On Sunday, April 7, 2019 the Albuquerque Journal published a lengthy editorial regarding the 2019 New Mexico Legislative session and what it accomplished.
The editorial was entitled “Governor’s Signature on Raft of 2019 Legislation Changes the Sate Landscape in Many Areas”. You can read the complete editorial here for the paragraphs about to be cited:
Not at all surprising, the Albuquerque Journal editorial offers a very conservative and very Republican observation of the session and for that reason merits a point-counter point to the legislation they editorialized on by a Democrat as to each paragraph. Because of the length of the editorial, this article is the fourth and final article in a series of articles to take issue with many of the editorial comments.
This article is the fourth and final article in a series of articles to take issue with many of the comments in the Journal editorial on energy transition, minimum wage, right to work, ethics commission and hemp from the perspective of a democrat.
JOURNAL EDITORIAL POINT:
“Perhaps the pinnacle of legislation Lujan Grisham signed made good on her campaign promise to put green energy front and center. The Energy Transition Act commits New Mexico to a carbon-free energy system within 25 years and puts the state out in front in the battle to mitigate climate change.”
The Journal calling the Energy Transition Act “the pinnacle of legislation” is a major overstatement and why it was listed as the first accomplishment is puzzling. The legislation requires that 80% of the state’s power from large utilities must come from “renewable energy” sources by the year 2040 and be 100% carbon free by 2045. The renewable energy bill makes New Mexico competitive with the most ambitious states transitioning to green power. Critics argue the 20 to 25-year deadlines are unrealistic and simply not enough time to transition to renewable energy. Although the green Energy Transition Act is clearly important, its measure of success will take time to determine.
JOURNAL EDITORIAL POINT:
“When it comes to doing business here, the governor was able to sign off on a minimum wage compromise that tries to balance employee and employer concerns by phasing in increases, to $9 hourly next year and $12 by 2023, keeping but increasing tip wages, and not mandating increases tied to a national index in perpetuity.”
The Albuquerque Journal conveniently ignored that New Mexico’s minimum wage has been $7.50 an hour for way too many years. The former Republican Governor resisted for 8 years any and all increases to the minimum wage.
The failure of the State to increase the minimum wage resulted in many municipalities having different wage rates and to take things into their own hands and for example:
The City of Santa Fe Living Wage Ordinance was adopted to establish minimum hourly wages. Effective March 1, 2019 all employers are required to pay employees an hourly wage of $11.80 per hour. This includes part-time and temporary employees.
Starting January 1, 2019, the minimum wage in Albuquerque became $8.20 if the employee’s employer provides healthcare and/or childcare benefits to the employee during any pay period and the employer pays an amount for these benefits equal to or in excess of an annualized cost of $2,500.00.
In Las Cruces, New Mexico, the City Council in 2014 approved a three-step increase in the minimum wage. In January 2019, the final step increased the minimum wage from $9.20 an hour to $10.10 an hour. The current rate is $9.20 per hour. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham campaigned on raising the statewide minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2021.
The bill the Governor signed increases the minimum wage from $7.50 to $9 next year, and it would increase over four-year period to $12 an hour as follows:
$10.50 an hour on Jan. 1, 2021.
$11.50 an hour on Jan. 1, 2022.
$12 an hour on Jan. 1, 2023.
State law on the minimum wage will preempt municipal law only if the hourly state minimum wage amount is greater than the municipalities.
On the national level, many running for President are advocating a $15-dollar minimum wage as a living wage.
JOURNAL EDITORIAL POINT:
“She also approved opening the state up to a new industry – the production, research and manufacturing of hemp – that should create a new private-sector revenue stream and help diversify our agricultural economy.”
Hemp has the potential of becoming one of New Mexico’s major cash crops. Hemp is a relative of marijuana, but it has none of the chemicals in marijuana that causes people to become high like marijuana. Hemp grown in New Mexico could easily be sent to in-state manufacturers, who could turn it products such as clothing and CBD oil products. Two years ago, the same legislation past both the Senate and House, but not at all surprising it was vetoed by former Republican Governor “She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” with many speculating that her veto was a vindictive action against the sponsors of the bill or she, as a former prosecutor, thought people would try and smoke it to get high.
JOURNAL EDITORIAL POINT:
“However, the governor ignored the will of residents in 10 counties and banned “right-to-work” ordinances, which bar unions from collecting fees from non-members.”
This comment is misleading if not downright false. It was the County Commission’s in 10 counties that enacted the “right to work” ordinances and not the “will of the residents” in that none of the ordinances were placed on the ballot for voter approval. Further, it was the New Mexico Legislature who banned “right-to-work” ordinances, and they represent virtually all residents in New Mexico.
A right-to-work law allows workers to opt out of union membership and dues and still keep their job but benefit from what a union accomplishes for its membership. According to the New Mexico Bureau of Labor Statistics only 8% of New Mexico workers are represented by labor unions. In other words, 92% of New Mexico employees are not in a union and not represented at all by a union, yet Republicans and the Journal harp on enactment of “right to work” laws. The private sector, especially the construction industry, want a state wide right to work law in order to refuse to negotiate with the trade unions, such as carpenters, electricians, and plumbers in order to pay less than the prevailing wage rates and not to pay benefits other than wages.
When it comes to New Mexico, right to work legislation has always been a very popular Republican issue along with the false claim such laws will attract new industry to New Mexico. Hell, not even huge corporate tax cuts attracted new industry to New Mexico! The truth is right to work are nothing more than an attack on labor unions when it comes to New Mexico in that they represent mostly city, county and state government employees such as police, sheriff deputies, firefighters, public school teachers and blue-collar workers. The 10 of the state’s 33 counties that have enacted so-called right-to-work laws do not have the power to enact such laws any more than they can cut tax rates for corporations. The power to enact right to work laws rests exclusively with the New Mexico legislature.
JOURNAL EDITORIAL POINT:
“After years of trying and numerous attempts to hijack the legislation, New Mexico will finally have an independent ethics commission. Hard-fought compromises protected most of the public’s right to know what allegations are being leveled at their elected officials.
And lobbyists will now have to report their cumulative spending on individual meals or other items that cost less than $100 each, giving the public a better idea of who is trying to influence their lawmakers.”
On November 5, 2018, New Mexico voters overwhelmingly voted with a three-quarters majority for a constitutional amendment to establish an independent statewide ethics commission. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, New Mexico was 1 of only 6 states without a statewide ethics commission. The Journal failed to acknowledge that the legislature did its job and did exactly what they were suppose to do as voters demanded.
The ethics commission is authorized to look at alleged misconduct by state officers as well as employees of the executive and legislative branches, plus candidates, lobbyists, government contractors and those seeking government contracts. The new commission has broad powers, including the ability to subpoena witnesses which is absolutely necessary to empower the commission with real authority to investigate. The new law also gives the commission the authority to issue “advisory opinions” to help elected and government officials to avoid “accidental” violations of the campaign finance laws.
JOURNAL EDITORIAL POINT:
Lujan Grisham’s signature also made the state a little safer for those New Mexicans subject to guardianship and conservatorships, giving them and those who care about them a greater voice in the process that can turn over their lives and finances to a court-appointed stranger. It’s an important provision that builds on the state’s monumental guardianship reforms of 2018.
No counter point required. The enacted legislation to guardianship and conservatorship laws is long overdue and strengthens the guardianship reforms of 2018.
JOURNAL EDITORIAL POINT:
“… New Mexico’s landscape got much-needed protections this session. In addition to creating an office of outdoor recreation to better capitalize on the many amazing places to visit in the state, the governor approved changes that give the Oil Conservation Division authority to directly impose penalties on oil and gas operators, raise fines for violations for the first time since 1935 and set new rules for oil and gas operators to follow regarding brackish water. And she approved the ban on the brutal and disturbing practice of killing as many coyotes as possible for prizes. It is unfortunate lawmakers did not send her a ban on trapping as well.”
No counter point offered and legislation enacted does indeed provide much need protections. A ban on all trapping is needed and should be enacted during the 2020 legislative session.
JOURNAL EDITORIAL POINT:
“As long as this list [is in the editorial], it represents a fraction of what our elected state representatives, senators and governor lived and breathed over 60 days. Whether you agree with the outcomes or not, they each deserve our thanks for their time and dedication to trying to make New Mexico a better place.”
Conspicuously absent from the Albuquerque Journal editorial was any mention of expanding tax credits for film and television productions. Perhaps it because the Journal was opposed to any changes. Governor Michelle Lujan had called upon the legislature to abolish the annual $50 million cap on film rebate spending cap, but the legislature instead more than doubled it.
On March 29, 2019, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a law expanding tax credits for film and television productions in a bid to bring more business to New Mexico’s studios as well as its cinematic mesas and small towns. The bill also pays off up to $225 million in tax credits already owed to the film and television industry. The film and television industry has hit the $50 million annual cap on tax credits in recent years, leaving the state with a backlog of $382 million through fiscal year 2023.
The new law more than doubles the original cap of $50 million to up to $110 million in in tax credits for film and television productions each year. That cap does not apply to production companies that have purchased or signed a 10-year lease for facilities, like Netflix, which is setting up shop in Albuquerque. The new law also provides an additional 5 percent credit for productions more than 60 miles outside of Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties, a measure that proponents argued would promote the industry in cities like Las Cruces as well as in rural areas of the state. The law also requires the state to collect additional data on how the credits are used.
Simply put, the film industry creates jobs for New Mexicans. The New Mexico film industry expands each year in large part because of the tax credits. Jobs will also be created in ancillary or supportive industries such as food catering, cleaning and maintenance and security. Increasing the cap for film and television production will most assuredly help the industry expand even further. With the incentive subsidies, the State economy will continue to benefit from continued millions in direct spending that will improve the economy. With the Nextflex purchase of ABQ Studios, the State now has a major production and distribution company hub that will produce projects on a consistent time line for at least 10 years and probably more.
JOURNAL EDITORIAL POINT
“As for those laws that didn’t make it or don’t work out? Well, there’s always next session.”
There was an extensive list of laws that did not make it or did not work out.
Governor Lujan Grisham is already thinking about future legislative sessions saying she will probably champion some of the failed 2019 legislative measures in the 2020 legislative session.
Significant legislation that failed in the 2019 legislative session that merits consideration and in all likely will be introduced and perhaps enacted in the 2020 or 2021 legislative sessions include:
1. The legalization, regulation, taxation and sale of recreational marijuana by state run facilities. The measure was defeated and tabled by the Senate Finance committee after it had passed the New Mexico House. What also failed was legislation making possession of “all types of drugs” a misdemeanor and not a felony.
2. The legislature failed to repeal the 1969 law that criminalizes abortion, except in cases in rape. The law criminalizing abortion is not enforceable as a result of the United State Supreme Court ruling in Rowe vs Wade that legalized abortions. “Right to choose” advocates are concerned that the United States Supreme Court will reverse the Roe vs. Wade decision now that conservatives control the court.
3. The proposal to tapping into the “Land Grant Permanent Fund” for early childhood care failed after a full year of intense discussion during the 2018 election cycle.
4. Allowing courts to order the temporary taking guns from people found by the court to be an immediate threat to life and safety failed. Also failing was creating a criminal offense and penalties for failing to properly secure firearms around children. Parents or guardians who did not properly secure firearms resulting in a child being shot would have been subject to criminal charges.
5. Legislation allowing “terminally” ill patients to secure a physician’s help for “end of life” measures.
6. A cap on interest rates for “payday loans” at 36%. New Mexico in essence has no “usury laws” prohibiting exorbitant interest charged on loans. Payday loans are considered by many as predatory loans on the poor.
7. Increasing the gasoline tax rate by 10 cents per gallon for road repairs and maintenance failed.
8. Allowing cities, such as Hobbs, in the oil patch to impose a 5% “tenancy tax” on long term renters failed.
9. A proposal requiring lobbyists to disclose the bills they substantially work on during a legislative session was rejected and killed.
10. The legislature voted against revising the “three strikes and you’re out” law mandating the imposition of a life sentence be imposed when a person is convicted a third felony. Also failing was legislation amending the criminal code eliminating the statute of limitations for second degree murder.
11. A measure that would require lawmakers make public how they allocate the funding they are given for infrastructure money for their districts died on the Senate floor after lawmakers expressed fears that such information would become politicized when they run for reelection. About $380 million this year has been allocated to lawmakers to spend in their individual districts at their discretion.
12. Imposing a four-year moratorium on “fracking” for oil and gas production failed. This should not come as any surprise given the oil and gas boom going on in Southern New Mexico in large part because of fracking that has resulted in a $2 Billion surplus to New Mexico.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The accomplishments and legislation enacted during the 2019 New Mexico legislative session is a striking departure from the previous 8 years of downsizing government to avoid any and all tax increases at all cost even if they were necessary by a Republican Governor. Downsizing and budget cuts and suppressing government employee wage increases resulted in a major impact on essential services and resulted in a failed public education system.
Gone is Republican Governor “SHE WHO MUST NOT BE NAMED” that for the full 8 years she was in office was vindictive, mean spirited and condescending to legislators. Republican Governor “SHE WHO MUST NOT BE NAMED” lacked all ability and had no background to work with the New Mexico legislature to get things done and soon lost credibility with her zealous use of the veto pen, even on legislation that would pass overwhelmingly with bi partisan support.
Gone was the “all crime, all the time” legislative session where the former Republican Governor demanded changes in New Mexico’s criminal laws, including reinstatement of the death penalty and repeatedly seeking to toughen criminal sentences for a host of offenses without even attempting to address the root causes of crime: poverty, drug abuse intervention, poor education, unemployment and social intervention.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham accomplished more in 60 days than Republican Governor “She Who Shall Not Be Named” did in her two terms and 8 years as Governor.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and the 2019 Democratic control legislature can take great pride and credit for a very consequential session. The accomplishments of the 2019 Legislative session was a reflection of government elected officials who understand how government is supposed to work with compromise and communication and not confrontation. More importantly, the accomplishments are a reflection of elected officials who understand the needs of the people of New Mexico and who are fully committed to getting things done.
As we say in New Mexico: “THEY DONE GOOD!”
You can review all four “Point-Counter-Point With The Albuquerque Journal” articles by clicking on the below links: