ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) — Local businesses are front and center in Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lujan Grisham’s latest campaign ad. In it, several business owners tout the help they say they’ve gotten from the Governor’s actions. One of those featured owners even tells viewers not to believe the “attacks” from Republican opponent Mark Ronchetti.
So what programs are these business owners talking about? And what role did Lujan Grisham have in providing help? To give you the context you need, KRQE News 13 is looking into the gubernatorial candidates’ political advertisements over the next several months in the run-up to Election Day to help you get the full story.
Lujan Grisham’s ad starts off by introducing four business owners who talk about help the Governor provided during her time in office. Roughly five second into the ad, Kelly Brewer from Organic Books states “[Governor Lujan Grisham] gave us assistance during the pandemic.” Organic Books is an Albuquerque bookstore that opened in November 2018.
According to Delaney Corcoran, a spokesperson for Lujan Grisham’s campaign, the assistance Brewer is referring to comes from House Bill 1, passed in 2020. Among other things, the bill set aside $100 million for grants to some New Mexico businesses.
The bill allowed the state’s Finance Authority to give grants of up to $50,000 to New Mexican-owned businesses in order to help recover from the pandemic. The Finance Authority confirmed with KRQE News 13 that Organic Books did indeed receive funds from the program. Of course, they weren’t the only business that received funds.
Many of those receiving grants were service-related businesses. In total, nearly $26 million went to food service-related businesses, according to data provided by the Finance Authority. Over 1,000 of those types of businesses received a grant, and the average grant value was over $21,700. Most of the rest of the funds went to a range of other businesses across the state.
The exact economic toll the pandemic took on New Mexico’s business — especially the restaurant industry — has been a hot topic of debate recently. Depending on whose numbers you look at, the situation can vary wildly.
A little over a month ago, the New Mexico Restaurant Association said that post-pandemic, restaurant-related employment is down by more than 20,000 employees and that the state lost more than 1,000 restaurants to the pandemic. But, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that New Mexico gained around 80 restaurants since the end of 2019.
Hardly anyone denies that the pandemic was hard on New Mexico’s businesses, but exactly how hard and whose fault that is up for debate depending on which statistics you rely on. The facts are: Restrictions imposed during the pandemic were hard on most businesses, but at the same time many businesses across the state received financial help through state-sponsored and federally sponsored grant and loan programs.
Story continues below:
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As Lujan Grisham’s ad continues, Paul Gallegos from Cutbow Coffee mentions that the Governor provided relief checks for workers. Gallegos is referring to the tax rebate payments that the state sent out this year.
Those payments were approved by the state’s legislature in April of this year and use record-high profits earned from oil and gas extraction to put some extra funds into the hands of New Mexicans. But Lujan Grisham can’t take full credit for the idea.
Before New Mexico’s lawmakers worked out the rebates, politicians from around the U.S. were already considering giving stimulus checks to the public in order to help with rising prices. And of course, in state, it wasn’t just Lujan Grisham who brought the idea to fruition. The initial proposal for the bill was presented by Democratic leadership from the legislature, and Republicans, such as Representative Jim Townsend (R-Chaves, Eddy and Otero) were also thinking about giving money back to New Mexicans. “We ought to think about returning a significant portion of this severance tax money back to New Mexicans like many other energy-producing states like Alaska,” Townsend said back in April.
Gross receipts tax
New Mexico doesn’t tax retail sales via a “sales tax” as some states do. Instead, we have a gross receipts tax.
So, instead of taxing shoppers when they buy products, the gross receipts tax (GRT) requires the business selling a product to pay the taxes. But, that cost usually is factored into the price of goods anyways, meaning that in effect, consumers usually end up paying.
In the campaign ad, Abel Otero, from Fonzy’s Barber Shop says “the Governor cut the gross receipts tax for the first time in 40 years.” That’s a reference to some recent legislation.
Ahead of the 2022 legislative session, in November 2021, Lujan Grisham announced plans to try to cut gross receipts tax across the state. In a press release, she promised to reduce the statewide rate by a quarter of a percent. The legislation also got a mention during the Governor’s State of the State address.
Lawmakers eventually tackled a GRT-reduction proposal during the session. House Bill 163 outlined a reduction of the statewide GRT rate.
That bill to lower the rate did make it through the Legislature, but so far it only decreased the statewide rate by an eighth of one percentage point (0.125%), according to the state’s Taxation and Revenue Department. It will decrease by another eighth of one percent in 2023. This was the first gross receipts reduction in 40 years, according to the state’s Taxation and Revenue Department.
Health insurance premiums
Next up in the ad, Amanda Batty, the owner of the Bike Coop, says that Lujan Grisham “cut our health insurance premiums.” And according to the campaign’s spokesperson, Batty is talking about the Small Business Health Insurance Premium Relief Initiative.
That’s a program put into place by New Mexico lawmakers in 2021. It aims to reduce health insurance costs for individuals and families who don’t have job-based insurance and reduce health insurance costs for businesses with 50 or fewer employees, according to the state’s Office of Superintendent of Insurance.
KRQE News 13 reached out to the state’s Office of Superintendent of Insurance (OSI) to confirm whether or not the Bike Coop was a participating business. But OSI staff says they don’t know which businesses are enrolled in the program, only participating insurance companies know.
KRQE News 13 asked Amanda Batty if the Bike Coop is enrolled in the program as well as how much they expect to save under the initiative. Batty declined to comment, but OSI says participating small businesses can expect to save 10% on premiums.
Social Security tax cuts
Finally, the ad highlights another tax cut. Bookstore owner Kelley Brewer says that Lujan Grisham “eliminated the tax on Social Security for most seniors.”
This is also tied to the same 2022 bill that cut gross receipt taxes. Under House Bill 163, some people can claim a tax exemption for the entire amount of their social security check.
As long as single individuals filing returns have a gross adjusted income of $100,000 or less ($150,000 for heads of households filing joint returns and $75,000 for married individuals filing single returns), they can receive an exemption starting in tax year 2022. The state’s Taxation and Revenue Department expects that to amount to a total of over $84 million in tax relief during the first year of the program.
Editor’s Note: KRQE News 13 fact checking and contextualizing television ads used in the 2022 race for New Mexico’s Governor’s office. Ads reviewed are ads from the candidates, not from political action committees. The review period consists of ads either released, or running between September 5, 2022 and the November election. For more KRQE News 13 Fact Check articles, visit KRQE.com/elections