In 2019, Sen. Sander Rue was one of eight Albuquerque lawmakers who provided funds for Gallup police vehicles. He ought to be able to explain why he has done that over the years to his constituents, he says, when arguing for the capital outlay transparency legislation he sponsors. Can you think of a public official who spends public money and then gets to keep the spending choices secret? That’s what New Mexico lawmakers do.
New Mexico’s lawmakers dished out $300 million dollars for infrastructure projects large and small during the 2019 legislative session. The stockpile they divvied up amounts to about a third of the $1 billion capital outlay budget signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham after the session ended.
New Mexico In Depth has been selected to join a high-impact national network focused on local investigative reporting in 2020.
Since 2008, ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom headquartered in New York City, has become known for rigorous and thoughtful journalism, winning five Pulitzers, five Peabody Awards, three Emmy Awards, seven George Polk Awards and five Online News Association Awards for general excellence.
The New York based news organization will fund and lend its expertise to a year-long investigative reporting project by Albuquerque-based reporter Bryant Furlow focused on health care in New Mexico.
Bryant Furlow is known for reporting that leads to change.
His reporting has exposed off-label sedation of jail inmates with prescription drug cocktails, embezzlements, and lax oversight by the state’s insurance regulators — reporting that prompted new state legislation on insurance rate-setting transparency. With New Mexico In Depth, he detailed how the state’s freeze on Medicaid payments to the state’s largest behavioral health providers disrupted drug treatment and mental health services for children and adults across the state. He’s authored hundreds of health care and medical research news stories for medical journals, including The Lancet journals’ news desks, where his recent reporting has spotlighted neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome, vaping injuries, the seizure by the US Border Patrol of children’s medications and volunteer health care efforts at migrant shelters along the U.S./Mexico border. The ProPublica Local Reporting Network was launched in 2018, and with the addition of New Mexico In Depth and 12 other news organizations around the country, now numbers 20 projects. In addition to funding a full-time investigative reporter for one year, ProPublica senior editors will collaborate with Furlow, and the organization will lend their expertise with data, research, and community engagement.
New Mexico In Depth regularly seeks to collaborate with both national and local news organizations to bring resources, new skills, and more journalism to New Mexico communities, where investigative reporting is in short supply.
New Mexico has the same water stress level as the United Arab Emirates, an analysis from the World Resources Institute finds.
The state could have three months worth of 100-plus degree days by 2080, up from about 20 in the ‘60s and ‘70s, under a higher emissions scenario, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts, putting the elderly and children at greater risk of heat-related deaths and changing our agricultural system. In New Mexico, catastrophic wildfires, intense drought and heat over the last couple of decades have brought climate change into high relief. When it comes to global warming and mitigating its damage, there’s a lot going on, both here in New Mexico and around the world. There’s also high interest.
Polls consistently show New Mexicans, in line with residents in all Rocky Mountain states, believe climate change is a pressing issue. Most recently, an annual bipartisan poll conducted by Colorado College found that New Mexicans increasingly say climate change is a serious problem.
Yet, in the news, you’re a lot more likely to hear about President Trump’s latest tweet controversy than you are climate change.
That’s just not right.
As a profession, the news industry is not doing enough to ensure the global climate emergency receives the public debate and discussion it deserves.
A reporter sits at her desk looking at a spreadsheet. The rows and columns show the spending lobbyists reported to the Secretary of State’s Office for the first five months of 2019, which includes the 60-day legislative session. She wants to tell a story about what that spending bought. But there’s only so much to glean, because so much isn’t reported. That was me the other day.
New Mexico In Depth Executive Director Trip Jennings has received the Spirit of Journalistic Excellence award from the nonpartisan, statewide public-policy organization New Mexico First, an organization known for convening town halls around the state to build consensus on pressing public issues. “New Mexico First is proud to recognize lawmakers, journalists and community leaders who put the people of New Mexico first and work to find good solutions to the challenges we face,” said former state senator Cynthia Nava, selection committee chair, in a news release. “This award shines the spotlight on hard-working role models who put good policy or fair coverage above partisan politics.”
“I’m humbled by the award,” Jennings said, “which is both an honor and a reminder of the necessity of journalism that is both vigorous and thoughtful, and that grounds public debates in people’s lives and the communities they live in rather than the fickle winds of partisan politics.”
Trip started his career in Georgia at his hometown newspaper, The Augusta Chronicle. Since then he’s worked at newspapers in California, Florida and Connecticut. Trip moved to New Mexico in 2005 and has worked for the Albuquerque Journal, The New Mexico Independent and the Santa Fe New Mexican covering everything from political corruption and how political decisions are made to the challenges confronted by those without political power when they seek change.
In the wake of the 2019 legislative session, people across New Mexico are taking stock of how much Legislature-approved money to fund infrastructure will end up in their communities. There’s a lot of it–$933 million in the main capital outlay bill and an additional $60 million in “junior” spending bills drafted after lawmakers realized how flush the state is in oil money. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has until April 5th to sign legislation. Before she signs off on the infrastructure spending, called capital outlay, it’s possible she’ll use her line item veto authority to strike some of the projects. She asked state agencies to “vet” projects, according to an email sent last week to potential recipients by the Department of Finance and Administration.
A near empty Senate Rules committee hears sponsors of a lobbying reform measure present their bill on Monday, March 13. One could say whether a bill makes it out of a legislative committee has everything to do with the lawmakers sitting on the committee. But Senate somersaults this week pretty much lay to rest the notion that the vote of a committee always matters. If lawmakers really want to pass something, they will. The example this week: ethics commission legislation.
As New Mexico’s 2019 legislative session draws to a close, lawmakers are poised to allocate almost a billion dollars to infrastructure projects around the state. The Senate Finance committee approved $933 million yesterday for capital projects statewide. For comparison, just a year ago capital outlay money totaled $364.5 million. The state is so flush with cash, that each chamber is moving an additional “junior” appropriation bill of about $30 million, HB 548 and SB 536, for $60 million total that individual members will parcel out. The bill, SB 280, holds $385 million going to statewide projects designated by state agencies.
House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs committee discussing HB 131. As the House of Representatives geared up for a late night on the floor last Monday, a group of lobbyists were asked to provide dinner for legislators: green chile cheeseburgers from Lota Burger. A few days later, on Thursday, Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-Albuquerque, thanked a group of “lobbyists, about 40” who paid for what’s now an annual tradition — a catered lunch for House members from her extended family’s restaurant, Powdrell’s barbeque. The mood on the floor was jovial. To some, the displays did not quite square with the lawmakers’ vote the previous Sunday to ban lobbyist spending on lawmakers during a legislative session.
A stylist applies make-up to a state lawmaker at a pop-up salon at the New Mexico state capital on March 4. Stacked on the table are make-up compacts, and in the background another stylist is blowdrying hair. Need a haircut? If you know a lobbyist, and you’re a lawmaker, you might get a free cut. And conveniently, you could get the cut, or a blow-out, or even help with your make-up, right here in the Roundhouse.