New institute aims to strengthen Native influence

A newly formed institute hopes that by synthesizing indigenous wisdom with hard-won knowledge of how American institutions work it can become a powerful advocate and resource for New Mexico’s Native American population. The Native American Budget and Policy Institute, formed in late February at the Tamaya resort on the Santa Ana Pueblo, aims to create a dynamic dialogue drawing from both traditions. Using a network of academics, policy makers and tribal elders, the Institute wants to strengthen the influence of Native Americans in policy making at the local, state and potentially federal levels. The goal is to “create the kind of balance” that allows native peoples to “become architects of policy, the architects of laws where they are necessary” — all toward improving the lives of Native American children and their communities, said Regis Pecos, a former governor of Cochiti Pueblo and one of the Institute’s founders. The Institute’s 11-member governing council seems to embody that vision.

Governor vetoes tribal priorities, provoking strong words from Native lawmakers

Gov. Susana Martinez struck more than $2 million meant for the state’s tribal communities from the state’s budget using her line-item veto authority, a New Mexico In Depth review found. Another nearly $200,000 for educational programs meant for blacks, Latinos and Native Americans attending University of New Mexico also was eliminated. The vetoes provoked a strong reaction Thursday from two of the Legislature’s half a dozen Native lawmakers. “It is reckless and irresponsible that Governor Martinez would single out these critical investments in our Native communities that are in serious need,” House Democratic Caucus Chair D. Wonda Johnson, D-Church Rock, said in a press release Thursday.  Johnson is Navajo.

Annual lobbying ritual during session tops $200,000

Lobbyists and their employers reported spending of $207,215 during the just-concluded legislative session. That’s just a slice of the total spending to influence legislation, as amounts spent under $500 won’t be filed until May. Many of the expenditures were on events or gifts that are almost rituals at this point, annual occasions where lawmakers are wined, dined, and feted. New Mexico In Depth found that 84 percent of the spending was made by companies and organizations that spent similar amounts on similar events or gifts in 2017. A few examples:

The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA) spent almost $28,000 for legislators at the Casa Espana Hotel in Santa Fe.

Legislative leader says dummy bills from now on are emergency bills

SANTA FE—State lawmakers on Thursday employed a rare procedural move to revive legislation that, it turns out, was only playing possum. Thursday’s action demonstrated why you can never say a bill is dead and how swiftly state lawmakers can pass a bill when they want. State lawmakers often speak of the sacredness of the legislative committee process, a check to rash decisions. However, “dummy” bills can be used as a workaround to that process, which is what happened Thursday. “Dummy” bills, which New Mexico In Depth wrote about Thursday morning — are quirks of the Legislature.

Dummy bills obscure how Legislature works

Lawmakers sometimes use “dummy” bills at the end of each legislative session to resurrect dead bills, to push through eleventh-hour measures or to respond to emergencies. But even veteran observers of New Mexico’s legislative process can find that “dummy” bills obscure an already opaque process. “Dummy” bills are usually—but not always—vehicles state lawmakers use after the deadline passes for introducing new legislation. Some legislators have expressed an interest in challenging the “dummy” bill process in the interest of shining more light on the legislative process. In an effort to pull back the curtain, New Mexico In Depth examined 116 dummy bills by searching for legislation titled “PUBLIC PEACE, HEALTH, SAFETY & WELFARE,” a dead giveaway of a generic —“dummy” bill.

New Mexico House Rep. urges federal statute to protect state cannabis laws

With New Mexico’s 30-day 2018 legislative session moving quickly along, it’s unlikely legislation related to cannabis will get much traction. Mainly because the short session is crammed full of budget related items. Nonetheless, one state representative – Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park – has introduced a House Memorial that makes a statement about recent federal actions related to cannabis. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions “reinstated a policy of imprisoning medicinal cannabis users,” McCamley’s House Memorial 5 states. The memorial calls for the legislature to make a formal request of New Mexico’s congressional delegation to create legislation that protects New Mexico medicinal cannabis users from federal prosecution. “We in the legislature should advocate as strongly as possible that our federal representatives uphold our laws to protect our medicinal patients and move in to the 21st century,” McCamley said.

Education committees hear budget proposals, including potential teacher pay raise

There is only a $400,000 difference between what the governor’s office and the Legislature’s budget arm are requesting for the main category of public school funding (that’s the State Equalization Guarantee, or SEG funding, for you education wonks), but there are some interesting departures in the details. 

If you are a teacher, you are going to be really interested in those differences. Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski and analysts from the Legislative Finance Committee and the Public Education Department came before a joint meeting of the Senate and House Education committees on Friday to detail their budget proposals for fiscal 2019. For teachers just starting out or who just reached a new teacher level, there could be a $2,000 salary bump in your future if the LFC gets its way, plus a 1.5 percent cost of living salary increase. If the PED plan prevails in negotiations, all teachers will receive a 2 percent across the board salary increase, with other school personnel receiving a 1 percent cost of living increase. Then, exemplary teachers would be up for a one-time $5,000 bonus and exemplary high school math or science teachers would be eligible for up to $10,000.

NM legislators should protect working families

It’s been a rough few years for New Mexico’s working families. A stagnant economy has meant high unemployment, low wages and cuts to key programs that help families survive. But it appears the state’s economy and revenue picture
have begun to recover. With the current revenue outlook it is time the Legislature made New Mexico’s children and families whole. Those least able to absorb tax increases or cuts to basic services like health care should be protect-ed and prioritized in the 2018 tax and budget decisions being made.

Are Legislative Leaders Willing to Forego Tax Reform and $100 million in revenue?

The Rio Grande Foundation is undoubtedly among the strongest supporters of limited government in New Mexico. As a general rule we don’t support increasing government revenues as an end in itself. Our philosophy (based on reams of data and international comparison) is that resources would be better spent by individuals, not government bureaucrats and politicians. That said, the New Mexico Legislature, by not embracing tax reform during the 2018 session, seems to be willing to forego a chance to both secure upwards of $100 million for the state AND achieve an important public policy reform for New Mexico. Rather than embracing long-overdue reform of the gross receipts tax (GRT), New Mexico’s Democratic legislative leaders have clearly signaled that they are willing to let petty partisan differences with Governor Martinez stand in the way.

Prosperity is not possible without investment

We all want a prosperous state, but prosperity requires investments. You can’t grow a garden without good soil, sunlight, water, and some hard work. Same with a state—you can’t have prosperity without resources, infrastructure, and a skilled workforce. But instead of following an investment strategy to prosperity, New Mexico has tried to cut its way to prosperity. You could call this the “don’t build it and let’s hope they will come anyway” strategy.