Lottery Bill Transformed to Put Students First!

On the afternoon of February 10, 2018, something remarkable happened in the New Mexico House: the bill that was introduced to benefit the lottery’s special interest vendors was transformed into a bill that puts students first.

House Bill 147 was originally introduced to repeal the requirement that the lottery deliver at least 30% of revenues to the scholarship fund. It reached the House floor on an 8-6 “no recommendation” vote after twice failing to pass the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. Think New Mexico opposed the bill as it was originally introduced.

Anticipating that the bill would make it to a vote of the full House, Think New Mexico drafted three amendments to protect the interests of students. Thanks to leadership from legislators across the political spectrum, all three amendments were successfully added to the bill. You can read an excellent overview of what happened by the Santa Fe New Mexican’s Steve Terrell.

First, Representative Jason Harper (R-Rio Rancho) passed an amendment that would caps the lottery’s annual operating costs at 15%. This is the average amount the lottery has spent on operating costs, including its contracts with multinational gaming corporations, for the past decade. However, before the lottery was required to deliver at least 30% to scholarships, it spent upwards of 20% on its operating costs.

Then, Representative Matt McQueen (D-Santa Fe) passed an amendment to increase the annual guarantee for students from $38 million to $40 million a year. The scholarship fund has received at least $40 million a year in nine of the last ten years.

Finally, Representative Alonzo Baldonado (R-Los Lunas) passed an amendment requiring that any unclaimed prizes must go to the scholarship fund in addition to the $40 million floor. Unclaimed prizes average $1-3 million a year.

Thanks to these amendments, House Bill 147 guaranteed that students would receive at least $40 million a year, plus $1-3 million in unclaimed prizes, and if the lottery ever failed to deliver that amount, the 30% guarantee would automatically return. In addition, lottery operating costs would be capped at the current level so that any growth in the lottery will go to students, not gaming companies.

Our bottom line has consistently been that any changes to the lottery must put the interests of students first, since the purpose of the lottery is to maximize revenues for scholarships. We are very pleased that House Bill 147 now passes that test.

We are now urging the Senate to join the House and pass the bill in its amended form. You can help us by emailing your legislators and urge them to pass lottery legislation that puts students first!

Fighting the Food Tax Again in 2018

During the 2018 legislative session, Senator Cliff Pirtle has introduced Senate Bill 129, which would reimpose the food tax on all groceries other than meat, flour tortillas, and items eligible for WIC, the Women, Infants, and Children supplemental nutrition program.

We sent Senator Pirtle a letter (read it here) explaining how unworkable this would be. WIC excludes many locally produced foods, like goat cheese, chile powder, and all nuts, including New Mexico pecans and pistachios. Moreover, even for items that are potentially WIC-eligible, only specific brands and specific sizes of foods are included in the program.

WIC recipients have to bring a 17-page booklet to the grocery store with them to keep track of which foods are covered by the program – imagine every New Mexico family having to do the same to find out which foods are taxed!

Please email your legislators and the governor and urge them to take the food tax off the table!

House Bill 180 Introduced to Move $100+ Million to the Classroom

A bipartisan team of legislators, including five educators and the Democratic Chair and ranking Republican on the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, have introduced House Bill 180 to move more than $100 million a year from school district central administrative offices to New Mexico’s classrooms. Moving these dollars to the classroom will make more money available for critical needs like addressing the statewide teacher shortage and expanding access to proven programs like early childhood education and K-3 Plus.

The bill, which is based on Think New Mexico’s 2017 policy report, sets ambitious but achievable targets for school districts and charter schools to maximize the percentage of their budgets that they are spending in the classroom. The targets are voluntary, but the bill provides an incentive for districts and charters that meet the classroom spending targets, and it helps them get there by reducing unnecessary administrative paperwork.

Read more about the details of Think New Mexico’s proposals, and contact your legislators and the governor and ask them to support these important reforms!

Health Care Transparency Website Launches!

On January 1, 2018, New Mexico’s new health care transparency website came online! You can check it out at:

This website is the result of a 2015 law based on Think New Mexico’s health care transparency initiative. The website currently includes the average prices paid by Medicaid (which covers about 45% of all New Mexicans and pays for about 72% of births in the state) for nine common non-emergency procedures at each of the state’s 44 hospitals. It also includes quality metrics for the hospitals, such as 30-day readmission rates and patient ratings.

Think New Mexico is now advocating for the next phase for the website: expanding the number of procedures listed on the site and adding the average prices paid by New Mexicans who are covered by individual or employer insurance policies. This will allow New Mexicans with high deductibles to shop around for the highest quality, most affordable health care. Contact your legislators and ask them to support this effort to continue improving the health care transparency website!

Welcome to Think New Mexico, Susan Martin!

Think New Mexico is delighted to welcome our new Business Manager, Susan L. Martin! A graduate of the College of Santa Fe, Susan has extensive business management experience in both the nonprofit and for-profit sector, from a 14-year stint at the Santa Fe Opera to her most recent position at the start-up Deep Web Technologies. In her free time, Susan volunteers with the International Folk Art Market and serves as the Majordomo of the Amy Hetegar Community Garden in Casa Solana. Welcome to the Think New Mexico family, Susan!

Think New Mexico Welcomes Our Summer 2017 Leadership Interns!

We are delighted to be joined this summer by Shea Fallick, an Albuquerque native who is a senior studying Math and Economics at Emory University; Peyton Lawrenz, who grew up in Santa Fe and is a junior majoring in Politics at Princeton University; Joli McSherry, who lives in Deming and is a senior studying Government and History at New Mexico State University; Abel Romero, who grew up in Rio Communities in rural Valencia County and is now a junior majoring in Political Science and American Studies at Williams College; and Phil Wilkinson, who grew up in Albuquerque and is now graduating from Yale with a degree in History and Global Affairs.

Legislation Introduced to Reform Public Infrastructure Funding

Senator Joseph Cervantes (D-Las Cruces) and Representative Kelly Fajardo (R-Belen) introduced Senate Bill 262 during the 2017 legislative session to create a transparent, merit-based system for funding New Mexico’s essential public infrastructure projects. The bill won the support of a growing coalition of business, labor, and good government groups. After being amended to take a more gradual approach to reform, it passed the Senate 29-10 and the House Appropriations Committee unanimously. Unfortunately it ran out of time awaiting a vote of the full House.

Spending public infrastructure dollars wisely not only ensures that New Mexicans have access to safe roads and clean drinking water, but also creates 2,700 jobs for every $100 million spent – which is especially urgent considering that New Mexico leads the nation in unemployment. Learn more about this initiative and how you can get involved.

Lottery Reform Bill (and Anti-Reform Bill) Introduced

Think New Mexico’s bipartisan legislation to increase the accountability of the state lottery and send more lottery dollars to scholarships was introduced during the 2017 legislative session by Representative Jason Harper (R-Rio Rancho) and Representative Javier Martínez (D-Albuquerque). House Bill 250 passed two House committees unanimously, passed the House with only a single dissenting vote, and passed the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously. Unfortunately, it was never brought up for a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee.

Meanwhile, another bill was pushed by the multinational gaming corporations that contract with the lottery to remove the lottery’s accountability to students and reduce the dollars going to scholarships. Senate Bill 192 would have repealed Think New Mexico’s 2007 reform law requiring the lottery to deliver at least 30% of revenues to the scholarship fund.

Think New Mexico fought Senate Bill 192 at every step of its journey through the legislative process, and the final showdown came late on the final night of the session when the bill was brought up for a vote of the full House. Legislators from both parties spoke out against jeopardizing the lottery scholarship fund, and Representative Harper successfully amended all the provisions of House Bill 250 into Senate Bill 192, which meant that the bill had to go back to the Senate for senators to approve those amendments. The Senate did not bring the bill up for consideration before the session concluded, so the bill was defeated and the scholarship fund will continue to receive the full 30% of lottery revenues going forward.

Learn more about this issue and how you can get involved.

Food Tax Back on the Table in 2017!

No Food TaxOn December 15, 2016, the New Mexico Revenue Stabilization and Tax Committee considered legislation to reimpose the regressive food tax on New Mexico families (see coverage from KRQE News 13 and KOAT News 7). The food tax was presented as one piece of a much larger “tax reform” package aimed at raising revenue for the state. Yet the legislators pushing the food tax never answered one important question: how is it that 34 other states are able to balance their budgets without taxing food?

The tax package including the food tax was introduced as House Bill 412 during the 2017 session, along with several other bills that also proposed taxing food. We worked closely with a diverse coalition of other organizations and succeeded in keeping groceries tax-free for New Mexico families. Learn more about the fight against the food tax and sign up to receive email alerts about it.

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