We are delighted to announce that we have hired Abenicio Baldonado as Think New Mexico’s first ever Education Reform Director! As this Santa Fe New Mexican column explains, we created this new position because we believe that nothing is more critical to the success of our state than improving the quality of our public schools. Yet because Think New Mexico takes on new issues every year, we have not been able to give education reform the consistent, intense focus that it needs every day of the year. The Education Reform Director position is designed to fix that, and we could not have found a better fit for the position than Abenicio. He is a proud graduate of Robertson High School in Las Vegas, NM, earned his BA and Masters from Highlands University, served as a public school teacher and charter school board member, and spent the last three years as the Legislative Liaison for the Public Education Department. Read Abenicio’s bio on our staff page.
We are delighted to be joined this summer by Amelia Bierle, who grew up in Carlsbad and is now earning her Masters in Public Policy from UNM; Sophie Hare, who was raised in Santa Fe and and is now a junior studying Public Policy and Spanish at the University of Chicago; Ciara “Key” Macfarland, who grew up in Albuquerque and is now a senior majoring in political science at Colorado College; and Vedder “Rise” Miller, who grew up in Santa Fe and just graduated from Duke University with a degree in Public Policy Studies and History!
Amelia and Rise are working with us during the first half of the summer, and Key and Sophie will be here during the latter half. Read more about this year’s Leadership Interns.
Think New Mexico has an ambitious agenda during this year’s strange, all-virtual legislative session. With no advocates or members of the public allowed in the Roundhouse, your emails and calls to legislators about these issues are more important and impactful than ever. Here are brief summaries of the bills we are working on, with links to our Action Center so you can contact your legislators and the governor about any of them:
- Ending predatory lending: we are working with the other members of the New Mexicans for Fair Lending Coalition to pass Senate Bill 66. This bill would lower the maximum annual interest rate on small loans from 175%, one of the highest rates allowed anywhere in the nation, to 36%, the national average. Read more about it here.
- Making financial literacy a graduation requirement: we are supporting House Bill 83, House Bill 163 and Senate Bill 170 to make a one-semester course in financial literacy a graduation requirement for New Mexico’s high school students, based on Think New Mexico’s recommendation in our 2020 policy report. Read more about it here.
- Making the infrastructure funding process transparent: we are supporting House Bill 55, which would require disclosure of the sponsors of appropriations for capital outlay projects. This is one of the last pieces of the legislative process that is still conducted behind closed doors. Learn more about this issue.
- Preventing the taxation of delivered groceries: New Mexico’s regressive tax on groceries was repealed in 2004, but during the pandemic, we learned that some grocers were taxing food delivered to peoples’ homes. The problem was an ambiguity in the law, which exempts groceries purchased “at” grocery stores. Think New Mexico is supporting House Bill 98, an omnibus tax code clean-up bill that will ensure that any food sold “by” grocery stores (not just “at” the stores) will not be taxed. Learn more about this issue.
- Repealing the double tax on Social Security for most New Mexico seniors: we are supporting House Bill 19, which would repeal the state’s tax on Social Security income for seniors who have total incomes of less than $72,000, or $120,000 for a married couple, which includes more than two out of every three seniors in New Mexico who are currently paying taxes on their Social Security income. The bill is revenue neutral to the state because it adds a new transfer tax of 0.75%-1.25% on the sale of properties worth more than $500,000. Learn more about this issue .
- Maximizing dollars to the classroom: over the last decade, more than two-thirds of school districts across New Mexico (61 of 89) grew their central office administrative spending faster than their classroom spending. Think New Mexico recommends that the legislature and governor include language in the state budget to ensure that more of the state’s education budget will reach students and teachers on the frontlines. Learn more about this issue.
- Increasing qualifications for the PERA pension board: currently, no member of the PERA pension board, which oversees $15.8 billion for 90,000 public workers and retirees, is required to have any experience or expertise in financial or investment management. This session, Think New Mexico is supporting House Bill 162 to require that every member of the PERA board has relevant qualifications. Learn more about this issue.
In a report released October 4, 2020, Think New Mexico recommends that the legislature and governor cut the state’s maximum annual interest rate on small loans from 175% to 36% and make a course in financial literacy or personal finance a high school graduation requirement. Learn more about our recommended reforms and ask your legislators and the governor to support them!
Read all about the latest progress on our efforts to increase retirement security for all New Mexicans, maximize dollars to the classroom, make health care prices more transparent, expand the Strategic Water Reserve, increase funding for lottery scholarships and much more in Think New Mexico’s latest annual report! Click here to download the annual report.
Think New Mexico is delighted to have six stellar students working with us (remotely) this summer!
Our 2020 Leadership Interns include Rohan Angadi, a former Valedictorian and Student Body President of Clovis High School who is now a junior at Yale studying economics and mathematics; Daniel Estupiñan, who grew up in Sunland Park, served on the Gadsden School Board while he was an undergraduate student at NMSU, and is now earning his Masters from the Harvard Kennedy School; Chloe Larkin, a junior at Wellesley College who was active in New Mexico Youth and Government and was elected Youth Governor for New Mexico in 2018; Kate Monahan, a Santa Fean who just graduated from the University of Southern California and previously interned with Senator Tom Udall and Fix It America; Raffaele Moore, an Albuquerque native who is a rising junior at Brown University and previously interned for Senator Martin Heinrich and Mayor Tim Keller; and Ariane Talou, a junior at UCLA who has interned with Emerge New Mexico and served as a Fellow on Representative Ben Ray Lujan’s 2018 congressional campaign. Read more about this year’s Leadership Interns.
Think New Mexico’s staff is currently working from home as we do our part to flatten the curve, but we are continuing our efforts to develop and advocate for policies that will improve New Mexico’s quality of life and help the state come back stronger than ever from this public health and financial crisis. If you are experiencing financial hardship or need information about coronavirus testing or the state’s public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we encourage you to visit NewMexico.gov.
Finally, if you’re able to able to support Think New Mexico’s work during these challenging times, we wanted to let you know that the federal government is offering an additional tax deduction incentive for up to $300 in charitable contributions made this year.
The New Mexico Work and Save Act (House Bill 44, sponsored by Rep. Tomas Salazar, Rep. Gail Armstrong, Rep. Christine Chandler, Sen. Bill Tallman & Sen. Michael Padilla) passed the House 62-1, the Senate 40-0, and was signed into law by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham! This law will dramatically expand access to retirement savings accounts for private sector workers in New Mexico. Read more about it here.
Exciting news: Think New Mexico’s Field Director Othiamba Umi has been appointed to the board that oversees the New Mexico Lottery!
Think New Mexico has spent the past five years fighting to get the Lottery to focus on its mission of maximizing dollars for scholarships. Our biggest obstacle has been the Lottery’s leadership, which has repeatedly attempted to decrease the percentage of lottery revenues going to scholarships and has failed to put the interests of students first.
We saw yet another example of this behavior this past summer, when the Lottery board voted to raise the Lottery CEO’s salary by 26%, from $174,142 to $220,000, along with a car allowance and a golden parachute. (Othiamba learned of this development because for the past five years he has attended nearly all of the lottery’s public meetings to act as a watchdog for the public interest.) Every dollar spent on excessive administrative costs – like this extremely high salary – is a dollar less for student scholarships, as we explained to KRQE News.
Fortunately, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham shared our frustration with the Lottery board, and she just made a major upgrade, appointing five new members, including Othiamba!
Other new members include two Think New Mexico supporters: Leo Romero, former Dean of the University of New Mexico School of Law, and Nina Thayer, who retired from the Biosciences Division of Los Alamos National Lab and is active with the American Association of University Women (AAUW).
Think New Mexico applauds the governor for taking this essential step to improve the accountability of the lottery. The governor’s new appointees form a majority of the seven-member oversight board, and we are excited about the difference they can make in re-focusing the lottery on its mission of serving New Mexico’s college students.
Think New Mexico has launched a new initiative to achieve retirement security for all New Mexicans by repealing the state’s income tax on Social Security benefits; ensuring that every private sector worker in the state has access to a retirement savings account that they can contribute to through automatic payroll deductions; and stabilizing New Mexico’s public pensions by consolidating their investment management, increasing the qualifications of pension board members, and using some of the current budget surplus to make a one-time, $700 million cash infusion or loan to the Public Employees Retirement Association pension fund. Learn more about our recommended reforms and contact your legislators and the governor!