SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico's Legislature passed a $1.1 billion tax relief package Saturday at the close of its annual session as lawmakers tapped a financial windfall from oil production in efforts to break through entrenched cycles of poverty with tax refunds to working families with children, reduced tax rates and increased incentives for private industry.
The House gave final approval on a voice vote to an array of tax changes, including $500 individual rebates, tax credits of up to $600 per child, a gradual reduction in taxes on sales and business services, and new incentives for the film industry estimated at $90 million a year.
“Low-income families with children will get more as a result" of the changes, said Democratic state Rep. Derrick Lente of Sandia Pueblo, the lead House negotiator on the proposed tax changes.
Republican state Rep. Jason Harper of Rio Rancho said that “everyone is going to get a tax cut — and that’s wonderful.”
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has until April 7 to sign or veto newly approved legislation. A 0.5% decrease in gross receipts taxes on sales and business services will be phased in over several years after the governor cautioned against changes that could undermine crucial public spending on schools and public safety.
State government would forgo an estimated $1 billion of annual income by 2027. Several lawmakers expressed unease with the scale of tax relief, including new film-industry incentives.
“We better pray that the oil and gas industry continues to fog money through the door because if that circumstance does not continue, these subsidies will have to go away," said Republican state Rep. Larry Scott of Hobbs.
Democratic House Speaker Javier Martínez of Albuquerque said the tax and spending bills aim to diversify the economy and put money in the hands of working families that spend on their children.
“Yes, times are good now. But we're cognizant that could change," he said. “That is why investments made in the budget, as well as the tax package, are designed to help diversify our economy.”
Proposed tax credits would offset $2,500 toward the purchase an electric vehicle, or $4,000 for low-income residents. A 20% tax increase on alcohol sales to pay for addiction treatment programs generated praise from legislators — and some criticism that the increase isn't big enough.
Earlier in the week, the Legislature approved a $9.6 billion general fund budget plan that increases annual spending obligations by 14% or nearly $1.2 billion for the fiscal year running from July 2023 to June 2024, along with more than a $1 billion in direct general-fund spending on infrastructure projects.
The budget plan fulfills Lujan Grisham’s rallying cry to underwrite cradle-to-career public education by expanding no-pay daycare and preschool education and providing tuition-free college, from vocational training to professional certificates and four-year bachelor's degrees.
At a news conference Saturday, the governor also highlighted legislative initiates that will offer free breakfast and lunch to all public school students while making investments to improve the quality of those meals with grants toward locally grown and raised food. The proposal is sponsored by state Sen. Michael Padilla, who backed 2017 legislation to ensure children can't be humiliated by school meal debts.
The Democrat-led Legislature adjourned at noon Saturday after sending the governor bills intended to expand access to voting, shore up abortion rights and encourage the safe storage of firearms beyond the reach of children.
During a 60-day session, Legislators passed a voting rights bill to provide automatic voter registration at motor vehicle offices, help restore voting rights to felons immediately after incarceration and streamline the distribution of mail-in ballots in future elections. Other provisions facilitate absentee ballot voting in remote Native American communities.
Lawmakers in several Democratic-controlled states are advocating for sweeping voter protections in reaction to what they view as a broad undermining of voting rights by the Supreme Court, Republican-led states and inaction by Congress. Effort to restore voting rights to felons have emerged in many states as an area of rare bipartisan support.
The nation’s rift over abortion policy was on prominent display at the New Mexico state Capitol, as the governor signed a Democratic-sponsored bill to override local abortion-ban ordinances. Legislators sent the governor a second bill that would protect abortion doctors and patients from harassment or interference by out-of-state interests.
The abortion-rights initiatives also provide guaranteed access to gender-affirming health care related to psychological distress over gender identity that doesn’t match a person’s assigned sex.
Bills were consummated with bipartisan support to shore up rural health care networks. Republicans in the legislative minority threw their support behind medical professionals and new limits on malpractice liability at independent health clinics that are a lifeline for rural communities.
House Minority Leader T. Ryan Lane of Aztec said the reforms "make sure that our local doctors remain in our local communities, that they’re not driven out of state because of skyrocketing malpractice rates.”
The budget plan from the Legislature would increase Medicaid payment rates to health care providers.
Concerns about public safety and politically motivated violence loomed over the 60-day legislative session, after police in January arrested a failed Republican candidate in connection with a series of shootings targeting the homes of Democratic lawmakers.
As a precaution, lawmakers approved legislation that would allow elected and appointed public officials to keep home addresses confidential on a variety of otherwise public documents.
Legislators also passed a Republican-sponsored bill to apply criminal penalties to so-called straw purchases of firearms on behalf of another person who can't legally possess a gun.