Effort to cap interest rates contends with lobbying muscle

Once a person has taken out a loan from a storefront lender in New Mexico, interest rates up to 175% can quickly spiral out of control. Because they target lower-income people who don’t have bank accounts, these storefront outfits are often referred to as “predatory lenders.”  A 2020 Think New Mexico report describes New Mexico as “saturated”: In New Mexico there is a small loan store for every 3,819 residents, according to the report. By comparison, there is one McDonald’s restaurant for every 23,298 New Mexicans. As lawmakers attempt to cap interest rates at 36% this session, they might keep in mind a new New Mexico Ethics Watch report that took a look at the industry’s lobbying efforts. It’s a report that quantifies some of the spending but also gets across just how much we can’t know about the influence peddling that goes on at the Roundhouse, bringing up an issue New Mexico In Depth has reported on repeatedly over the years: lobbying disclosure.

Marathon hearing on Hydrogen Hub Act shows the challenge of an unpaid Legislature

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other high-profile, powerful lawmakers hope to pass a highly complex and consequential energy bill through this year’s 30-day legislative session. They hit a wall yesterday in the House Energy, Environment & Natural Resources committee where a bi-partisan majority of the committee’s members voted to table the Hydrogen Hub Act. The marathon six hours about the 68-page bill brimming with technical and often arcane language demonstrated a challenge in New Mexico’s legislative system of relying on unpaid citizen lawmakers. 

While intense public pressure against the proposal surely contributed to the outcome, it was also clear lawmakers had little time to digest the legislation or its implications before the hearing. 

Like most of the public, I’ve had little opportunity to research the bill that was introduced earlier this week, much less develop an informed perspective about it. But I don’t have to cast a vote in the next few weeks on whether or not to use public resources to spur a new industry, especially one that in legislative time has popped up out of the blue. 

The principal bill sponsor, Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, a Democrat representing an area of the state that would benefit from the measure, made a point of telling the committee that the bill had been in the works for more than a year. It had been heard in two interim committees already, she said, and endorsed by the Legislative Finance Committee. 

But most of New Mexico’s lawmakers hold down other jobs and don’t have paid analysts to help turn hard-to-understand legislation into discernible facts. 

Listening to the lengthy committee hearing yesterday, it’s clear there are voluminous details lawmakers must master to make an informed decision about the economics of the proposal, the technical details involved in producing hydrogen, and the environmental impact.

A fair and equitable recovery starts with supporting women of color

New Mexicans share a belief that all of us – no matter where we live, how we look, or what we believe – deserve access to the same opportunities that help us achieve our unique potential. These opportunities – receiving a quality education, and having access to affordable health care, jobs that pay family-sustaining wages, and safe and affordable housing – are often referred to as social determinants of health and they impact everything from the conditions surrounding our births to the length of our lives. The COVID-19 pandemic made it apparent that these opportunities are not universally available and their lack has led to lower-quality social determinants of health for some communities. Clearly, communities of color and those earning low incomes were hardest hit by the pandemic as well as the economic aftermath. But another aspect that hasn’t gotten as much notice is how the pandemic and recession have hurt women more than men, with women of color being hurt the most.

New Mexico has opportunity to learn what works best from two years of extraordinary innovation

The 2022 regular legislative session will be the second under the persistent shadow of COVID-19. For those of us who focus on child and family well-being, the situation is simultaneously dire and hopeful. The dire: Families with children, especially those with lower incomes, have been slammed by the simultaneous impacts of school and child care closures, job losses, and the anxiety and grief that have characterized this time for many. 

The hopeful: The sudden loss of in-person schooling and child care has renewed public focus on the importance of these sectors. States have received federal funding to stabilize them from the impacts of COVID, allowing new resources to flow into schools, child care, internet connectivity and other longstanding needs. 

During the session and in the coming year, our team at the University of New Mexico Cradle to Career Policy Institute will watch to see what New Mexico decides to keep from the pandemic, and what the state casts aside. In our policy and personal lives, the pandemic has offered a complex mix of things we are eager to lose forever, alongside those we hope to maintain. 

In the child care sector, COVID-19 has brought great instability for providers faced with decreased enrollment, family and provider fears about COVID exposure, and unpredictable closures and quarantines.

Diversify New Mexico’s Economy Using Oil/Gas Surplus

Recently, it was announced that despite repeated attacks by the Biden administration, New Mexico’s oil and gas industry had a record year. It generated 35% of all general-fund revenue for the state budget in FY 2021 (which ended in June) – a share exceeded only once in the most recent eight-year period. In raw numbers, the industry generated almost $5.3 billion in revenue for state and local governments in the 2021 fiscal year. In other words, the industry that New Mexico has long (over) relied on and the “progressive” wing of the Democratic Party, in particular, would like to eliminate entirely, continues to prop up the State economy and budget. Ironically, the massive oil-and-gas-generated budget surplus available to legislators this January is also the ticket to the diversified economy that everyone of both political parties realizes New Mexico must have.

Hydrogen is a false climate solution

Indigenous communities in New Mexico have long dealt with the negative impacts of experimental energy projects promoted by state and federal governments. 

This legislative session, as the state faces a climate crisis that is already disproportionately impacting Indigenous, low-income, and communities of color, the stakes of energy policies are higher than ever. 

Why, then, is New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham touting the hydrogen fuel industry, which is nothing short of a scheme to subsidize oil and gas companies and keep the state dangerously reliant on fossil fuels? 

Related:

Striving toward net zero, New Mexico grapples with role of hydrogen

The governor’s proposed “Hydrogen Hub Act” promotes hydrogen as a clean energy solution. But 96 percent of hydrogen production in the U.S. requires fossil fuels, and burning hydrogen is worse for the environment than burning coal. 

Hydrogen development will only exacerbate the climate crisis the state is facing, while distracting state agencies from investing in meaningful climate solutions and renewable energy projects, like solar and wind. 

As leaders in an Indigenous organization whose members and communities would be directly impacted by hydrogen development, we have taken a stand against all false climate solutions in New Mexico, including hydrogen, and are calling on the Governor to stop sacrificing our lands, waters, and communities. 

Hydrogen is currently produced using methane gas – the “gas” in oil and gas. Converting methane to hydrogen promotes more fracking in our communities and releases carbon dioxide in the process. To boot, converting methane to hydrogen requires enormous amounts of energy, energy that today mainly comes from the burning of fossil fuels. Where will these fossil fuels come from?

To create opportunities tomorrow, NM must embrace its strengths today

New Mexico’s oil and natural gas industry is growing again, which is welcomed news to lawmakers, communities, and all people across the land of enchantment. Through challenges and changing times over the past two years, our dedication to New Mexico has been unwavering and we’re committed to doing our part to help New Mexico succeed. New Mexico’s oil and gas industry is proud to be the foundation of the state’s economy, providing thousands of jobs across our state and supporting the budget and public schools with billions in revenue. Teachers, students, first responders, and many others depend on our industry for critical resources to support learning, develop the next generation of leaders, and keep our communities healthy and safe. Our state’s role as an energy producer and leader was underscored earlier this year by our ascension to the second-largest oil producer in the United States while remaining the eighth-largest producer of natural gas.

Senate “buddymandering” meltdown

The New Mexico state senate approved a map last night for how its own districts will look for the next 10 years. The vote came after days of hurry up and wait, as lawmakers negotiated behind closed doors in an untransparent process. I’d give senators an “F” on two counts: they didn’t do their work in public, and they focused way too much on preserving seats for incumbent lawmakers. More on this in a moment. 

Many are calling what happened last night on the Senate floor a debate. I’d call it a meltdown.

Sheriff goes to the dark side, lobbing grim attacks with no evidence

Back in 2017, I wrote “it doesn’t get much darker” than ominous television ads attacking mayoral candidate Tim Keller, who is now Albuquerque mayor. Well, it’s gotten darker, and again Keller is the target. 

Four years ago the television ads, followed by billboards, showed an image of Keller and quickly cut to a dark figure wearing a hoodie, a classic racist trope. “Sex offender” flashed in bold red letters on the screen before cutting to a backlit child riding a bike. Essentially, the ad sought to tap unconscious racist fears and smear Keller as a sex offender at the same time. Media outlets, including New Mexico In Depth, found no basis in the charge.

Herrell must stop the anti-vaccine rhetoric; it’s not the time for politics

Republican 2nd District Congresswoman Yvette Herrell made news earlier this week for signing on to co-sponsor legislation that would withhold federal dollars from schools and universities that mandate COVID vaccinations before students, teachers, staff faculty can attend.  

Don’t fret. The bill will not become law. Filed by Republican Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, it has attracted 10 co-sponsors, all GOP lawmakers in a U.S. House controlled by Democrats. It’s “message” legislation that positions Herrell in the escalating cultural war over COVID. 

But it’s a dangerous time to play politics. The more contagious Delta variant is sweeping the nation as schools and colleges and universities are preparing to return for the fall term.