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Enzo Pastore on April 6, 2010 - 2:01pm
In spite of New Mexico’s brief one month session that focused mainly on budget issues, a number of progressive reforms were passed.
The legislature enacted new health insurance regulations to prevent wasteful administrative costs by insurance companies and discrimination based on gender. In addition the state expanded "medical homes" to improve care and established a Health Care Reform Working Group to implement federal reforms. Transparency laws will provide the public with information on the state budget, prevent conflicts of interest in the state investments council and impose new accountability standards on businesses receiving economic subsidies from the state. The legislature also approved a bill to include youth in election administration and approved resolutions in support of both federal clean energy and comprehensive immigration reform.
Addressing the budget, the legislature raised the cigarette tax. More negatively, save for a veto by Gov. Richardson, the legislature would have raised the tax on food. And the Governor also vetoed an increase in tax credits for low-income working families.
Significant progressive legislative defeats include the failure of a comprehensive ethics reform bill to stop "pay to play" contributions by contractors and others doing business with the state, the failure in the Senate a bill passed by the House to move state funds out of national banks into local community institutions, and the defeat of same-day voter registration and domestic partnership legislation.
Taxes and Revenue in the State Budget: Dealing with deficts, the state debated a number of revenue options:
- Cigarette Tax Increase: The Governor signed a bill (HB 3) that increases the tax on cigarettes by 75 cents per pack. Because the bill was intended to raise revenue to balance the budget, the Governor vetoed earmarks that would have diverted $13.3 million from the tax for other purposes. The veto means the money will go to the General Fund to help bolster reserves.
- Blocked Food Tax: While the legislature sought to address the state deficit with a partial re-imposition of a food tax, which the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce proposed as an alternative to raising corporate or personal income taxes, Governor Richardson line-item vetoed it. The food tax, which would have taken an estimated $250 a year out of the pockets of the average family of four, had been part of a larger revenue bill passed during the recent special session. But as Governor Richardson argued, "There is no reason to tax so basic a necessity as food in order to balance the budget.”
- Early Child Care and Low-Income Tax Rebates Lose Out: Unfortunately, Richardson also decided to divert $11 million earmarked for early childhood care and education programs for other purposes and vetoed an increase in the Low-Income Comprehensive Tax Rebate (LITCR), which helps offset regressive taxes for the very poorest of the poor.
Governor Richardson signed a budget bill (HB 2), which includes language that gives the Governor the authority to make additional spending cuts across state government. The Governor will exercise that option if cash reserves decline as a result of the food tax veto. The Governor is also prepared to use $20 million in stimulus money to balance the budget.
Health Care: New Mexico continued to push forward reforms of its state health care system:
- Expanded "Medical Homes": Building on a measure passed in 2009 to support several “Medical Home” pilots designed to create a coordinated web of prevention and services for patients by connecting patients with primary care providers, the legislature added prescribing pharmacists and osteopaths to the medical home teams.
- Insurance Reforms: After a five year battle, the passage of HB 12 will require at least 85% of premiums paid to health insurance companies to go to medical care, rather than administration and profit, while SB 148 bans insurance companies from using gender for rating purposes, which will hopefully prevent discrimination against women.
- Preparing for Implementation: A final action on health reform comes in the form of SJM 1, which establishes a Health Care Reform Working Group. As such, New Mexico will be primed to begin implementing federal reforms including its own innovative high risk insurance pool and a state insurance exchange.
However, there is budget pressure to cut the state Medicaid program and the state has suspended allowing new applicants for its innovative State Coverage Insurance (SCI) Program, where employers, employees, and the Medicaid program each contribute to allow people who earn a family income up to $36,600 for a family of 3 to buy health insurance at an affordable rate. The SCI program is New Mexico’s own public-private option where almost 40,000 people are currently enrolled, but now has a 13,000 person waiting list.
Transparency and Accountability: The legislature enacted a number of reforms to encourage greater transparency and accountability for state economic institutions:
- Public Access to State Budget: The Sunshine Portal Bill (SB 195), overwhelmingly passed by both chambers, was enacted on March 5. The Sunshine Portal will put the state's checkbook and other public information online for the public to inspect. After debate over conflicting amendments, the names of exempt employees (political appointees) and their salaries were put back into the bill, but the names of classified employees and their salaries would not. The bill goes into effect in July of 2011.
- State Investment Council: SB 18 restructures the State Investment Council to encourage greater accountability, including adding members to the State Investment Council, requiring appointed members to have 10 years of financial or investment experience, and prohibiting appointed members from having any contracts with state investment entities for two years prior to their appointment and for two years after their term ends.
- Economic Development: SB 47, which received unanimous approval in both the House and Senate, establishes guidelines for new economic development tax incentives. It requires all future economic incentives to follow best practices on accountability, such as using economic impact reporting requirements, tracking jobs created, and using claw back provisions to assure that those receiving any of the state's $700 million worth of economic incentives actually deliver on job creation conditions for those incentives.
Youth Voting: HB127 signed into law this year allows for youth participation in government by allowing them to be appointed through their precinct boards. This bill is projected to have dual benefits as it will get young people more involved in their communities and provide county clerks with more poll workers during election time.
Clean Energy: Rep. Mimi Stewart introduced House Memorial 54, which passed the House by a vote of 42-20, requests that the U.S. Congress adopt clean energy legislation that heightens national energy and economic security, promotes innovative energy development and jobs, and addresses the consequences of climate change.
Comprehensive Immigration Reform: A Memorial, HM60, to recognize the economic contributions of immigrants passed unanimously in the House. It also calls upon Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform legislation that ensures efficient border security, reunification of immigrant families, a path to citizenship for undocumented workers currently in the United States, a legal means of immigration for foreign nationals who want to work in the United States temporarily and for those who desire to become legal permanent residents or gain citizenship, as well as resources for cities impacted by immigration.
Notable defeats this session included:
- Ethics - Stopping Pay to Play Corruption: To combat pay to play corruption in New Mexico, HB 118 would have prohibited government contractors, special interests seeking major government subsidies or tax breaks, and registered lobbyists from making political contributions to state or local elected officials. In addition to prohibiting these special interests from donating directly, the bill would have barred them from bundling political contributions from other donors and delivering them to candidates. During the 2010 legislative session, HB 118 passed the House by a vote of 46-24 before running out of time in the Senate.
- Banking: The House passed, by a unanimous 65-0 vote, a bill (HB 66) that would move New Mexico funds out of the big national banks and into community banks and credit unions. While the bill was approved by the Senate Finance Committee it did not make it through the full Senate.
- Same Day Voter Registration: On another election issue, reform advocates have long supported the abolishment that requires voters to register 28 days before an election. HB 123 would have allowed same day voter registration, a step in the right direction, advanced in the House but did not move any further.
- Domestic Partnerships: The Senate Finance Committee found the concept of domestic partnerships either “too expensive,” or complained that it flew in the face of the positions taken by the Catholic clergy. They bottled up a bill (SB 183) that would allow both same sex and opposite sex domestic partners to register with the state.