Sine die: Bipartisanship was buzzword but not everything was kumbaya

The final legislative session of Gov. Susana Martinez’s tenure passed into history Thursday. What a difference a few months makes. Last May, state lawmakers were in crisis dealing with a yawning budget gap and no money for the state’s universities and colleges or the Legislature after Martinez vetoed that money. A special session restored funding to those two areas. But state lawmakers were testy with one another and the governor.

Governor takes credit for surplus brought by oil and gas rebound

A flyer that reads like an election-campaign ad for Gov. Susana Martinez hit Albuquerque mailboxes this week, praising her no-new-taxes stance throughout eight years, especially during 2017’s state budget crisis. “Instead of punishing taxpayers with higher taxes, Governor Martinez has cut taxes 37 times, vetoed more than a billion dollars in tax hikes, and cut wasteful government spending. She has put our fiscal house in order the right way. Now the state has a budget surplus of $300 million,” the flyer intones. It goes on to suggest the governor’s hard anti-tax stance led to thousands of new jobs.

Legislators strike middle path between Martinez, Judiciary with crime bill

An early showdown of the 30-day legislative session in Santa Fe spotlighted the competing narratives over one of the state’s most pressing issues: a precipitous rise in crime in Albuquerque and other New Mexico cities. New Mexico has risen to the top of national lists marking property and violent crime rates in American cities. Crime is up. It’s a painful fact, one that has found no disagreement among lawmakers, judges and Gov. Susana Martinez. But how to solve it?

Las Cruces Dream Team rallies to urge DACA deal now

A group of individuals in neon orange t-shirts stood in the Las Cruces downtown plaza Friday afternoon singing “Olé Olé Olé Olé,” a Mexican chant usually heard at soccer games. This time, however, the singers changed the lyrics. “Olé Olé Olé Olé… Dream Act! Dream Act!”

State public finance fund seriously depleted, Secretary of State tells lawmakers

Say you want to run for a spot on the state Supreme Court or New Mexico Court of Appeals. How about a seat on the Public Regulation Commission? Candidates for New Mexico’s two top courts and its utility commission are eligible to apply for public dollars to finance their campaigns through the New Mexico Voter Action Act. But in 2018 those dollars won’t stretch far, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver told state lawmakers Wednesday. That’s because it’s dramatically underfunded.

With governor and her staff, transparency is a campaign slogan, not reality

Reading New Mexico In Depth’s 2018 Special Legislative Edition, you might notice a glaring hole in our reporting: There is no comment or perspective from Gov. Susana Martinez or her spokespeople. It wasn’t for lack of trying by New Mexico In Depth. This column ran Sunday in our 2018 special legislative edition, in newspapers around the state, including in Santa Fe and Las Cruces. On Tuesday, New Mexico In Depth did not receive an advance copy of the governor’s speech to the Legislature, as other news outlets did. In years past we have received the text version prior to the speech, along with other media outlets.

Budget boost: New Mexico could burn through unexpected money quickly

Cautiously optimistic.

That might best describe two senior lawmakers on the Legislature’s budget committees on the eve of the 2018 legislative session.

After two years of dismal tax revenues, New Mexico is suddenly enjoying a surplus of cash. Estimates are between $200 million and $300 million in new money will greet state lawmakers when they convene Tuesday in Santa Fe.

Tax reform unlikely to happen in 2018

A few years ago, a tax nerd at the Roundhouse could catch murmurings of “deductions,” “exemptions,” and “credits” — the tell-tale sign of tax talk — while strolling past law-makers in the hallways or overhearing side conversations during committee hearings. Tax reform as a goal has progressed since then. In the past two years, the movement has interested a larger number of public officials, including Gov. Susana Martinez. Last year, competing concepts jockeyed for primacy. A bipartisan bill wasn’t in the cards.

Three years after attack, urban Indian population remains vulnerable

ALBUQUERQUE – With cuts and bruises on his face, back and shoulders, Jerome Eskeets frantically told police about the violent assault he barely survived the night before. In his 30s, Eskeets had been sleeping in an empty lot on Albuquerque’s west side with friends and relations, Allison Gorman and Kee Thompson, who like Eskeets were Diné, as members of the Navajo Nation call themselves. Soon after talking to Eskeets, police found Gorman’s and Thompson’s bludgeoned bodies. The 2014 crime shocked Albuquerque, the state and occasionally made national news as the cases against the three defendants eventually arrested in the brutal killings — youths Alex Rios, Nathaniel Carrillo and Gilbert Tafoya — worked their way through the court system. Three years later, the judicial system is nearing an end to the case.

Report looks at Higher Ed costs in New Mexico

Sometimes it can seem like the state’s high poverty rate and lack of good-paying jobs conspire against New Mexicans. The thought crossed my mind as I began reading a 70-some-odd page report made public this week by the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee. The document, which was made available during a legislative hearing in Santa Fe, examines the cost of New Mexico’s two-dozen non-tribal colleges and universities and there’s some eye-popping information sprinkled throughout. In particular, this paragraph caught my eye:
Students at Central New Mexico Community College and New Mexico Junior College had loan default rates near or above 30 percent for at least two consecutive cohort years. Should these two institutions fail to keep their default rates below 30 percent, nearly 15 thousand students at the institutions risk losing access to approximately $37.3 million in federal financial aid. I began wading through the report after reading an Albuquerque Journal story that hit some of the report’s highlights.