Solar panels at PNM’s Santa Fe Solar Center. It went online in 2015 and produces 9.5 megawatts, enough energy to power 3,850 average homes. New Mexico’s lawmakers have approved the Energy Transition Act, SB 489, committing the state to transitioning to 80 percent renewable power by 2040. The act also helps Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) with the costs of closing the San Juan Generating Station. It directs $30 million toward the clean-up of the coal-fired power plant and the mine that supplies it and $40 million toward economic diversification efforts in that corner of the state and support for affected power plant employees and miners.
A bill requiring full disclosure of lobbyist expenditures is heading to the governor’s desk after being fast-tracked through the Legislature as part of the “rocket docket,” a set of bills prioritized after gaining legislative approval in previous sessions only to be vetoed by former governor Susana Martinez. Meanwhile, lobbyists or their employers have already reported spending almost $90,000 during the session. SB 191 fixes a mistake made by legislators in 2016 when they inadvertently got rid of a requirement that lobbyists and their employers report a total of smaller lobbying expenses. Transparency advocates characterized it as a step backward in an ongoing effort to create more transparent government. If Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs the bill, which she has indicated she will, all expenditures will have to be reported in the future, including the total of individual expenses under $100.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s state of the state address mentioned a new job title in her administration: an outdoor recreation coordinator. “The outdoor recreation coordinator will work to promote and support outdoor recreation across the state,” Nora Meyers Sackett, deputy press secretary for Grisham, wrote in an email. “Much in the same way that the film office works to facilitate film business in New Mexico, the outdoor recreation position will work with communities, outdoor recreation businesses, the hospitality industry, and our marketing and tourism sectors to further grow the industry and attract visitors to New Mexico to experience our great outdoors.”
The new position would mark another step toward New Mexico joining a growing movement to bolster the outdoor industry as an economic force. The previous administration’s #NewMexicoTrue campaign could be seen as an early foray here, and in May, Las Cruces hosted the New Mexico Outdoor Economics Conference, with a keynote speech from U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich. Sen. Jeff Steinborn and Rep. Nathan Small, both Democrats from Las Cruces, sponsored memorials requesting the tourism and economic departments study the effects of creating a state office of outdoor recreation in 2017 and 2018. The move would match one made by Colorado, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming.
New Mexico has existed under a cloud of false austerity for the past eight years. While the Martinez administration, as well as some members of the Senate, preached austerity they really meant it for poor and working families. Wealthy developers and out-of-state corporations were not only given the perks of tax cuts and deregulation, they have used their power and influence to kill measures like raising the minimum wage and fully funding early education. For eight years, the calls for everyone to pay their fair share and investing in families, workers and education have fallen on deaf ears with little change. The difference now, however, is that New Mexicans signaled in a big way that they are ready for change.
With New Mexico’s politics trending hard left, what is a fiscally conservative think tank that focuses on New Mexico’s still-shaky economic situation to do? Quite simply, there will be more to do than ever. For starters, New Mexico’s $1.1 billion oil-generated surplus brings both opportunity and peril. The Rio Grande Foundation has long called for reform of our state’s broken and politically manipulated gross receipts tax. The surplus is an opportunity for legislators to reform a broken system in ways that make New Mexico’s tax structure economically competitive in ways that encourage businesses to stay in New Mexico.
A new era is on the horizon for New Mexico. The future for this industry in the state has never been brighter. Of course, this is not only true for New Mexico’s political transition, it’s true for the energy renaissance taking place across America and right here in the Land of Enchantment. Earlier this year, the Energy Information Agency reported that the US became the largest producer of crude oil in the world. This spectacular accomplishment reflects the idea that we should have greater control of our energy future, making our country more secure, and allowing communities and economies to flourish.
Elections have consequences — or at least they should. The resounding victory of Democrats in the 2018 election with an expanded majority in the state House, and Democrats holding every statewide office should result in passage of a real working families’ agenda. It is time for state leaders to deliver a real working families’ agenda in the 2019 legislative session that should include:
Raising the minimum wage — The top priority for policymakers this session must be to raise the minimum wage from the current poverty wage of $7.25 per hour to a a living wage of $15 per hour. Raising New Mexico’s minimum wage gradually over the next few years to $15 would lift pay for 370,000 workers, strengthening families, communities, and our state’s economy. Unfortunately, an increase to $15 per hour — even gradually — seems politically difficult even with the Democratic majority in both houses of the legislature and a Democratic governor.
With Michelle Lujan Grisham at the helm, New Mexicans can be assured that their voice will be heard, creating a metamorphosis of how our state operates and who our government serves. We at CVNM have been working hard to ensure the incoming administration reflects New Mexicans’ shared conservation values since we gave Governor Susana Martinez an “F” in our Conservation Scorecard four years ago. She made it clear on her first day that she stood with her well-connected corporate donors, not with everyday New Mexicans. When a tone is set like that at the top, our people suffer the most. Our vision is for New Mexicans to thrive in equitable, resilient communities where our conservation and cultural values guide our decision-makers and public policies.
The “devil is in the details,” the old adage goes, and nowhere is this more evident than in drafting legislation. After 75 percent of New Mexico’s voters supported the passage of a constitutional amendment to establish an independent ethics commission last fall, the 2019 Legislature is now mandated to craft those “devilish details” and pass enabling legislation that will set up and empower this commission to begin its work. The 2017 House Joint Resolution that initiated the ballot measure only drew a broad outline of the commission’s appointment process, statutory jurisdiction and powers, and now it’s time to provide the ways and the means for the commission’s functions and funding. This presents an exciting opportunity for New Mexico. Since June of 2018, staff from Common Cause, New Mexico First, the League of Women Voters, NM Ethics Watch, legislators and their staff have been meeting to work through many of these details and to build a blueprint for enabling legislation.
One of this session’s top priorities will be increasing New Mexico’s education funding in the wake of the recent Yazzie court decision that found that New Mexico is failing to spend enough money on programs that improve outcomes for at-risk students. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, as well as many new and returning legislators, have been strong advocates for increasing spending in the classroom, especially on proven programs like high-quality early childhood education. Unfortunately, in recent years, too much of New Mexico’s education budget has been spent on things that don’t make a difference for students. Between 1993 and 2015 (the most recent year for which national data is available), New Mexico rose from 44th in the nation to 35th in the nation for total annual spending per student, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Yet our graduation rates and math and reading scores continue to lag behind states that spend less per student.