bill, will enable the legislature to begin spending some of the federal American Rescue Plan Act money. The 2021 Legislature already allocated the federal relief funds, but Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham line item vetoed that portion of the spending bill last spring. A group of state senators from both parties sued Lujan Grisham arguing that she did not have the authority to spend the money without the Legislature’s input and won their case in state Supreme Court this past fall. Related: NM high court: Legislature, not governor, has authority over federal COVID-19 funds

Once it passes and is signed by the governor, the federal money will transfer to a contingency fund within the general fund.

‘Tenacious’ Lundstrom leads key House budget committee

At 16, state Rep. Patty Lundstrom started her own business. An overnight success? Hardly. Her first venture failed miserably. “We were broke at the end of it,” the Gallup Democrat, now 60, recalled in a recent interview.

Governor signs revised budget, vetoes items

Governors don’t usually sign a budget twice in one year. But this is no normal year. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham gave her blessing to New Mexico’s revised budget legislation Tuesday, but she also used her veto power to cancel some of the cuts legislators approved during the special session. “We must recalibrate our state’s budget to meet these challenging times,” Lujan Grisham wrote in a letter to the state House of Representatives upon signing House Bill 1. “However, we should not lose sight of the important work that is still needed to create lasting opportunities for all New Mexicans.”

The budget plan uses a combination of spending cuts, reserves and federal funding to deal with a projected $2 billion drop in state revenue for the next fiscal year, which begins Wednesday.

Scaled back budget heads to Senate

Over the objections of Republicans who wanted to cut more, House Democrats pushed through a scaled back state budget to shore up a $2 billion budget shortfall caused by the pandemic and oil price crash that devastated state coffers. The House approved the roughly $7 billion budget in a 46-24 vote along party lines, with Republicans opposing the budget plan. In extended budget talks over the past several days, lawmakers continuously described the spending reductions as difficult decisions in the face of massive hits to state revenue. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has referred to the cuts as “austerity” for the state, but supported them at slightly different levels. The bill now only needs to be approved by the full Senate to get to the governor’s desk, as the Senate Finance Committee approved the House’s version Friday.

Committees start talks on budget fix, with lots of debate to come

State workers would see a drop in their pay raises for fiscal year 2021 and spending for most agencies would be cut significantly under the draft budget overhaul lawmakers began debating Wednesday. Whittling a record $7.6 billion budget to $7.34 billion — and filling wide spending gaps with cash reserves, pandemic-related aid from the federal government and other measures — is no small task for the New Mexico Legislature as it convenes Thursday for a special session to address a steep decline in projected revenues. Members of the state House and Senate finance committees met Wednesday to review the plan, which would slash higher education spending by 6 percent — the biggest cut for any single agency — and reduce the 4 percent pay raises for state workers, approved earlier this year, to 1.5 percent for those who earn less than $40,000 a year and 0.5 percent for higher earners. Funding for the new Early Childhood Education and Care Department, set to take over all services for young children July 1, would be cut by $3.3 million; the spaceport would lose $600,000; and $17 million would be slashed from the Medicaid program. Lawmakers, however, hope to shift money from the Tobacco Settlement Permanent Fund to fill the Medicaid gap.