Tuesday, January 28, 2020 is Environment Day at the state capitol from 8:00 am - 2:00 pm. Audubon New Mexico will be there with an information table along with many other environmental and conservation organizations. Stop in and say hello and see how the bills we're supporting are faring in the session. Here is the Facebook link to Environment Day for more information on that event.
Audubon New Mexico is working on several bills and budget items in the 2020 session of the New Mexico State Legislature. The 2020 session is a short session, which means legislation is generally limited to items which affect the state’s budget. This, in turn, means that we are not advocating for major policy changes this year, but will do so in next year’s 2021 session. Here’s a sneak peek at what we’re watching.
The Agriculture and Natural Resources Trust Fund Bill (SB 102: Senator Neville)
This bill would create a trust fund through an appropriation from our current budget surplus. The interest from the trust fund would be used to secure federal matching funds that New Mexico is currently leaving on the table by not investing the non-federal money required to secure such matches. The funds generated would be administered by a Board under the Governor’s office, and would be used for on-the-ground restoration projects and for securing conservation easements all over New Mexico. Other states with similar programs typically directly receive $6 for every $1 invested by the state. New Mexico currently has an enormous backlog of projects and needs, and we simply aren’t investing enough in natural resource projects. A large coalition of agriculture, conservation, and landowner groups support this bill.
Appropriation to Department of Game and Fish for Study (SB 33 Senator Soules)
This study would be a guide for organizations to pursue the creation of an alternative revenue source in future legislative sessions. This bill would allocate $200,000 to conduct a study on possible alternative sources of revenue for the department, and attempt to determine which plan is best and most achievable. Sportsmen’s groups as well as conservation groups recognize that the Department will need an alternative source of revenue, and that it will need more revenue total than it currently has. Fewer people are hunting and fishing over time, meaning the Department’s revenue is consistently going down. The NM Department of Game and Fish currently receives almost all of its money from federal funds and from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses. These funds are essentially restricted to projects relating to game and fish species. Left by the wayside are “non-game” and state-listed threatened and endangered species.
Budget issues: there are three items in the Governor’s budget we want to make sure the legislature doesn’t remove.
5 million more to NMED for water programs - During the legislative session, legislators must negotiate an agreement between its proposed budget and the Governor’s proposed budget. This year, the Governor’s budget contains approximately 5 million dollars for water programs at the Environment Department which is not present in the legislature’s proposed budget. We want to get this money into the legislature’s budget so the Department has enough funding to expand programs like the Outstanding Natural Resource Waters program.
989K to fund the Office of Outdoor Recreation which was created in last year’s session - This office is linked to the tourism department and focuses on lifting the profile of outdoor recreation in New Mexico, an industry that brings 10 billion dollars in consumer spending to the state every year. 500K to the Department of Game and Fish to work on threatened and endangered species. As noted above, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has limited resources which often tie their hands in terms of what projects they can work on. The Department currently gets no funding from New Mexico’s general budget, and hasn’t for the past decade. The Department is still tasked with implementing New Mexico’s Wildlife Conservation Act, which lists the state’s threatened and endangered species. We were instrumental in convincing the Governor’s office to request a small general fund appropriation, to begin addressing these discrepancies. While only a relatively small amount of money, ensuring this appropriation stays in the budget will begin to correct a longstanding problem, and will help in future years when we work on securing an additional revenue source for the department for its “non-game” work.
What can you do right now?
We will update our members as the session goes on about when these issues will be heard in committees. In the meantime, you can call your legislator--here is where to find your representatives--particularly if your legislator is on either the House Appropriations and Finance committee or the Senate Finance Committee (link to those two committees below; scroll down for committee membership) and tell them you want these items included in this year’s final budget.