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Sen. Steven Neville speaks at chamber event

Neville provided a legislative wrap-up of bills effecting San Juan County
Sen. Steven Neville spoke on outcomes of the recent New Mexico Legislative Session at Focus on Farmington Coffee. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Sen. Steven Neville (R-NM) spoke at Focus on Farmington Coffee Thursday morning at San Juan College’s School of Energy.

Farmington Chamber of Commerce invited Neville to speak at the event on outcomes of the recent 60-day New Mexico legislative session which may affect San Juan County.

Neville provided an overview of energy topics and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s interaction with bills related to energy. He commented that Lujan Grisham’s line-item vetoing of energy-related bills that would have hampered or restricted energy production in the state was unusual, but beneficial for maintaining funding for education and social programs in the state.

New Mexico ended 2022 with a surplus of $3.6 billion beckause of increased income from the oil and gas sector. A portion of that, about $673 million, will be returned to New Mexico families in the form of rebates of $1,000 for married taxpayers who filed jointly and $$500 for single taxpayers.

Neville said the surplus created a fund of nonrecurring money that was apportioned for projects throughout the state. About $40 million of the at fund will come to San Juan County for projects such as roofing improvements at San Juan Regional Medical Center, projects for the city of Farmington and improvements to San Juan County fairgrounds.

When speaking of recurring funding for education and health care, Neville emphasized the importance of income derived from the oil and gas sector. He estimated about $9 billion per year comes from oil and gas and said growth opportunities in energy such as directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing, as well as developing a hydrogen hub in the county, are important for the state’s future.

Plans for the development of hydrogen production, storage and use in San Juan County are being led by NAPI, Four Corners Economic Development, Avangrid and Libertad Power.

NAPI and 4CED are working toward establishing a nationally designated, commercial‐scale agricultural test farm H₂ production and use and CO₂ sequestration. Avangrid’s project plans to build a green hydrogen/ammonia plant, and Libertad’s project involves developing clean hydrogen production via electrolysis.

When speaking about what income from oil and gas funds in New Mexico, Neville said education and health care rely heavily on the energy sector.

Recurring revenues from oil and natural gas for 2022 were nearly $9.7 billion, which makes up about ⅓ of the state’s budget, according to New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee budget recommendations report.

According to the 2022 State of New Mexico Component Appropriation Funds Annual Financial Report, 41.6% of the state general fund goes toward public schools support, 12.5% goes toward higher education and other education and 25.1% goes toward health care.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 34% of New Mexicans are enrolled in Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program, and the state is responsible for covering 27% of Medicaid spending each year. In 2022, total Medicaid spending in New Mexico was about $6.9 billion.

Continuing his report on legislative moves effecting the county, Neville mentioned several other bills’ outcomes and how they will impact the county.

A clean fuels bill, HB478, died in committee, Neville said primarily because the bill would have significantly raised gas prices. He estimated an increase of 50 cents to $1 per gallon.

The family leave bill, SB11, also died in committee. Neville said it would have required all businesses to accommodate about 12 weeks of leave in certain situations, which he believed would have placed an unreasonable burden on small businesses and increased absenteeism. He also commented that the initial funding proposed in the bill did not appear to be sustainable.

A bill regarding medical malpractice, SB523, did pass, reducing the medical malpractice cap from $5 million to $1 million beginning in 2024. Neville’s view on the cap change was that lower caps will help make medical malpractice premiums more reasonable and help keep more medical providers in the state and in private practice.

Bennie’s Bill, HB9, passed this year, making adults who do not secure firearms out of the reach of children potentially criminally responsible for crimes committed with a firearm by children.

Concluding his wrap-up, Neville expressed his optimism for continued growth in the state.