The 2019 New Mexico Legislature adjoins this Saturday, March 16, 2019 at 12:00 Noon, with adjournment referred or announced as “sine die”.
In his usual and incite-full manner, political blogger Joe Monahan on his blog “New Mexico Politics With Joe Monahan” published an article on the goings in the Legislature during the last few days of the session, with the link to his blog and his email address in the below POSTSCRIPT.
Below is Joe Monahan’s Wednesday, March 13, 2019 article followed by an excerpt from his Thursday, March 14, 2019 blog article on the the decriminalization of marijuana.
WEDNESDAY MARCH 13, 2019
ARTICLE TITLE: A Whole Lot Of Shakin’ Going On In Santa Fe: We Cover The Major Action, Plus: New And Incredible Oil Boom Numbers Rock The Roundhouse; Another Cornucopia Of Cash Coming Soon
It may not be earth shattering but the 2019 legislative session is shaping up as one of the most consequential in years. And, unlike the past eight legislative sessions under the previous Governor, these final days are busy–really busy. Let’s try to fit it all in, starting with our takeaways:
–The hefty hike in the public education budget is a done deal. The Senate Finance Committee has approved an increase of nearly $450 million million (16 percent). That puts the state on track to restore funding stripped away in the Great Recession and to begin satisfying a court order that found the state violating the Constitution when it comes to educating the many at risk students in the state. Supportive legislative Republicans and their leader Sen. Stuart Ingle get a special tip of the hat for realizing the necessity of this boost.
–The ETA is A-OK, according to the Legislature and Governor. It passed the House Tuesday and is on MLG’s desk for her signature. The Energy Transition Act establishes a goal of having the state’s energy sector going to 50 percent renewable by 2030 and 80% renewable by 2040. That’s big. The bill, however, also provides what critics call a ‘bail out” of PNM for the cost of closing down its coal-fired generating facilities. That’s also big and could lead to a court challenge.
–If the legislature passed only those two bills, they alone would make for a significant session, especially compared to the do-nothing gatherings of the recent past. But there’s much more.
–The state budget has yet to go to the Governor but it will soon and total about $7 billion. That’s a $700 million increase over last year. But hold on. There’s another cash cow that is flying under the radar.
—Bam! Senate Finance approved a capital outlay bill this week with one time money coming from the booming oil fields that will total nearly a billion dollars. Whew. It’s actually $933 million for the “pork” projects for individual legislators and the Governor, such as new buildings, parks and the like. If the Legislature can do a better job of rolling out all that dough, you are talking some serious economic stimulus.
As fiscal hawk and Senate Finance Chair John Arthur Smith grumbled this week:
Politicians who like spending money really enjoyed this session.
–It is really incredible to see these new numbers come rolling in from the Permian and to try to internalize what they could mean for this largely impoverished and under educated state. It’s just awesome:
(NM oil output) hit all-time record of nearly 246 million barrels in 2018, according to the latest statistics from the state Oil Conservation Division. That’s up 42 percent over 2017, when New Mexico produced nearly 173 million barrels, also a record high at that time.
If this keeps up we’re taking John Arthur to the gambling tables in Vegas for a weekend.
NO BUST IN SIGHT
We’ve blogged a number of times that the surprise for lawmakers could be how long this oil boom continues and keeps a flood of cash coming in for a long period–not the old boom-bust scenario. Chairman Smith seems to be catching on:
That preliminary forecast on surplus money for FY 2020, released late last year, may now be too low, said Sen. John Arthur Smith. . . “It appears we’ll generate more than what was forecast in December, even over $1.2 billion,” Smith said. “And for next year’s budget, we’ll likely see a steady revenue stream from oil and gas. I think production will hit 300 million barrels by the end of this year.”
Folks, it’s Ground Control to Major Tom time: All Fiscal Hawks please land immediately. You’ve been grounded for the foreseeable future.
But Dem State Senator John Sapien of Corrales is still flapping those wings:
We’re like a homeless person who wins the lottery. We’re going to spend it all, and in two to three years we’re going to be broke again.
What? Are homeless people winning lotteries in NM? Anyway. . .
John, they are not spending it all. The budget reserve for the coming budget year is an unprecedented 20 percent and then there’s that new rainy day fund (that we find excessive) that will see even more millions set aside. And then there’s the tax increase bill to provide a back-up revenue stream in the event of an oil crash. Not all of it will survive the final legislative hours but a conservative estimate is that well over $100 million in new annual tax revenue will go on the books. (Unfortunately, it appears the restoration of the progressive tax system may not stand up to conservative scrutiny). Still…
We don’t say it too often, but dammit, that is pretty good legislating. Now the job is to come up with a multi-year plan for the surpluses to come.
The Governor and the Legislature have been presented with one of the greatest opportunities in state history.
It’s time to stop fearing the future and embrace its possibilities.
SAY IT AGAIN
Ryan Flynn of the NM Oil and Gas Association has said it before and he says it again. Reacting to the historic oil gusher numbers of 2018, he declared:
This shows that even if prices remain relatively stable, the state can still expect $1 billion-plus surpluses to continue into the future.
Hey, fiscal hawks. That’s an oil and gas guy saying it, not Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Sure, make certain the spending train doesn’t go off the tracks, but at least grab a seat.
Here is more persuasive evidence for the Guv and legislators that time is running short and they need to intensively prepare and plan for this cornucopia to come:
Royal Dutch Shell is on the hunt for deals to bulk up its position in the Permian Basin, where it lags rivals Exxon Mobil and Chevron. “We are definitely actively looking at opportunities,” Wael Sawan, Shell’s deepwater boss, said. “If none ever come up then that’s a disappointing outcome.”
That’s not some small independent operator. These are the major multinational corporations of the world.
Like a broken record (remember those?) we’ll say it again:
This Governor and Legislature have been presented with one of the greatest opportunities in state history.
P.S. Please don’t blow it.
About our Tuesday blog saying the the current five member Public Regulation Commission (PRC) has its act together compared to previous panels and that keeping the commissioners as elected officials–not appointed ones–makes sense, a Senior Alligator writes:
You’re being awfully generous with the PRC. Just because none of the Commissioners is currently under investigation or caught with their hands in the cookie jar doesn’t mean they are a model of accomplishment. What exactly Commissisoners Cynthia Hall and Valerie Espinoza have accomplished is unclear to me. Have they fixed the state’s broadband problems yet or held Century Link accountable for their lack of investment in rural areas? How about extending natural gas northward beyond Espanola or pushing electric providers on renewables? What about putting some needed pressure on insurance providers?
A new, appointed group of commissioners might just be ethical, qualified and effective. That’s a true formula for success and a rarity at the PRC as we know it.
Several other readers said while there may indeed be a new “progressive majority” on the commission it is “inconsistent,” with Dem Commissioners Hall and Espinoza often breaking in different directions.
LEGAL POT DIES
ICYMI–The legal pot movement has died suddenly but not unexpectedly in Santa Fe. With one sentence Senate Finance Chair Smith blew smoke in the eyes of the legalization supporters. He simply said:
It’s not a priority.
Everyone and their brother saw it coming, even after the pro-pot crowd was heartened by House passage of a bizarre bill that would have put the state in charge of selling the stuff.
What’s sad is the missed opportunity. In their zealotry to get legalization its backers ignored pleas to support a decriminalization bill. That bill would have prevented the jailing of mostly low income people for possession of small amounts of the weed–the very people the well-financed national marijuana lobby in Santa Fe says it wants to help. . . Maybe they can put up the bail money for those jailed in the next year?
There you have it, Gators. That’s a whole lot of action. Don’t worry. Being a political junkie is still legal in New Mexico. But be forewarned: it can be both a blessing and a curse.”
THURSDAY MARCH 14, 2019
” ARTICLE TITLE: Just Hours To Go: A Lobbyist’s Lament, One Pot Bill Still Lives, GOP Senator Seeks Cover On Minimum Wage And Can Norway Show NM Something?
Pity the Santa Fe lobbyists. In these final hours of Session ’19 when the action shifts out of the committees and onto the floors of the House and Senate they have to contend with some new restrictions on access that are prominently posted outside the respective chambers. One of the smooth talking, Gucci-wearing wall-leaners says he and his brethren don’t like what they see:
Joe, both the House and Senate have had these signs up for a couple of weeks whenever they are on the floor. Lobbyists are no longer allowed to catch legislators on the floor like we use to before they are gaveled to order. This is what made New Mexico special and our legislators accessible.
Well, it’s a tough sell. Feeling sorry for a lobbyist in Santa Fe is like feeling sympathy for the guy who just ran over your dog. But don’t take it personal, lobbying corp. You notice how Senators this week quietly killed that bill that would have prohibited you from buying them any food or drink during the legislative sessions? They still like you–a lot.
Just two full days to go in Session ’19 before Saturday’s noon adjournment. Here’s what’s catching our attention. . .
Legal pot is dead but decriminalizing the possession of a small amount of the weed (up to half an ounce) is still on the table. ABQ Dem Sen, Jerry Ortiz y Pino reports;
Senator Cervantes’ SB323 has passed the Senate and has only one House committee referral, to Judiciary, before it reaches the floor there and is sent to the Governor. It is an improvement over what we do now, but not as broad a reform as we need if we are to have any hope of actually controlling drug use. Criminalizing it clearly hasn’t worked, but decriminalizing it only does half the job: it leaves the illegal market controlled by gangs, cartels and dealers, unimpeded, free to squeeze millions in profit from New Mexicans.
House Judiciary has the bill on today’s calendar. The state reports that the bill would reduce the number of criminal cases in the courts. In 2018, there were 2,165 cases of people charged with possessing an ounce or less of marijuana. The Cervantes bill would make possession of up to half an ounce a petty misdemeanor punishable by a $50 fine. That would mean a lot of low income folks would avoid spending time in jail for smoking a joint.”
The link to Joe Monahan’s blog is http://joemonahansnewmexico.blogspot.com/ and his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org