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Short sessions, which happen in even years, are limited to passing the state’s budget and anything the Governor puts on the “call”, a list of bills she decides to allow the legislature to consider. This year, with a large unexpected surplus and over a billion dollars in federal COVID relief funds (called “ARPA” money for the American Rescue Plan Act), New Mexico has an unprecedented opportunity to fully fund critical conservation programs and take crucial steps towards becoming resilient to climate change.
For many years New Mexico has severely underfunded (or in some cases not funded at all) its conservation programs. For example, the Natural Heritage Conservation Act, which funds conservation easements and restoration projects throughout the state, hasn’t been given funding since the Richardson Administration and there are many other programs in the same situation. Additionally, the state often misses out on federal funding opportunities that require a state match because we have failed to allocate money for that purpose. In previous sessions we have pursued bills that would address this issue by creating a trust fund which could be used for conservation programs and to match for federal dollars.
While we do not expect a trust fund to be created this year, through a combination of ARPA funds, one-time allocations in the budget, and a potential General Obligation Bond which may reach voters on the ballot in November, some of these problems will begin to be solved.
During the special session in December, legislators focused on redistricting and on divvying up a billion dollars in ARPA funds. During that session, the legislature actually distributed approximately $450 million of those funds, allocating 43.5 million dollars to conservation efforts in the state. This included 10 million dollars for the River Stewardship program, which allows the Environment Department to preserve habitat for endangered species, restore wetlands, and reduce pollutants going into rivers and streams.
During the regular session, we hope to see additional funding go to state programs for habitat restoration, endangered species, drought resistance, and agency planning.
The Governor has also announced that her Administration will pursue a General Obligation Bond for conservation on the November 2022 general election ballot. If passed, it would generate an additional 50 million dollars towards various conservation programs in the state. To get on the ballot, a resolution will need to pass through the legislature during the session.
We will also be following a bill to change the requirements to hold the position of State Engineer, which oversees nearly all water management in the state. The qualifications are set in state law, and are currently extremely narrow, only allowing actual engineers to be considered. The bill would expand the pool of possible candidates for State Engineer to include professions like hydrologists, geologists, or attorneys.
We will update our membership during the session when there are specific opportunities to engage legislators, so stay tuned. For now, let us know you’re ready to take action by signing up for our advocacy network.