This year’s 30 day legislative session has been productive for legislators and citizens too. The lame-duck Martinez administration, though, also made several gains as the session entered its third week of action.
As soon as the session started, the powerful Legislative Finance Committee, headed by David Abbey—a fellow who told the New Mexico Revenue and Stablization Policy Committee two years ago that the state was “running on fumes”—and chaired by longtime Deming Democrat John Arthur Smith, issued a report on crime in Albuquerque.
The report was researched and generated by John Courtney and Travis McIntyre, program evaluators with the LFC. It focuses on the crime increase in the Albuquerque/
Statistics show that there has been a serious increase in crime in the state and particularly in Albuquerque. Though this is not new news, legislators are interested in the reasons behind the rise; it’s believed by roundhouse Democrats and some conservatives that tackling underlying issues—economic conditions, substance abuse and gang activity, for example—will result in a decrease in criminal activity. The report further states that increasing punishment does not deter crimes, but the perception that law enforcement is effective, that criminals will be quickly caught and punished does lead to deterrence in the community.
In a hearing brief filed by the LFC late last week, state revenue estimates for upcoming fiscal year 2018 were summarized. Economic forecasters noted an increase in state funds. This was because of a “sudden, remarkable spike in revenues with little underlying economic data to explain it other than [the] gross state product (GSP), which was heavily influenced by oil prices and production.” This increase in revenue has led state economists to project that millions more dollars, approximately $188.9 million, will be available to state coffers in upcoming months.
The only drawback to this suddenly lush monetary scenario is the fact that additional revenue to fuel our economy comes from revenue increases in the state oil and gas industry, “making this state even more dependent” on a highly volatile industry. Lawmakers on the committee recommend that caution needs to be used in spending these new found monies and in using the figures to estimate future economic growth and for use in recurring budgetary items. In summary this mid-session report ties much of New Mexico’s revenue to a continuing resurgence of state gas and oil industries.Well, at least we’re not running on fumes anymore, amirite, David Abbey?
Speaking of stable sources for state revenue, State Senator Cliff Pirtle (R-Roswell) introduced legislation last week to resume taxing some groceries while leaving healthier foods untaxed. As readers may recall, the state ended taxation of groceries in 2004. At the time, it was determined that charging a gross receipts tax for most food purchases was regressive; endemic poverty and malnutrition, especially in rural New Mexico, contributed to this legislative breakthrough.
Pirtle’s SB 129 would change that. The bill establishes taxation for all foods except meat, tortillas and items covered by the Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program (WIC). The bill is likely to meet stiff opposition from democratic lawmakers and health care advocates who have long held that the food tax unproportionately hits this state’s poorest with untenable bills.
While Pirtle has argued in the media that his bill is aimed at ending diabetes and obesity, others such as Fred Nathan—the head of the advocacy group that first called for an end to grocery taxes in New Mexico in 2003—told reporters that taxing groceries in New Mexico “makes no sense.”
Last week state Democrats introduced a bill, HB 138, aimed at stopping President Trump’s border wall from coming to reside in New Mexican territory. The legislation would prohibit the state from selling land to the feds for the purpose of building a border wall.
In an interview with an El Paso teevee station, Martinez called bill sponsor Bill McCamley (D-Las Cruces) a “low level legislator,” and promised constituents that she would not even allow such legislation to be heard in this year’s legislative session.
McCamley—whose other offered legislation this year includes a memorial directed at reviewing the recent FCC net neutrality repeal—responded professionally to La Tejana’s attack, telling the media that “I'm sorry the governor feels she has to act like the president in insulting those of us who are trying to do their jobs and represent what the vast majority of New Mexicans believe in." Since state law allows the sitting governor to choose which bills will be heard and in what session, it’s unlikely that McCamley’s bill will be heard by gathered lawmakers.