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New Mexico Politics

Economic relief package for New Mexico approved by state Senate

The New Mexico state seal on display at the capital in Santa Fe.
KOAT/ABC
The New Mexico state seal on display at the capital in Santa Fe.

SANTA FE, New Mexico — The New Mexico Senate pressed forward Wednesday with pandemic-related financial relief measures, including minimal-interest loans to small businesses that have been battered by the virus and emergency health restrictions.

The Democrat-led chamber overwhelmingly approved a trio of bills that also would offer tax breaks for restaurants and a temporary waiver on liquor license fees.

The bills now move to the state House for consideration. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has signaled her willingness to approve broad relief measures amid aggressive public health restrictions placed on businesses by her administration.

A centerpiece bill from state Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque would authorize loans of up to $150,000 to small businesses at sub-prime rates of less than 2% annual interest. It passed on a 35-3 vote with several senators recusing themselves from a vote because of ties to businesses that might apply for relief.

The bill allows a state trust fund to invest up to $500 million in loans to businesses with ownership ties to New Mexico — forsaking some traditional investments based on risks and returns.

The proposed policy builds on a more limited small business loan program last year that provided a total of about $40 million in loans of as much as $75,000 each. The new program would allow the loans to be refinanced at more favorable terms.

“The best thing we can hope for in terms of our recovery is that firms across the state begin to grow again, take risks, taking out loans, taking out credit to build, to invest, to grow, to employ more people, to make capital investments," Candelaria told a Senate panel earlier this week.

The Legislature is racing against the clock during its 60-day session that ends March 20 to enact economic relief measures, amid uncertainty about a possible new round of direct federal aid to state and local governments.

A pending decision from the state Supreme Court could allow businesses to pursue compensation from the state in response to emergency health orders. In separately proposed legislation, lawmakers from both parties are calling for checks on the governor's emergency powers during pandemics.

Across much of the state, health restrictions have shut down entertainment venues including movie theaters, prohibit large public gatherings and limit access to indoor dining at restaurants. State health officials on Wednesday lifted a mandatory self-quarantine period for in-bound travelers.

The state Senate unanimously approved a proposal to provide a $600 tax rebate to working, low-income families and provide a tax break on business sales and services to food establishments such as restaurants, craft breweries and food trucks

A bill that would waive fees for all liquor licenses in the hard-hit hospitality industry won Senate approval on a 41-1 vote.

Republican Sen. Cliff Pirtle of Roswell warned that the relief bills won't resolve economic hardships linked to current public health orders and urged colleagues to “rein in the executive branch of government.”

“They're a Band-Aid on a pretty large wound,” Pirtle said. “The reality is we are still shut down."

New Mexico / News

Associated Press

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