New Mexico State Capitol Building in Santa Fe
Courtesy photo


The New Mexico Legislative session wrapped up by approving an $8.48 billion budget for the fiscal year, a $1 billion increase over the current level. 49th District Representative Gail Armstrong was among those who felt it was workable.

“One of the main reasons I voted for it is that we still have 30 percent in reserves. That’s the largest percentage of reserves we’ve had since I’ve been in the Legislature,” Armstrong said. “My biggest concern, though, is a 14 percent increase in recurring spending. That’s a big increase and I hope it’s sustainable. I’m a little worried it may not be because of the volatility of our oil and gas.

“I tell people I put my big britches on to vote for a budget, and I’ll put on my big britches if we have to cut back,” she said.

Among the bills passed were $500 million in tax cuts, credits and rebates. A part of the tax package included a bill that would eliminate the state taxing Social Security benefits, something Armstrong had long pushed for.

“New Mexico has been one of only 12 states that tax social security benefits,” Armstrong said. “Even though it wasn’t specifically my bill, it was verbatim, my language, that I’ve run for the last six years. It’s unfair that our senior citizens are subjected to two points of taxation:  at the front end, when they make contributions into the Social Security system, and then later when they draw their benefits.”

The bill also provides a per-child tax credit of up to $175 to parents.

“The only thing different is they did put an amendment on it to make a cap of $100,000 for individuals or $150,000 for a couple. I’m really happy with that,” she said. “They also rolled in veterans’ retirement, so that is exempt from taxation, as well.”

The Public Education Department ended up with $3.8 billion for K-12 public education, a boost of $425, which is a 12 percent increase.

“There was a teacher’s salary issue which, of course, was a huge big deal for everyone, I think, in the legislature,” Armstrong said.

The law recalls for salary increases of at least seven percent for school district employees, which promises to bring teacher salaries to a minimum of $50,000, $60,000, or $70,000 depending on their license. A news release from PED states there will also be enough funding to invest in indigenous language programs and expand community schools.

Approval was also given to a free college bill, allocating $75 million to the so-called “opportunity scholarship” program, providing free tuition and fees for New Mexico residents. It would be open to adults long after high school graduation and could be used for part-time course loads.

“Another thing we did that I pushed for was retention and recruitment for police officers,” Armstrong said. “Besides increased pay for police officers is better pay for the District Attorneys. The DA’s hadn’t had a raise in some time. Their salary is in statute, so we made sure to add language to increase the DAs salary, as well.”

One initiative includes efforts to expand police training and oversight, with funding for alternatives to traditional prosecution and incarceration.

Armstrong was also instrumental in getting funding for the Water Data Act.

“I asked specifically for that funding, which will help all of New Mexico,” she said. “I had co-sponsored it a couple a few years ago with Melanie Stansbury.”

The Water Data Act puts all the information for water in one location – a state water data co-chaired by the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and the Interstate Stream Commission – to help address water management needs across the state by responding to drought, and meeting the needs of farmers, communities, energy producers, and our natural places—requires having the science and tools to do so.

“Stacey Timmons at New Mexico Tech had worked really hard getting that implemented and they’ve been needing better funding – the state engineer has – but for some reason, we’ve not funded it. Well, this year we’ve got funding,” Armstrong said. “They’ve been collecting data and so far some is at New Mexico Tech, the Interstate Stream Commission, and at UNM. This puts it all in one location where the data can be used with all the other data to get some true information.”

The Regulation and Licensing bill was another priority for Armstrong. “We’re trying to make it not so difficult to get a license in New Mexico to do business. I know people who’ve been waiting for certain licenses for over a year to get their license to do business in New Mexico,” she said. “And that’s a huge problem. Especially with behavioral health.”

The new law, according to Armstrong, will streamline licensing, occupational licensing, and other licensing across the state.

“We pass these laws and say this is what you have to do in New Mexico to get a license. Then boards and commissions are created and they make it more difficult,” Armstrong said. “And so we basically said ‘this is what we want, boards and commissions, it is your job to make sure you do what we want and streamline it.’

Armstrong said she will be working with Linda Trujillo, superintendent of Regulation and Licensing to further streamline it down the line.

“We took a small bite at the apple and we’ll do some more,” she said.