New Mexico Senate to vote on bill that would give $200M for business relief


SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A bill is headed toward a state Senate vote that would provide $200 million from the state general fund to thousands of businesses that experienced income declines in 2020.

Scheduled for a crucial vote Thursday, the bill would provide individual grants of up to $100,000 without repayment to businesses for the reimbursement of rent, lease or mortgage obligations. The arrangement tests the boundaries of the state Constitution’s “anti-donation clause” that prohibits government donations as a precaution against corruption.

The proposal from Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf and allied state Rep. Christine Chandler of Los Alamos stands among a long list of bills aimed at reviving the local economy as New Mexico emerges from the pandemic and aggressive emergency health orders from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

A Senate committee this week rejected provisions of the bill that would have permanently boost payouts from the state’s closing fund for business expansions and relocations. Senate approval would return the bill to the House for consideration of the amended initiative.

“When you’re closed and you have no other source of income and you just need to survive, we need to make those opportunities for New Mexicans in any way, shape or form,” Sen. George Muñoz of Gallup said Wednesday as the lead Senate budget committee endorsed the grant program.

Republican Sen. Pat Woods of Grady bristled at the prospect of continued business restrictions as relief initiatives are drafted.

¨There still aren’t any assurances that we’ll have those businesses open,” Woods said.

The proposed grants would be contingent on the hiring or rehiring of employees. Similar grants with more restrictions under the Local Economic Development Act are exempt from the constitutional provisions that prohibit the direct donation of taxpayer dollars as an anti-corruption measure.

A House-approved version of the bill would keep grant applications confidential — an exception to transparency provisions in the state inspection of public records act. Proposed amendments by the Senate do away with the confidentiality provisions.

Businesses owned by five state senators benefited last year from small business grants enacted by the Legislature and underwritten by the federal relief funds, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press under provisions of the public records act.

Separately, state legislators are advancing proposals for minimal-interest loans to small businesses, tax rebates to low-wage workers, and a months-long tax holiday for restaurants.

New Mexico’s current emergency health order limits public gatherings to 20 people or less depending on local COVID-19 infection rates, with limited capacity at most businesses and no access to entertainment or close-contact recreational venues.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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