House sends budget bill to governor

By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican

The state House of Representatives voted Wednesday to send a $9.57 billion budget bill to the governor for her approval. On a voice vote, the chamber concurred with the Senate’s amendments to House Bill 2, the last procedural step to send the bill to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk. The Senate amendments include, among other changes, an additional $130 million in recurring spending for initiatives to address hunger and new investments in the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship college tuition fund. But concerns were raised on the House floor about the way the Senate Finance Committee made some extra budget adjustments just a day after the committee had already approved the bill. That action, which took place Sunday morning, annoyed Republican senators on the committee and raised questions about behind-the-scenes deals and political pressure for changes that may have come from the Governor’s Office.

House passes omnibus tax bill

By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican

The House of Representatives voted 50-18 Sunday evening to approve an omnibus tax policy plan that would provide $500 and $1,000 rebate checks to taxpayers later this year. 

The amended House Bill 547 upped the amount of those rebate checks from an earlier draft that would have offered $300 to single taxpayers and $600 to married couples filing jointly. 

“We heard the public, we heard members of this body and the Senate — we should give [more] money back to the people of New Mexico,” said Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, who introduced HB 547 on the House floor Sunday. 

That amount still falls short of the proposed rebates of $750 for single taxpayers and $1,500 for married couples filing jointly that taxpayers received last year, and which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called for again in her state of the state address in January. 

Members of the Senate Finance Committee have also recommended $500 and $1,000 rebate checks in the operating budget, House Bill 2. 

The change in rebate check amounts speaks to the ever-changing tax and finance policies lawmakers — with input from the governor’s office — deal with in the final days of the legislative session. When it comes to tax bills, most members of the public not affiliated with a business are most likely to care about the rebates, which, lawmakers have said, can make at least a one-time difference when it comes to shooing away whatever wolves might be at the door. Otherwise, much of the original content of the bill, first introduced to the House Taxation and Revenue Committee about a week ago, remains. HB 547 includes an increase in corporate tax deductions, a small increase to the alcohol excise tax to benefit programs addressing alcohol and drug use and a child income tax credit for up to $600 for eligible taxpayers. It also includes a rural health care practitioner credit of up to $5,000 for some health care professionals, including doctors, and a refundable electric vehicle income tax credit of $2,500 for every electric vehicle purchased. 

In addition, HB 547, a roughly $1.2 billion package, will drop the state’s gross receipts tax by one-half of 1%.

Ousted committee chairwoman says she ‘stood in the way’ of big government spending

By Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican

As the influential House Appropriations and Finance Committee held its first meeting of the 60-day legislative session Wednesday, a familiar face was noticeably absent. A day after being stripped of her chairmanship, Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, sat at her desk in the chamber of the House of Representatives largely alone while the committee delved into the details of a budget bill a floor above. After serving on the committee for 23 years — as chairwoman for the last six and as vice chair for eight years before that — Lundstrom said she woke up Wednesday morning feeling a little lost. “You feel like, ‘Gosh, am I being punished? Am I being taken to the woodshed in a way where it’s forever?'” the longtime lawmaker said in an interview with The New Mexican.

Debate over hydrogen poised to return this legislative session

After being placed on the speaker’s table and struggling to make it through committees, hydrogen legislation attempts failed last year during New Mexico’s legislative session. But the formation of the Western Interstate Hydrogen Hub (WISHH) and the U.S. Department of Energy’s encouraged recommendation on a concept paper the coalition of western states submitted may have changed attitudes toward developing the fuel. State Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, is optimistic as she drafts a new piece of legislation focused on hydrogen.

Lundstrom sponsored several of the unsuccessful bills last session. This year, she told NM Political Report, the bill will have a more narrow, targeted focus. “We’ve often talked about diversification of our economy.

Legislature expected to consider Paid Family & Medical Leave bill in 2023

A bill likely to come before the New Mexico Legislature next session will be another run at passing a state-run Paid Family and Medical Leave program into law but in 2023, the program will have some concessions to businesses as well as new expansions. Tracy McDaniel, policy advocate for Southwest Women’s Law Center, said a bill is expected to be introduced in  the 2023 legislative session. A Paid Family and Medical Leave bill failed in the 2020 and 2021 Legislatures. The 2022 Legislature passed a Senate Memorial to create a task force that would deliver a report on the issue and arrive at some compromises with the business community. A Paid Family and Medical Leave bill would provide up to 12 weeks of paid time off for employees who request it for a serious medical condition, caring for a family member with a serious medical condition or welcoming a new child.

House, Senate resolve budget disputes; nearly $8.5B plan moves to governor

After an eleventh-hour dispute between the House and Senate, New Mexico’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 — the largest on record — is back on track. A conference committee made up of three members from each chamber brokered a compromise over spending disagreements during a Wednesday morning meeting that lasted less than 10 minutes. By the afternoon, the deal won bipartisan support in both chambers, advancing the nearly $8.5 billion spending plan to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The budget agreement was critical as the session rolls to a conclusion, but as of late Wednesday night, several key issues — crime, tax cuts and expanding voting access — remained unfinished, with both the House and Senate debating bills past midnight. Lawmakers have expressed concerns about tackling such an aggressive agenda in a short session meant to focus on legislation dealing with budget and tax issues, though the governor has the authority to place any item on the agenda.

House votes no on state budget amendments adopted by Senate

As the clock on the legislative session continued winding down to the noon Thursday deadline, a battle over New Mexico’s proposed $8.48 billion budget blew up. The House of Representatives on Tuesday voted against a motion to concur with amendments adopted by the Senate. “I urge the body to vote no” on concurrence, said Rep. Patty Lundstrom, chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, before the House voted overwhelmingly against the Senate’s changes to House Bill 2. The spending plan, the highest on record, is poised to go to a conference committee made up of three members from each chamber with a goal of working out differences before the end of the session. It was unclear late Tuesday when the committee would meet.

Controversial hydrogen hub bill heads to House floor

A controversial bill that would help make New Mexico a center of hydrogen production as an energy source is on its way to the House floor for consideration. Members of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee voted 7-3 to approve House Bill 228, which would create a framework for a hydrogen industry and allow businesses and organizations to apply for public and private money to develop hydrogen production projects. “We’re trying to take advantage of a new industry, try to grow economics-based jobs,” said Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, who co-sponsored the bill. “We’ve got a perfect location.” She cited the recently abandoned Escalante Power Plant in Prewitt, which would likely become the first hydrogen facility in the state if the bill becomes law.

House approves ‘transformative’ $8.47B budget

A record-high $8.47 billion budget that would boost state government spending in New Mexico by nearly 14 percent in the upcoming fiscal year passed the House on a 56-13 vote Thursday after a three-hour debate that largely focused on whether the unprecedented level of spending is sustainable. The proposed budget, which includes funding to give teachers, judges and other state workers raises, as well as what one lawmaker called “transformative investments” statewide, now heads to the Senate for consideration. Though the spending plan received bipartisan support, the 13 lawmakers who voted against the budget bill are all Republicans. Members of the GOP raised concerns about the spending increase of about $1 billion and introduced a substitute proposal that would have increased spending by about half of what’s proposed in the budget bill, or 7 percent. The Democrat-controlled chamber rejected the substitute.

State budget headed House floor after unanimous passage in House Appropriations and Finance Committee

New Mexicans should expect smoother roads and state government employees can look forward to a 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment in the upcoming fiscal year under a $7.39 billion spending plan the House Appropriations and Finance Committee unanimously approved Monday. The proposed budget, which represents a 4.6 percent increase over the current fiscal year, includes $300 million for state and local roads. The proposal also calls for $64 million in spending for a cost-of-living adjustment for all state government, public school and higher education employees. “This is the cleanest bill I’ve seen in the last 20 years,” said Rep. Patty Lundstrom, a Gallup Democrat who chairs the committee. “There’s no love handles on this bill.”