Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

N.M. cities and towns outline 2024 legislative priorities

From Santa Fe to Gallup, leaders in New Mexico’s municipalities want to see state lawmakers next year provide more money for firefighters, police, medics and local infrastructure.

The New Mexico Municipal League outlined its legislative priorities for the upcoming session in a Dec. 5 hearing held by the Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy Committee.

The municipal league, which lobbies on behalf of towns and cities in the state, said its first priority for public safety is emergency medical services, its Public Safety Director Tim Johnson said.

Medics save lives, transport people to hospitals, and respond to disasters, said Johnson, a former New Mexico State Police chief. The municipal league said in a written presentation the state’s emergency medical services are “chronically underfunded.”

The state Emergency Medical Services Fund gets about $2.8 million each year, according to the municipal league.

The group wants lawmakers to put 10% of health insurance premium tax revenue into the fund to pay for local EMS services’ supplies, equipment and vehicles. Johnson said this would allow medics to respond to overdose calls that could free up police officers to do other work.

The New Mexico Municipal League second public safety priority is for lawmakers to expand workers’ compensation by entitling public sector workers to benefits if they’re diagnosed with conditions “linked to their service.” This is specific to breast, lung and prostate cancer for firefighters, and hearing loss for police.

Many public safety agencies are unable to communicate with each other, Johnson said.

The municipal league’s third public safety priority is for lawmakers to set aside money to the New Mexico Department of Information and Technology to cover the fees for municipal, county and tribal police departments to participate in a statewide public safety radio network.

Police departments must pay a monthly subscription of $20 to $30 per radio “which can be prohibitive, especially for smaller agencies,” the municipal league wrote to lawmakers.

There are 16,000 radio users statewide, Johnson said, and every firefighter has three radios while police have two.

Cleaning up cities

Santa Fe and Gallup are two examples of local governments struggling with wastewater treatment, said New Mexico Municipal League Policy Director Alison Nichols.

The New Mexico Finance Authority estimates it has $133 million in available funding for water projects in the next year and received about $275 million in project applications.

The municipal league officials said they support fully funding vetted water infrastructure projects which meet the Water Trust Board’s requirements. The board, part of the New Mexico Finance Authority, recommends which water projects lawmakers should fund through grants or loans.

Municipal lobbyists are also asking lawmakers to send more money for road projects directly to local governments.

About 60% of the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax goes to the state General Fund, about 22% goes to the State Road Fund and about 18% goes to the Transportation Project Fund for local roads, the organization wrote.

The municipal league wants lawmakers to direct all the revenue to road funds, breaking it down by sending 60% to the State Road Fund and 40% to the Transportation Project Fund. State roads cost more per mile, Nichols said.

This would generate about $140 million for roads and would help address more than $5 billion in unfunded transportation projects, according to the municipal league.

More road funding would also alleviate the financial impacts on New Mexicans from poor quality roads like vehicle operating costs, safety costs and congestion costs, the organization wrote.

Over half of the state’s roads “are rated as poor or mediocre,” Nichols said.

The New Mexico Municipal League also wants lawmakers to eliminate a 3% fee charged to local governments by the state Taxation and Revenue Department. They want lawmakers to make it based on costs instead of a flat fee, Nichols said.

She said the fee generated more than $50 million for the General Fund in 2022, equivalent to nearly 80% of the department’s entire operating budget.

“It is extremely unlikely that administration of local government taxes accounts for nearly 80% of TRD’s general fund expenditures,” municipal lobbyists wrote to lawmakers.

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