Given the extraordinary circumstances forced on us by the pandemic, this legislative session was remarkably productive, with bold steps forward for New Mexico families, benefits for rural New Mexico and some rural school districts, help for businesses and strong progress toward better government.
Legislators agreed to ask voters to decide whether to take more money from the state land grant permanent fund for early childhood education and the public schools. If approved by voters, the constitutional amendment could generate close to $200 million more a year for education.
Also, legislators approved plans to target additional educational resources to children from poor families through a family income index, create an ombudsman office for special education students and their families, and extend the school day or school year to make up for learning time lost to the virtual schooling of the pandemic. The state budget includes a nearly 6 percent increase for public schools.
In higher education, the legislature added millions to the Opportunity Scholarship and Lottery Scholarship programs. If signed by the governor, lottery scholarships should cover 90 percent of tuition next school year.
Families would also get support through the Healthy Workplace Act, which requires employers to provide paid sick leave, and the expansion of two tax breaks for low-income taxpayers and low-income working families, legislation still awaiting gubernatorial action. The governor has already signed legislation that provides a $600 income tax credit for the 2020 tax year for low-income families.
For rural New Mexico, legislators acted to create a statewide broadband office. If signed into law, it would ensure the hundreds of millions of dollars available for broadband infrastructure are used to work toward universal coverage.
Rural communities would also benefit from the $518 million package of local capital outlay projects prioritized by individual legislators — bricks and mortar and equipment for communities. Also, some rural schools would benefit from legislation that treats federal impact aid to school districts that serve high numbers of Native Americans as a bonus instead of counting it against their state allocation of funds.
Both bills still need the governor’s approval.
The governor has already signed a tax credit for restaurants; a program offering long-term, low-interest loans up to $150,000 to businesses and nonprofits; and a program making $200 million in grants available to certain business to help cover lease and mortgage costs.
In a move that could provide the hard-hit restaurant industry with a new revenue stream if signed into law, legislators approved home delivery of alcohol as part of an omnibus liquor licensing act that would also lift some restrictions on Sunday sales.
Finally, New Mexico legislators approved three “good government” bills that, if signed by the governor, would bring campaign finance reform to district court judge races and shine a light on two important legislative processes — allocation of capital outlay to individual legislators and reapportionment of voting districts.
The legislative session ended with some issues unresolved, notably the question of legalizing recreational marijuana, and there is always more we can do. But legislators worked hard and New Mexico will benefit.
(New Mexico Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, has served District 8 in northern New Mexico since 1991 and has been a member of the Senate Finance Committee since 1997. Campos is also a member of the Legislative Council and the Legislative Finance, Legislative Ethic, and Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy committees.)