Southeast New Mexico lawmakers weary after Democrat-led Legislative Session

Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus

Republican lawmakers from the southeast region of New Mexico said they continuously defended the needs of their region and its main economic driver the oil and gas sector despite attempts to impose stricter regulations on the industry and spend the revenue it generated.

The 2020 Legislative Session ran from Jan. 21 to Feb. 20 and began with an about $800 million surplus largely tied to oil and gas operations.

New Mexico Rep. Jim Townsend (R-54), the minority leader from Artesia, said his party was largely able to halt numerous efforts from across the aisle that he said could stymie oil and gas and reduced New Mexico’s economic growth.

Support New Mexico political coverage. Subscribe to the Carlsbad Current-Argus.

State House Rep. Jim Townsend (R-54)

Proposals from Democrats such as a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing and increases in permitting fees paid by oil and gas operators along with efforts to raise the state’s gas tax were largely quashed during the short, 30-day session, Townsend said, but the damage could already be done.

Overall, Townsend said his party was able to block up $500 million in new taxes.

But as legislation he worried was unfriendly to business continued to be reintroduced year after year, Townsend said it could send a poor message to business owners and companies considering opening shop in New Mexico.

More:New Mexico senators block nuclear oversight bill amid proposal to store waste near Carlsbad

“It’s the type of bill that when it’s reintroduced, it does stymie the capital that is deployed in New Mexico,” he said. “It always comes from lawmakers from Santa Fe and Albuquerque. We’re constantly under barrage.

“It’s unfortunate that New Mexico continues to act like an anti-business state.”

Bills intended to create funding for rural roads traversed by industry workers were largely defeated, along with others aimed at opposing or providing more regulation on southeast New Mexico’s growing nuclear waste industry.

More:New Mexico's solar energy tax credit passes Legislature, could create thousands of jobs

‘Missed opportunities’

Another bill to exempt social security payments from one’s income tax was also defeated, despite the benefits it could pose, Townsend said, to New Mexico’s senior population.

“That would have been a big financial driver, and attract a lot of retirees to New Mexico,” he said. “That was a missed opportunity.”

Alamogordo Sen. Bill Burt (R-33) said Legislature disregarded the needs of senior citizens and other vulnerable populations in favor of lofty initiative supporting renewable energy and other “green” initiatives.

More:New Mexico House committee kills bills to support donations for rural road projects

“The Legislature passed additional fees, taxes, and incentives for green energy incentives. Yet bills to eliminate tax on Social Security, (and) military retirement pay were not even heard in committee,” he said. “I hope that all New Mexicans will remember these issues when they go to the poles in November.”

Chief among his concerns, Townsend said, was the passage of Extreme Risk Protection Order Act, also known as the “red flag law,” which would allow courts and law enforcement to seize firearms from those deemed a threat to public safety.

He said that law was largely opposed in his part of the state, but Townsend’s constituents were mostly unheard.

More:NM congresspeople continue opposition to fracking ban proposal from Democrats

“There were several controversial bills passed that southeast New Mexicans did not like,” he said. “All in all, New Mexico could have done much better. I think we missed a lot of opportunities, but at the same time we stopped a lot of bad bills.”

Spending kept at bay…somewhat.

Sen. Gay Kernan (R-42) of Hobbs said she was concerned that Democrats continued heavy spending on initiatives such as free college for some New Mexico college students and universal childcare, depending on the volatile oil and gas industry for more than a third of the budget.

“Because of significant revenues from the oil and gas industry we are leaving the 2020 Session with a balanced budget of $7.6 billion and a reserve of 25 percent or nearly two billion dollars,” she said.

“I continue to be concerned with increasing recurring appropriations with more than 35 percent of the budget dependent on the volatile oil and gas industry.”

More:New Mexico's fight for 'community solar' continues with House, Senate memorials

Gay Kernan

Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle (R-27) of Clovis said his party worked hard to ensure the budget was not overspent and focused on infrastructure, and that adequate reserves were maintained should the oil and gas industry bust.

Lawmakers earmarked $200 million for roads, bridges and rail projects, records show, to augment last year’s appropriation of $450 million.

Another $528 million was spent on capital outlay projects for construction projects in counties throughout the state

“I am proud of the work the Senate did on the budget this session so it would be balanced and so it would not overspend,” Ingle said. “We have very healthy reserves which will help us restore our bond rating and those reserves are needed in case the price of oil drops suddenly. For another year, we are investing in our infrastructure statewide.”  

More:Solar energy supported by New Mexico Senate bills, offer tax credit and improve access

Townsend said he expected the Republican Party to win back several seats in the November election, as community members from throughout the southeast expressed an interest in running for office and making their needs heard. 

"We have dozens of candidates coming out of the communities," he said. "I'm excited that we could become more business friendly, more patriotic. I look forward to New Mexico becoming a more prosperous state."

More news from Santa Fe:

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.