Think New Mexico: 2017 Legislative Session Recap

Think New Mexico News:

The 2017 legislative session wrapped up at noon Saturday and here are the final outcomes of Think New Mexico’s initiatives:

Food Tax Defeated Once Again

Yet again this year there was a serious effort to reimpose the food tax. Along with three stand-alone food tax bills, the comprehensive tax reform package (House Bill 412) initially proposed to reimpose the food tax.

We firmly believe that a food tax has no place in a tax reform bill, and we were grateful that the House voted unanimously to remove the food tax from House Bill 412 before passing it. The Senate ultimately did not act on that bill, and none of the stand-alone food tax bills got traction this year. Our thanks to all of you who emailed your legislators about the negative impact a food tax would have on your families, friends, and neighbors: your stories helped convince legislators to stand strong against it.

Lottery Scholarships Safe After Dramatic Showdown (Senate Bill 192; House Bill 250)

For the third year in a row, the multinational gaming corporations that contract with the lottery brought legislation (Senate Bill 192) to repeal the law requiring the lottery to deliver at least 30 percent of revenues to scholarships.

Along with fighting that bill, Think New Mexico also worked to pass a bill that would have increased the accountability of the lottery and increased the dollars going to scholarships. House Bill 250, sponsored by Representatives Jason Harper (R-Rio Rancho) and Javier Martinez (D-Albuquerque) proposed to send unclaimed prize dollars (which average $2-3 million a year) to the scholarship fund rather than putting them back in the prize pool. The bill would also have aligned the interests of the lottery’s managers with the interests of students (rather than the interests of the gaming corporations) by requiring that that any bonuses or incentive payments be calculated based on increases in dollars to scholarships. Finally, it would have prohibited the lottery from expanding into video lottery gaming or selling tickets at gas pumps or ATMs.

House Bill 250 passed two House committees unanimously, passed the House with only a single dissenting vote, and passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously. Unfortunately, it was never brought up for a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee.

Meanwhile, we fought Senate Bill 192 at every step of its journey through the legislative process, and the final showdown came late last night when the bill was brought up for a vote of the full House. Legislators from both parties spoke out against jeopardizing the lottery scholarship fund, and Representative Harper successfully amended all the provisions of House Bill 250 into Senate Bill 192, which meant that the bill had to go back to the Senate so that senators could consider those changes. The Senate did not bring the bill up for consideration before the session concluded Saturday, so the scholarship fund will continue to receive the full 30 percent of lottery revenues.

Progress on Reforming How New Mexico Funds Public Infrastructure (Senate Bill 262)

Finally, our legislation to create a transparent, merit-based funding system for the state’s public infrastructure was introduced by the bipartisan team of Senator Joseph Cervantes (D-Las Cruces) and Representative Kelly Fajardo (R-Los Lunas). Senate Bill 262 was one of the only bills this session to be supported by both labor and business groups. It passed the Senate by a vote of 29-10 after being amended to take a more gradual approach to reform.

The bill passed the House Appropriations and Finance Committee unanimously yesterday evening, but unfortunately ran out of time awaiting a vote of the full House this morning. While we are naturally disappointed that the legislation was not enacted this year, we are pleased that the appetite for reform is growing. Last year our reform bill did not make it out of a single committee; this year we were only one step away from getting it to the governor’s desk. We remain committed to continuing to work with lawmakers and stakeholders to improve New Mexico’s infrastructure funding process and get dollars off the sidelines and into the economy creating jobs.