The governor outlines priorities amid unprecedented government revenues

The 2023 Legislative Session in New Mexico began Tuesday, and as usual, the opening day was marked with the governor’s speech from the state of the state. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham covered many areas in her speech, including economic aid, climate change, crime prevention and education. All Things Considered host Nash Jones spoke with News Director Megan Kamerick about some highlights from the governor’s address.

NASH JONES: New Mexico enters this legislature with unprecedented revenue. The governor released her budget recommendation ahead of today’s speech. What does she suggest?

Megan Kamerick: A budget of $9.4 billion. That’s a record. That’s an increase of almost 12% over the previous year. The second year in a row with a double-digit increase. Last year the budget even grew by 14%. And the budget highlights some of their top priorities. These include housing and homelessness, health care – including mental health care – education and child welfare, policing, economic development and tax breaks.

JONES: Speaking of tax breaks, New Mexicans continue to struggle with inflation. The governor told us during the campaign that given the state’s record revenue, more aid was coming. Here’s what she said:

“Given that we have record-breaking earnings at our disposal, the New Mexicans should expect me to make it easier for them. And they should expect direct support from us in a variety of ways that will lift them through inflation.”

So that was before Governor Lujan Grisham was re-elected. Now that she is entering her second term, what does she propose?

camera: Well, she wants New Mexicans to get another round of direct aid payments. Remember, last year it was up to $750 for individuals, $1,500 for joint applicants. She is proposing this amount again this year. She also proposes relief for those who don’t file taxes. This would be done on a first-come, first-served basis, along with reform of the income tax structure to lower the tax rate for middle-income New Mexicans.

JONES: Another great need for help, of course, is in northern New Mexico, which was damaged last year by the largest fire in state history. The federal government has approved billions for fire victims. What role does the governor see the state in?

camera: She is calling for $100 million in federal funding for communities affected by the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire to begin rebuilding infrastructure before federal funds are distributed. She wants to launch a program to manage the $2.5 billion in federal funds. There is much criticism of FEMA’s ability to do this, and in a culturally appealing way. She actually said if FEMA wants a fight from the governor and the state of New Mexico, “bring it on.”

JONES: New Mexico is rich in all of this cash that we’re talking about, due in large part to high oil and gas production and prices. How does the governor plan to balance this revenue stream with fighting climate change?

camera: Well, that’s the hard part. That’s quite a tightrope walk. As Jerry Redfern reported in Capital & Main, oil production alone has increased tenfold since 2010. And 35% of this year’s budget will come from oil and gas exploration. But, as he points out, record budgets have not resulted in increased funding for the state agencies that oversee and regulate the oil and gas industry. And that may not happen again this year. But the governor has been promoting her government’s expansion of clean energy projects, including wind and solar power. She proposes the so-called Land of Enchantment Legacy Fund. It’s a $75 million pot for federal environmental programs that she says are “tackling the roots of climate change.” The governor also says the new electric vehicle charging infrastructure network will help bridge the gap from fossil fuel dependency to renewable energy. However, we have reported on how justice in rural and tribal communities and the safety of power grids are proving to be challenges.

JONES: The state has experienced persistently high rates of violent crime. In fact, she acknowledged that some lawmakers have been the target of recent shootings:

“It hasn’t escaped anyone in this room that you have to go through a metal detector to get into this room. Today in this room are elected officials whose homes and families have been shot at in heinous acts of political violence,” she said during her address Tuesday.

So, Megan, what is Governor Lujan Grisham proposing to do to make New Mexico safer?

camera: She announced improvements in officer recruitment and promised to expand recruitment and training with a new $100 million investment. She advocates for legislation that did not pass in the last session imposing penalties for failure to secure an unattended firearm, leaving it accessible to unattended minors. And she also vowed to “not let up” in pushing for legislation that would leave more people behind bars awaiting trial. This is a bill that she and now Attorney General Raúl Torrez fought for last year but failed to pass. There were some constitutional concerns.

JONES: And now education. It has been a priority for the governor since her first term. Though the state’s test scores remain low. What does she intend to do to change that in her second term?

camera: Well, as usual, the National Kids Count ranking ranks New Mexico 50th for education and 48th for economic well-being. The governor is calling for more study time, more support for special education teachers, free school meals for all children, and a 4 percent pay rise for school employees and payment of their health insurance premiums. During the 2020 session, the Early Childhood Trust Fund was placed at the top of her priorities and passed in both chambers of the Roundhouse. Now the fund is set to explode to over $4 billion by 2025. And she pledges a half-billion dollar investment to ensure childcare and early childhood education for all families here.