© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 3/27/23
Lawmakers relieve educational assistants but not college adjunct faculty
By Sherry Robinson
In a year with lots of money to spend, legislators tried to lift up two long-neglected groups of educators – educational assistants in schools and higher education’s adjunct faculty members.
Only educational assistants got any love. Their bill sparked a sense of urgency and flew through hearings and floor sessions with nary a hiccup, while three measures directed at adjunct faculty died. The situation of educational assistants is easier to understand. They’re not aides or helpers. Schools need them, rely on them, but don’t pay them a living wage.
New Mexico has 5,467 educational assistants in public schools. They usually work the same hours as teachers, but because their pay is so low some work second jobs or need Medicaid and food stamps. As the ones who often interact with students who have disabilities or behavioral disorders, they’re bitten, punched and kicked in the line of duty.
By law, their minimum pay is $12,000 ($6 an hour), although the average is about $22,000, according to the Legislative Educational Study Committee. However, 28% earn less than $20,000. That’s probably why we have a 33% vacancy rate for these folks.
The bipartisan House Bill 127, a priority of the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico (AFT), passed unanimously in both chambers and has funding in the budget. Now the law, it sets a new minimum of $25,000 (roughly $12.50 an hour) beginning in the 2023-2024 school year. It raises the salaries of about 72% of the state’s educational assistants.
That’s still not enough, but it’s a start.
Non-tenured college faculty members didn’t get the same shake.
HB 417 would have established a minimum salary of $52,000 for full-time adjunct faculty. Adjuncts account for 41% of faculty in the state’s public institutions. They have the same academic credentials as full-time faculty, teach at all levels of their institutions, and are essential to higher education’s mission, and yet the institutions “systematically disrespect adjunct educators by providing them no pathway to job security and paying them poverty wages,” wrote AFT. “In fact, on average, adjunct faculty at New Mexico’s public two- and four-year institutions earn annualized salaries of $27,300 and $31,300 respectively.”
That’s not much for somebody with a Ph.D.
HB 417 had the support of Higher Education Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez but died in committee because it had no funding in the budget.
HB 403 would have accelerated loan forgiveness under the federal public-service loan program for adjunct and contingent faculty by changing the way hours are calculated. There would be no financial impact on New Mexico. HB 403 passed the House and the Senate Education Committee but died on the Senate calendar.
HB 151 would have given adjunct and contingent faculty unemployment benefits when their class schedules are abruptly cancelled. Typically, cancellations are a function of enrollment and budget considerations.
Currently, these instructors are not eligible for unemployment benefits if they have “reasonable assurance” that they will be rehired the following year or term. HB 151 would have taken some of the pain out of a process that can be unpredictable, but it bogged down in trying to define “reasonable assurance” and other exceptions.
In the House it met stalwart Republican resistance but passed the Senate Education Committee unanimously. It died before the Senate Judiciary Committee could hear it.
Adjunct faculty members share the same disadvantages as educational assistants – the lack of respect, the paltry salaries – plus unpredictability. Our higher education institutions take advantage of them and balance their budgets on the adjunct’s back. They too deserve some relief.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 3/13/23
Omnibus tax bill could burden New Mexico business
By Sherry Robinson
When legislators pass an omnibus bill, the word “omnibus” hints that there’s something for everyone.
The omnibus tax bill that recently passed the House covers a lot of ground, but it bypassed a bill by the governor and the Republicans’ resident tax expert, Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho. And it left the state’s businesses standing in the road.
The 69-page House Bill 547 would provide:
The New Mexico Chamber of Commerce (NMCC) and other business groups have opposed HB 547 for a number of reasons.
The bill discourages investment by reducing the capital gains deduction. Although Dems argue that this tax break benefits the state’s highest earners, they would be surprised to know how many middle-class people own stock.
HB 547 creates a flat corporate income tax rate, which will move most corporate taxpayers to a higher rate, according to a legislative analysis. And it adopts the single sales factor for apportioning corporate taxes to all companies. Although this puts most corporations on equal footing, it would have an uneven impact, says the analysis, and will increase liability for national and international corporations with a moderate physical presence while providing substantial tax deductions for companies with a lot of property and big payroll. (The idea is to incentivize multi-state companies to expand in New Mexico.)
The tax committee’s Democrats say the package will help low- and middle-income New Mexicans. House Speaker Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, said of the lower gross receipts tax, “I think this is very good for business.”
I wonder if he talked to any business people. He and other Dems on the House Tax and Revenue Committee certainly didn’t listen to the testimony of business groups. The bill passed the committee on a 9-5, party-line vote. It passed the House 50-18 with seven Republicans crossing over.
“The bill is a result of committee members' decisions over tax proposals presented during the session,” wrote NMCC. “We are disappointed that in a year of historic surpluses – our legislators are proposing tax increases in multiple areas.”
The biggest complaint is that HB 547 didn’t touch tax pyramiding. This is when taxes paid on goods and services are taxed again as part of a business’s total gross receipts. It’s a long-standing business complaint and the subject of Harper’s HB 367. Despite the governor’s support, that bill ran into headwinds because of its impact on local governments. The Albuquerque Journal blasted them for greed, but cities and counties have legitimate worries about how they will pay for streets, water and cops.
With just days left in the session at this writing, there’s little time to get the big tax bill, HB 547, to the finish line. If it survives, it will see some changes in the Senate.
During the interim Harper should work on tax pyramiding with both local communities and the state’s business groups on a bill they can both support.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 3/6/23
Clock ticks as lawmakers dither on medical malpractice
By Sherry Robinson
In a two-hour debate on medical malpractice, what really got my attention was the unexpected sound of my own doctor’s voice. She talked about how, as a young physician, she was excited to join an independent outpatient facility and work with doctors she admired to care for thousands of patients all over the state.
Her organization and others like it will close their doors if lawmakers don’t address a flaw in legislation passed two years ago that’s come back to bite New Mexico’s already strained healthcare system.
In 2021, legislators passed HB 75, a hard-fought overhaul of the state’s medical malpractice law. It raised caps on malpractice payouts, and it lumped independent outpatient facilities in with hospitals. Suddenly, operations like Southwest Gastroenterology Associates and Renal Medicine Associates couldn’t get malpractice insurance. Legislators had to return in a special session to pass a two-year fix.
It’s gotten worse. Malpractice premiums have spiked, some providers can’t get insurance at all, and they can’t recruit new doctors.
“We’re at the precipice right now,” Sen. Martin Hickey, D-Albuquerque, told the Senate Tax, Business and Transportation Committee recently. Hickey is one of two physicians in the Legislature. Hickey and Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, co-sponsored SB 296, which would keep independently owned outpatient clinics under a $750,000 cap for malpractice payouts for another two years while a task force sorts out other malpractice issues. Without action, the independents’ cap will be $5 million in January 2024.
Doctors don’t mince words.
Renal Medicine Associates cares for patients with kidney disease across the state. “We are having difficulty recruiting new providers,” wrote Dr. Jayant Kumar in an op ed. “We are supposed to have coverage of $4 million for liability. We have not been able to find such coverage and will be forced to shut down a unique clinic by end of 2023.” That would be Valley Home Dialysis in Las Cruces, the only stand-alone home dialysis center in southern New Mexico.
Several organizations have planned expansions or new facilities that are jeopardized. All doubt their future in New Mexico.
“We’ve heard it’s a manufactured insurance crisis,” said Carrie Robin Brunder, lobbyist for the New Mexico Medical Society. “I assure you it’s not.”On the other side is concern that patients are protected and properly compensated if medical procedures go south. However, in the hearing room doctors far outnumbered plaintiffs’ attorneys.
One refrain heard in this hearing, especially from Dems, was: We had a deal. In 2021, hospitals, doctors and trial lawyers assured lawmakers that their compromise measure was solid. Somehow, everybody missed the sloppy wording that swept the independent operations in with hospitals.
This is a violation of an unwritten Roundhouse rule. Our volunteer legislators can’t be experts on all subjects, and they like the warring parties to compromise. They count on those compromises. So now they’re asked again to support a compromise. Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth said if they weren’t careful, they could end up back where they were two years ago.“I’m committed to try to work this out,” Wirth said, but he wouldn’t vote for SB 296 that day.
Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, said: “Two years ago, under trying circumstances, we negotiated HB 75. It was the worst vote I have ever taken.” Doctors weren’t in the room, and the negotiation was “flawed from the beginning.” She voted out of fear the caps could disappear.
Kernan and the committee’s Republicans express more urgency about the state’s ebbing pool of doctors.
“We are going to lose doctors,” she said. “This is an opportunity to undo what we did two years ago.”
The committee’s five Ds voted against the four Rs to table the bill.
Dems are treating this looming debacle like a policy issue. If the session ends without movement on malpractice, they can kiss their comfy majorities goodbye.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 2/27/23
Cabinet secretary’s management style: Off with their heads!
By Sherry Robinson
Confirmation hearings are usually placid events with sponsors, supporters and the candidate all making nice. If and when Debra Garcia y Griego’s confirmation comes forward as secretary of the Department of Cultural Affairs, you can expect a different kind of proceeding.
Garcia y Griego recently fired the highly respected State Archeologist Eric Blinman, who for 17 years directed the Office of Archaeological Studies (OAS).Within a week, a forcefully worded letter reached the governor with 120-plus signatures of his fellow professionals. Now an addendum is circulating to allow more people to sign the letter.
Blinman, said the letter, “is a man of integrity, honesty and humility. To summarily dismiss a man who has devoted 34 years of his professional career to this state is an outrage.”
The letter says the firing shows Garcia y Griego’s inability to constructively address the department’s many challenges and bureaucratic failures. Rather than seek collaborative solutions, manage and take responsibility for her department’s internal administrative functions and address shortcomings, she instead punitively looks for scapegoats.”
The “excessive turnover in senior management” in her four-year tenure has led to “instability, loss of institutional knowledge and leadership, and declining morale within the organization.”
Garcia y Griego, the former director of the City of Santa Fe Arts Commission, has canned three directors of the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, all appointed by the governor. Garcia y Griego chose two of them herself.
She’s booted the governor-appointed directors of the Museum of Art, New Mexico History Museum, Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, Museum of Natural History and Science, and the Farm and Ranch Museum.
Also on the list of rolling heads: the acting director of New Mexico Arts, deputy director of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, director of marketing for the Museum of New Mexico, and the director of Policy, Legislation and Facilities Management within the Office of the Secretary.
Appointees serve at the pleasure of the governor and the DCA secretary, so they can be fired without cause. According to the letter, the firing may have been connected to late reporting of OAS financial transactions, “which contributed to a larger DCA audit finding.”
Blinman told the Albuquerque Journal he’d tried for two years to get a deputy director. The answer was no. Then he lost a finance position and took on that responsibility, so he was doing the jobs of three people. He also referred to “bullying and threats and retaliation from the secretary.” In January Blinman complained to human resources about the department’s hostile environment.
The how of Blinman’s firing is as important as the why. He was excavating beneath the Palace of the Governors when DCA summoned him to a meeting. An hour later Deputy Secretary Michelle Gallagher Roberts fired him, took his state laptop and cell phone, and banished him from the building except to retrieve personal belongings under escort.
What’s so far unreported is that DCA changed the OAS’s locks so precipitously that employees couldn’t secure the building for the night. They jury-rigged a closure to the 33,000-square-foot facility, which holds most of the state’s archaeological collections.
Margie Marino, director for six years of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, told the Journal she “was given five minutes to decide if I wanted to retire or get fired.” After Garcia y Griego’s appointment in 2019, she said, directors were not able to make a decision without the secretary’s approval. Each director had years of experience but “couldn’t make a decision for what we have experience in.”
Blinman’s supporters ask the governor to withdraw the nomination, but the governor so far is standing behind Garcia y Griego.
Even if the Senate refuses to confirm her, a cabinet secretary whose only management tool is firing people remains at the helm of an important agency.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 2/20/23
Helping CYFD to help kids
By Sherry Robinson
Some well-intentioned elected officials are trying to get a handle on how we protect kids endangered by the people who are supposed to be caring for them. The governor has announced an overhaul of the Children, Youth and Families Department. And legislators of both parties have aimed a host of bills at the troubled agency.
Some of the bills would help. Some try to manage the agency from the outside. Many would complicate CYFD’s new reforms.
The governor signed an executive order recently that calls for yearly independent audits, four new department heads, recruiting retired social workers to help ease caseloads, and a new advisory council. It creates an Emergency Health group to see that every child has a safe place to stay and an Office of Innovation to bring best practices to the agency. She promised more details after the legislative session ends.
I wondered if anybody is listening to the professionals working in our system and our existing foster parents, so I looked at their comments over the past two years. Here’s a sampling:
· “Our child welfare system operates under a blinding infatuation with the notion that children are best off remaining with – or being placed back with – their adult abusers and neglectors.”
· “My biggest wish… (is) for CYFD to work with integrity, honesty and love. Lies, broken promises and half-truths should be a reformed blight of the past…”
· “Stop retaliating against foster parents for speaking up for the unmet needs of children… frivolous placement moves should not occur.”
· “(A)gency bureaucracy impedes innovation, and damage to children is often covered up by confidentiality provisions.”
In that light, it’s encouraging that the reform “brings in voices from every area of the child-welfare community” to “provide another layer of accountability,” according to the governor’s news release. She promises to “establish a grievance system that allows families to engage in meaningful dialogue with the agency,” require an annual independent audit, and create an Office of Innovation.
Legislators have fixes large and small in the hopper, including these:
Lawmakers of both parties have worked hard on these bills, but CYFD isn’t jumping up and down to say, “Yes, let’s do this!”
CYFD argues that it’s in the process of making these changes or is doing something similar already or that the proposed change would tie its hands or have unintended consequences. It’s complicated, says the agency. And it IS complicated.
This department is just now emerging from a year-long review and rolling out its roadmap to a new CYFD. It’s also saying, trust us. The governor trusts Secretary Barbara Vigil to get the job done. Whether lawmakers do is another story that will play out as bills are heard in committee.
Neither the governor’s reforms nor the legislation will mean a thing if CYFD can’t hire more caseworkers. In December it had 509 vacancies. Vigil is asking for an 11.8% budget increase.
Lawmakers need to let CYFD get on with its reforms, but maybe think in terms of guardrails rather than mandates. For now.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 2/13/23
Scrapping film industry tax credits, take 5
By Sherry Robinson
Republicans tried again to kill New Mexico’s film incentive.
Rep. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs, said he’s alarmed at the state’s “significant liability” for future payments and the “significant upward trajectory” of the liability. That inspired Scott and other Republicans to introduce House Bill 237 to end the incentive.
Scott hoped for a robust discussion of numbers when he presented the bill to the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee recently. Instead, he faced a roomful and a Zoomful of opponents but zero supporters. HB 237 deserves a robust discussion, but threatening to blow up the industry isn’t exactly an ice breaker.
New Mexico offers a 25% to 35% production tax credit for film, TV, commercials, and other forms of media made in New Mexico. We’re one of 35 states with film incentives.
What we’ve gotten, said state Economic Development Secretary Alicia Keyes, is 8,000 jobs with a median wage of $32 an hour. The industry has spent $1.5 billion in the last two fiscal years, for a return on investment of nearly $8 for every dollar the state spends. Spending in rural communities increased 660% thanks to an additional 5% credit for working at least 60 miles from the Bernalillo-Santa Fe county corridor.
Scott and his fellow sponsors, James Townsend of Artesia, Greg Nibert of Roswell and Randall Pettigrew of Lovington, argue that the state will owe $155 million for this year’s productions. Scott asks if that’s a good use of taxpayer dollars.
In a legislative analysis the state Taxation and Revenue Department explains that film makers wouldn’t be here without the credit. Pass HB 237 and only 8% of film companies would stay, according to a 2022 study.
No tax credit = no industry spending.
We’ve had this debate since 2009, when former Rep. Dennis Kintigh, R-Roswell, tried to kill the credit. In 2011 former Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, attacked the state’s “subsidy” of Hollywood. Film proponents rallied to save their jobs, which then numbered around 3,000. In the end they got a hard-fought compromise; lawmakers capped rebates at $50 million but retained the 25% rebate.
Martinez’s words had consequences. Projects cancelled or moved to other states. Film makers couldn’t be sure the rebates would be available because other productions might max out the cap. Hollywood decided we were not open for business. The fallout lasted a year.
For the HB 237 debate, workers testifying included actors, a set builder, film maker, travel agent, makeup artist, a lobbyist for hotels and car rental agencies, and two production facility owners. Their diversity is a hint of the industry’s impact.
Some of the comments: “This would take the bait off my hook.” “The money coming into New Mexico has fed my kids.”
A woman recalled Susana Martinez’s threats and said, “For a year, some of us didn’t work.” Each time legislators threaten the credit, “it puts us all on a roller coaster.”
“This bill would decimate the film industry in our state,” the Economic Development Department argues. And it would threaten public-private partnerships with Netflix, NBCUniversal and 828 Studios.
Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, who has a deep understanding of the numbers as former chair of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, said she understood why Scott introduced HB 237. But on her motion, the committee tabled the bill on a 7-to-3 vote.
Scott said he harbored no illusions of getting the bill out of committee. It’s not the end of the story. The governor is behind Senate Bill 12 to increase the annual cap on film credit rebates from $110 million to $210 million over the next decade. This would prevent the expected backlog in rebates. And she’s sweetened the deal by raising the rural credit from 5% to 10%.
We’ll still have the robust discussion Scott wants without frightening workers.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 2/6/23
Small water utilities need help
By Sherry Robinson
Looking for a good job that allows you to escape the city or stay in the small community you call home? Consider the field of water management and, specifically, water systems operation.
In the gusher of water bills before the Legislature right now are a few inspired by the governor’s Water Policy and Infrastructure Task Force. Its recommendations embrace the state’s many small community water systems and their need for costly upgrades and qualified operators.
Before the Senate Finance Committee’s Water Oversight Subcommittee recently, state agencies described some long-standing problems and proposed solutions.
The typical small community has an aging water system that’s not well maintained, but the community has no rate base to pay for improvements. Most systems are operated by volunteer committees and volunteer operators. Qualified operators are few and far between.
“We are seeing an aging out of people who operate water systems, and young people are not coming in,” said John Rhoderick, director of the state Water Protection Division. The needs are greatest in communities that may not be attractive to newcomers.
State Engineer Mike Hamman said, “We need to grow the water workforce in the state at all levels.”
The state has tried to make it easier to become an operator. A person can get training online and be certified by the state Workforce Solutions Department, Rhoderick said. “Many people don’t realize the opportunities in the water and wastewater industries.”
Operators are one piece of the puzzle. In water task force meetings from June to December members heard one persistent message, and that was the need for capital, said Hamman, who was task force chairman.
The state offers funding through legislative capital outlay and low-interest loans from the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund, but small communities often stumble out of the starting gate. A water utility can’t qualify because it’s behind in its reporting to the state or out of compliance. And that’s because it lacks administrative or technical staffing.
“Some administrative issues have been there for years,” Rhoderick said. “Some systems have chronic problems they can’t afford to fix... The communities don’t want any kind of loan so they opt for capital outlay. They need help using capital outlay the way it’s intended to be used. Capital outlay can’t pay for everything. They need help using the revolving fund and taking loans.”
Hamman and Rhoderick want to see a water infrastructure project authority similar to the state Public Schools Facility Authority that oversees school projects. The proposed authority would provide technical expertise and oversee the process from proposal through planning, design and construction. It would also guide small utilities through the funding process.
“The water systems some communities want are Cadillac systems, but they don’t have an operator,” said Rhoderick. “Don’t sell the community a Cadillac if they can only afford a Chevrolet. They don’t have the revenue to support it. They get a new system and in 10 years it’s failing because they can’t afford to maintain it.”
Senate Bill 197 would create an infrastructure planning and development office that would have a water projects team.
The agencies and the task force also support regionalization. Senate Bill 1 would allow water utilities to join and create a regional water utility authority. They could then pool resources to perform maintenance and repairs and would be eligible for financial help. They could even share a system operator.
The state’s water agencies want to help small communities, but they’ve been short-staffed for years and now find it difficult to hire. After legislative and executive penny pinching, even in good years, the agencies need a real budget. Otherwise, this year’s grand water plans will vaporize.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 1/30/23
Livestock theft troubles New Mexico producers
By Sherry Robinson
Crossroads Cattle Company’s ranch foreman noticed that the calf crop in one pasture was about half that of other pastures. A few weeks later, in June 2017, the foreman learned that an employee, Gerardo Torres, had stolen and sold unbranded calves from the Otero County ranch. Torres admitted stealing 13 head, according to court documents. A state Livestock Board inspector found that Torres sold 18 calves on two dates. The state charged Torres with 18 counts of livestock larceny.
That’s how Torres got his name on a landmark court case, New Mexico v. Torres, which the state Supreme Court decided last fall.
It’s a crime we used to call rustling, and it was a hanging offense.
In this case, justices questioned legislative intent: Should Torres be charged with one count for each animal or one count for each incident? They concluded that lawmakers intended livestock theft to be decided by incident.As a result, Torres had 18 counts reduced to two counts. In another Otero County case, New Mexico v. Chadwick, Skeeter Chadwick stole 25 unbranded cattle and was sentenced for one count. Neither man got jail time.
Cattle producers, plagued by such thievery, want to see one count per animal.
That’s what House Bill 153 does. Currently, livestock theft is a third-degree felony, and one incident constitutes one crime, “whether they steal one head or 100 head,” said Rep. Candy Ezzell, R-Roswell, during a meeting of the House Agriculture, Acequias and Water Resources Committee. “We still have livestock theft in the state of New Mexico,” said Ezzell, a rancher and the bill’s lead sponsor. Ezzell herself lost a three-year-old registered bull, a herd sire, to theft.
HB 153 has support from the New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau, New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, New Mexico Woolgrowers, and even Animal Protection Voters.
A cow isn’t just a cow, supporters explained. Each animal represents years of investments in herd health, genetics, vaccinations, care, feed, and maintained water sources. Losing a two-year-old cow means losing eight years of calves she could produce. Cattle can be worth $750 to $1,400 a head; as producers thin their herds because of drought, values are rising.
“It’s a huge loss to producers,” said Katelin Spradley, Farm Bureau lobbyist.
Joe Culbertson, a Harding County rancher, said, “We’d like to see the court do more than slap people on the back of the hand.”
Committee members agreed that livestock theft is a serious problem, but a few questioned whether HB 153 is the best way to fix the law.
Rep. Marian Matthews, a lawyer and Albuquerque Democrat, pointed out that HB 153 is “different from the way larceny works for other kinds of products.” In the theft of jewelry, for example, the law weighs the total value of items.
Elizabeth Johnson, a lawyer for House Republicans, said that in writing the bill they considered total value, but the court has interpreted the law and now legislators must affirm or deny that interpretation.
“The Supreme Court wants clarity, and HB 153 clarifies legislative intent,” Ezzell said.
In a legislative analysis, the state Public Defender Department wrote, “The courts have said that ‘a theft of $1,000 is one theft and not a thousand thefts.” Aggregating incidents could have sent Torres and Chadwick to jail for decades and provoked accusations of cruel and unusual punishment. There’s also the matter of what’s livestock. State law includes everything from bison to ostriches, horses to chickens.
This was a civil discussion among people looking for the best solution. The committee voted to send HB 153 on to the Judiciary Committee to sort out legal questions.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 1/23/23
New House Speaker tosses experienced chair from budget committee
By Sherry Robinson
House Speaker Javier Martinez had plenty of opportunities to speak with Rep. Patty Lundstrom, chair of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, before he yanked her from the position. On Dec. 5 she briefed him on the budget. In mid-December House and Senate budgeters met in Santa Fe for a week.
On Jan. 17, opening day, Martinez, a progressive, called Lundstrom, a moderate Dem, into his office.
“The way it worked was 10 minutes before we were to go on the floor, he called me in and said, ‘I’m making changes,’” Lundstrom said. “’You’re not appropriations chair any more. You do not meet my vision.’”
She asked if there was some way they could work together. He said no.
“Then we went on the floor. I was just devastated. Nobody knows what to say. Everyone is shell shocked,” she said.
Politics can be brutal, and Martinez has the right to choose committee chairs. However, as speaker he must keep an eye on the big picture of economic cycles and state spending. We would expect him to value ability and experience in his chairs. Yet, Martinez took out the one person who’s known every number in the budget for two decades, who’s served during economic ups and down. And the way he did it inflicted maximum pain and humiliation.
Why? Martinez has only offered vague rhetoric about moving the House forward.
Patty Lundstrom, of Gallup, joined the House Appropriations and Finance Committee in 2001 and became vice chair in 2006. As the understudy of Roundhouse veterans Kiki Saavedra, chairman, and Lucky Varela, vice chairman, she learned the value of teamwork and including Republicans in discussions. Saavedra threw her into the deep end, she once said, by making her chair of all the appropriations subcommittees.
In 2011 and several years after, revenues were flat, and our then-governor opposed tax increases. Lundstrom was running appropriations hearings as her mentors retired, and she was Democratic caucus chair, the only woman in either party in a leadership role. Her expected takeover of appropriations stalled in 2015 after voters gave Republicans the House majority.
When Democrats took control of the House again in 2017, Speaker Bryan Egolf made Lundstrom the youngest and first female House Appropriations chair. She took the helm during the most difficult period the committee experienced in her 17 years in the House. After her committee crafted a bill and she defended it on the House floor, members gave her a standing ovation.
“You need a lot of energy, a lot of stamina for this job,” she said. “I'm here every day at 7 a.m. I want to look at everything.”
She still believed in teamwork and inclusion but expected committee members to show up on time and be ready to work. Anyone who talked on the phone or missed meetings didn’t last. Lundstrom asked tough questions during hearings. She wasn’t afraid to challenge the powerful chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. And she was fierce in backing initiatives like hydrogen to replace lost jobs in Cibola and McKinley counties.
She’s feisty and hard-headed. Lundstrom rankled people in 2019 by trying to force UNM to reinstate cancelled sports. She contributed to the campaigns of Democratic moderates challenging progressives who opposed her hydrogen bill.
Martinez has chosen Rep. Nathan Small, Lundstrom’s understudy, to replace her. He joined the committee in 2019 and became vice chair in 2021. Small is a nice guy and a progressive. His vice chair, Meredith Dixon, is an unknown. Neither served during the harrowing years when Lundstrom had to slash budgets to keep state government solvent. Neither represents a rural area. With a whopping $9 billion to spend, are they willing – and do they know enough – to ask hard questions?
Don’t expect Lundstrom to hide under a rock. She’ll be working for her constituents. As always.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 1/16/23
Workforce emerges as top issue for large and small employers
By Sherry Robinson
One desperate employer resorted to posting on a neighborhood listserve.
“I have a small mom and pop restaurant. It has been impossible finding workers. Every interview that I have set up on Indeed (the person) does not show to the interview, was hired and didn't come, or did come to the first shift and didn't come back.”
Employers reading this are nodding their heads.
It’s not just a New Mexico problem. The National Association of State Chambers (NASC) just released its first survey of member groups, and the title of its report says it all: “WORKFORCE: A Throttle on American Growth.”NASC says that “workforce has emerged as THE issue among chamber members large and small.”
The report delves into causes and remedies. The New Mexico Chamber of Commerce’s portion of the report mirrors those concerns. We’ll hear more about them during the legislative session that just kicked off.
Because the workforce discussion often strays into unhelpful political griping (one response to our desperate employer was to blame the “general government in charge”), it’s worthwhile to hear the business community’s take on causes
: · Last year, there were about two job openings for every available worker. Quit rates are high not because people aren’t working but because they’re taking higher-paying jobs, often in a different field.
· Nationally, the labor force participation rate was 62.2 percent; in New Mexico it’s five points lower. Reasons are complex, but among other things, women left jobs to care for children or elders, and the “silver tsunami” of retirements further reduced the labor pool.
· The nation’s population growth rate was 0.12% from July 2020 to July 2021, the slowest in American history. We just don’t have enough warm bodies.
· Young people are pursuing college degrees, but there is great need for tradesmen. NASC calls for a “cultural shift” that values alternate career paths as much as college degrees.
The good news is that business is trying to expand the pool by reaching out to “any and all disengaged groups of adults and young people” (in Texas this includes inmates) and getting involved in school funding, childcare, housing, and pre-K public education.
The New Mexico Chamber of Commerce is focused on education and workforce development. Its long list of priorities includes education-to-career programs, collaboration between business and education, and a leadership program for school administrators and staff.
Employers can’t talk about workforce without talking about immigration.
NASC writes: “Far and away and without a doubt, immigration reform is the number one national policy concern of state chambers and their members… State organizations feel strongly that immigration reform needs to be addressed in a holistic manner, covering all skills levels and responsive to labor market demands in the United States.”
The Texas Association of Business isn’t on the same page with Gov. Greg Abbott. It wants increased immigration at all skill levels and DACA paths to citizenship. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry also wants immigration reform, a streamlined visa process, and a better guest worker program.
NASC writes, “Many state chambers also call for legal protections for DACA individuals and a path for undocumented immigrants to obtain citizenship.”
NASC members suggest that the government could give priority to undocumented youth who graduate from college or enlist in the military. Employers also need occupational licensing for immigrants with professional backgrounds. “Both federal and state governments could improve policies and funding to smooth the path for refugees to settle in the U.S., and for skilled refugees and other immigrants to quickly return to practicing the profession for which they are trained.”
None of this will deliver a short-order cook to our restaurateur because changes like these take time. But we ignore the people doing the hiring at our peril.
© 2023 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 1/9/23
Women outnumber men in NM House for the first time
By Sherry Robinson
When the legislative session opens on Jan. 17, women will hold a majority of seats in the state House for the first time.
Bertha Paxton and Louise Coe would be pleased.
A century ago, Paxton was the first woman in the House. She was a Democrat representing Doña Ana County.
Paxton did a lot of public speaking that year. She told the League of Women Voters, “The men, many of them older members of the legislature, have given me a hearty welcome and their cooperation. Women need have no hesitancy in entering upon their political duties. They are needed, wanted and accepted.”
At the end of the 1923 session, the House voted to hang her photograph on the chamber’s walls with the other notables. Paxton thanked the members for their courteous treatment, and said she was encouraged for women entering politics.
“Mrs. Paxton showed good sense, a level head, an adequate conception of her office and its responsibilities, exhibited dignity and good nature and was of valuable service to her constituents,” wrote the Santa Fe New Mexican. Paxton served one term.
In 1925 Louise H. Coe, a 28-year-old Democrat from Lincoln and Otero counties, became the first woman in the Senate and served four consecutive terms until 1941. A former teacher and superintendent, Coe chaired the Senate Education Committee. She became Senate President Pro Tem in 1929, the nation’s first woman in that position. Coe wrote that she spoke out about bills she considered important without being unladylike.
She left the Senate in 1941 to run for Congress and lost in the primary to Clinton Anderson. She was the last woman in the state Senate until 1965. The only other president pro tem has been Mary Kay Papen.
By 1949, the Order of Women Legislators (OWL) had 31 members, but in 1957, the Legislature was back to one woman – Irene Mann, an Albuquerque Republican. It was the lowest point since 1923. A political columnist warned: “The ladies, bless ‘em, had better brush off their rolling pins, powder their noses and limber up their tongues, or they’re going to be eliminated from public affairs.” Few accepted his challenge. From 1950 to 1975, only 16 women served, and only since 1973 did the Senate have more than one woman.
From 2000 to 2016 the number stuck in the thirties. Then it rocketed steadily upward, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
This year the Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University ranks New Mexico sixth for its percentage of women legislators, with 43.8%. The number of women lawmakers zoomed from 34 in 2018 to 49. (A pending appointment might push this to 50.) This year, women will make up 53% of the state House.
What does this mean? We think of women as more focused on education and health, but it’s 2023. Women have mostly the same interests as men – crime, taxes, economy, environment. The difference is in approach.
When I started covering the Legislature in 2011, I noticed that on the House or Senate floor, women only spoke when they had something to say. Men, especially lawyers, were more likely to enjoy the sound of their own voices.Another personal observation: Women are more driven to get things done and less patient with wasting time. UNM Political Science Professor Michael Rocca told the Journal that research shows female legislators tend to produce a more deliberative government body with increased decorum.
“Where men tend to assume more competitive, combative and authoritative styles,” Rocca said, “women have been shown to emphasize compromise, consensus building and cooperation.”
It took New Mexico 100 years to reach parity in one chamber, and many states aren’t even close. That deserves a little celebration. Then, as Bertha Paxton said, there’s a lot of work to do.