Governor optimistic of approval for tax cuts, voting access

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham expressed optimism Wednesday that legislators will embrace her proposals for tax cuts with a little over a week left in the annual regular legislative session, coupled with disbelief that Democratic legislators are hesitating to back major crime-fighting initiatives.

The governor also said she is determination to expand voting access through legislation, and is confident that New Mexico will offer some incentives to spur local hydrogen fuel development, as the federal government dedicates billions of dollars to the fledgling industry.

Lujan Grisham, running for reelection in November, has proposed eliminating longstanding state taxes on Social Security income that would benefit middle- and upper-income retirees, as well as a slight reduction to the state’s gross receipts tax on most retail sales and business transactions.

“I’m very confident that those are coming together in the way that they need to” on tax cuts, said Lujan Grisham. She alluded to an additional proposal on tax relief for working families that has not been made public.

The state’s quick-fire 30-day legislative session, which follows an abbreviated format in even-numbered years, ends on Feb. 17 at noon.

“On the other hand, it feels like it’s a very long time to get all the things that we believe will make a difference for New Mexicans,” Lujan Grisham said.

Legislators have given a mixed reception to bills for enhanced criminal penalties and sidelined proposed changes to the state’s pretrial detention system aimed at keeping more people behind bars pending trial for serious crimes.

Lujan Grisham said the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate have been slow to recognize that anti-poverty measures are not enough to contain crime.

“We are on track to have the deadliest year ever in Albuquerque, with violent crime increasing statewide,” Lujan Grisham said. “I can’t explain their inability to reconcile that issue.”

In 2017, New Mexico joined a growing number of states in adopting risk-based approaches to releasing defendants that phased out money-based bail.

Numerous district attorneys and the mayor of Albuquerque say the pretrial justice system is failing to protect the public, while an analysis from the Legislature’s budget and accountability office shows that arrests and convictions remain steady as crime rates have increased.

Republican legislators and district attorneys gathered outside the state Capitol on Wednesday to protest a Senate-endorsed bill that would ensure the right to a parole hearing for juveniles convicted of serious crimes, including murder, and sentenced as adults. They said the Legislature is straying from its public safety obligations.

“We have to have answers to protect the citizens of New Mexico,” said District Attorney Dianna Luce of southeastern New Mexico.

Legislators have spurned several bills that would provide state incentives to jump-start local hydrogen production using natural gas and coal, amid warnings from environmentalists that the industry may worsen climate-warming pollution.

Still Lujan Grisham said she expects New Mexico to be a staging ground for the industry, with support from the state.

“We have an $8 billion situation, an effort by the federal Department of Energy,” the governor said. “It’s happening to … decarbonized transportation, and I will expect New Mexico to still be a top contender.”

Senate lawmakers on Wednesday advanced an initiative backed by Democrats to expand voting access, while scrapping elements that would have further automated voter registration at state motor vehicle offices. Amendments also scaled back plans for a state holiday on Election Day, though all public schools would close.

“I’m working to make sure that every single voter, eligible voter in the state of New Mexico has adequate, easy, protected access to the ballot box,” Lujan Grisham said.