SANTA FE, New Mexico — New Mexico’s leading House Republican said he found it “disrespectful” that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham failed to cite the oil and gas industry in her State of the State speech on Tuesday at a time when the industry is providing record revenues to the state’s coffers that will fund some of the Democrat’s educational initiatives.
House Minority Leader James Townsend, R-Artesia, said Tuesday he would have liked to hear the Democratic governor give credit to the business sector that has helped keep one of the nation’s poorest states afloat and provided high-paying jobs.
“Not once did she mention the oil and gas industry except when she talked about methane rules,” Townsend said. “This is the industry in the area that I represent that is funding her proposed spending spree. I found it incredibly disrespectful.”
In her State of the State speech to mark the beginning of New Mexico’s Legislative session, Lujan Grisham urged legislators to legalize recreational marijuana, underwrite tuition-free college for residents and boost spending on early childhood education amid efforts to improve economic opportunity in a state with the highest rate of poverty in the American West.
She also advocated teacher pay raises and new “cradle-to-career” investments in public education that include $74 million in new annual general fund spending for early childhood programs.
Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said the governor throughout her first year in office has made it clear that she appreciates the state’s oil and gas industry. She has met with the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association and has said she hopes New Mexico can overtake North Dakota as the No. 2 U.S. oil producing state, Stelnicki said.
“I’m sorry they are expressing that sentiment and I would hope people in the industry don’t feel that way,” Stelnicki said. “I think it’s much more meaningful to have reached out to the industry all throughout last year the way our administration has to be part of moving forward on certain efforts than to just give some kind of token shout out during the speech.”
Robert McEntyre, a spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said many of the statistics the governor mentioned during her address are being driven by the unprecedented pace of the oil and gas sector and the resulting growth in southeastern New Mexico.
“Most New Mexicans understand we’re a significant part of the economy, and the governor has certainly acknowledged that over the course of the last year,” he said.
New Mexico has grown into one of the nation’s leading oil-producing states because of the record-setting development happening across the Permian Basin, which straddles the southeastern corner of the state and parts of West Texas.
The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association on Thursday released a report by the New Mexico Tax Research Institute that showed state coffers and public schools benefited from $3.1 billion in taxes and revenues generated by the industry in fiscal year 2019 that ended last June. That marked an increase of more than $910 million from the previous fiscal year.