Governor outlines priorities amid unprecedented state revenue
The 2023 New Mexico Legislative Session began Tuesday and, as is customary, opening day was marked with the governor’s State of the State address. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham covered a lot of territory in her speech, including economic relief, climate change, crime prevention and education. All Things Considered host Nash Jones spoke with News Director Megan Kamerick about some highlights from the governor's address.
NASH JONES: New Mexico is going into this legislative session with unprecedented revenue. The governor released her budget recommendation ahead of today's speech. What is she proposing?
MEGAN KAMERICK: A $9.4 billion budget. That is a record. It's a nearly 12% increase from last year. The second year in a row for a double digit increase. Last year, the budget grew by an even larger 14%. And the budget highlights some of her top priorities. That includes housing and homelessness, health care — including mental health care — education and child well being, policing, economic development and tax relief.
JONES: And now speaking of tax relief, New Mexicans continue to struggle through inflation. The governor told us during the campaign that more help was to come amid record state revenue. Here's what she said:
"Given that we've got record right revenues available, New Mexicans should expect me to make it easier for them. And they should expect direct assistance proposed by us in a number of ways that lifts them up through inflation.”
So that was before Gov. Lujan Grisham was reelected. Now that she's kicking off her second term, what's she proposing?
KAMERICK: Well, she would like New Mexicans to get another round of direct relief payments. You recall last year, that was up to $750 for individuals, $1,500 for joint filers. She's proposing that same amount again this year. She's also proposing relief for those who don't file taxes. That would be on a first come, first served basis, along with reforming the income tax structure to lower the rate for middle-income New Mexicans.
JONES: Another huge need for relief, of course, in New Mexico is across the north, which was damaged by the largest fire in state history last year. The federal government has approved billions for fire victims. What role does the governor see the state playing?
KAMERICK: She wants $100 million in state funds for communities affected by the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire to begin rebuilding infrastructure before the federal funds are dispersed. She wants to establish a program to administer the $2.5 billion in federal funds. There's a lot of criticism of FEMA ability to do that, and in a culturally responsive way. She actually said if FEMA wants a fight from the governor and the state of New Mexico, "bring it."
JONES: New Mexico is flush with all this cash that we're talking about due in large part to high oil and gas production and prices. How does the governor plan to balance that revenue source with combating climate change?
KAMERICK: Well, that's the tricky part. That's quite a tightrope to walk. As Jerry Redfern reported in Capital & Main, oil production alone has increased tenfold since 2010. And 35% of this year's budget will be funded through oil and gas production. But, as he points out, record budgets have not led to increased funding for the state agencies that monitor and regulate the oil and gas industry. And it may not happen again this year. But the governor touted her administration's expansion of clean energy projects including wind and solar. She's proposing what's called the Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund. It's a $75 million pot of money for state environmental programs, which she says "address the roots of climate change." The governor also says the new EV charging infrastructure network helps close the gap from fossil fuel dependency to renewable energy. Though,we've reported on ways that equity in rural and tribal communities and electrical grid safety are proving to be a challenge.
JONES: The state has seen stubbornly high rates of violent crime. In fact, she acknowledged that some lawmakers have beenthe targets of shootings as of late:
"It's not lost on anyone in this room that to get into this room you have to go through a metal detector. There are elected officials in this room today whose homes and families were shot at in despicable acts of political violence,” she said during her address Tuesday.
So, Megan, what measures is Gov. Lujan Grisham proposing to keep New Mexican safer?
KAMERICK: She touted officer recruitment improvements, promised to expand recruitment and training with a new $100 million investment. She's throwing her support behind legislation that didn't pass last session that would impose penalties for failing to secure an unattended firearm, leaving it accessible to unsupervised minors. And she also promised to "not relent" from pushing for legislation that would leave more people behind bars awaiting their trial date. This is a bill that she and now-Attorney General Raúl Torrez championed last year, it failed to pass. It did have some constitutionality concerns.
JONES: And now, education. It's been persisting as a priority of the governor since her first term. Though the state's test scores remain low. What is she looking to do to change that in her second term?
KAMERICK: Well, as per usual, the National Kids Count rankings put New Mexico 50th in education and 48th for economic well-being. The governor is calling for extended learning time, more support for special education teachers, free school meals for all kids, and a 4% raise for school employees along with paying their health insurance premiums. During the 2020 session, the Early Childhood Trust Fund was placed at the top of her priorities and passed in both chambers of the Roundhouse. Now, the fund is projected to explode to more than $4 billion by 2025. And she's promising a half-billion-dollar investment to ensure childcare and early childhood education for all families here.