New Mexico’s financial surplus and crime set the stage for the governor’s speech to lawmakers

by Tommy Grant

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is embracing major initiatives designed to rein in violent crime, boost access to affordable housing and address concerns about climate change and drought at the outset of a 30-day legislative session.

The second-term Democratic governor is scheduled to deliver her State of the State speech Tuesday at the opening of a session that determines spending priorities for the coming fiscal year amid a multibillion-dollar surplus in general fund income.

The state expects to draw in a record-setting $13 billion during the fiscal year that starts July 1 — exceeding annual spending obligations by nearly one-third.

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Leading Democratic legislators are calling for a restrained increase of 5.9% in annual general fund spending totaling $10.1 billion, warning of a slowdown in surging income linked to oil and natural gas production. They want to dial back on borrowing for construction projects, while expanding savings and endowments to help sustain critical government programs in the future.

Lujan Grisham is recommending a more robust annual spending increase of nearly 10%. Her new spending priorities include a $250 million plan to expand down payment assistance and $40 million to launch a statewide effort to reduce homelessness.

On Friday, Lujan Grisham outlined a broad package of public safety initiatives designed to address gun violence, panhandling, retail crime and hazing. Gun-control proposals would increase the wait period for background checks, restrict features on assault-style rifles that make them more deadly, and raise the minimum age to 21 for purchases of semiautomatic rifles and shotguns.

Republicans in the legislative minority are cautioning against legislation that might infringe on gun rights, while supporting changes to the state’s pretrial detention system that would give authorities more leeway to incarcerate some defendants pending trial.

New Mexico overhauled the system, starting in 2017, to eliminate money-bail and ensure dangerous individuals can be jailed pending trial.

Answering to concerns about climate change and fossil fuels, Lujan Grisham wants the state to provide tax credits toward the purchase of electric vehicles. Another proposal would underwrite development of a strategic new source of water for industrial uses — harnessing treated water that originates from the salty byproducts of oil and natural gas drilling.

The entire Legislature is up for election in November.

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