Rep. Christine Chandler, center, with Sen. Leo Jaramillo, left, and Sen. Roberto ‘Bobby’ Gonzales Thursday evening at Fuller Lodge for the League of Women Voters’ Legislative Review. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Rep. Christine Chandler speaks Thursday evening at Fuller Lodge. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
District 43 Rep. Christine Chandler was the first to speak at the League of Women Voters’ Legislative Preview Thursday evening at Fuller Lodge. Also in attendance were District 5 Sen. Leo Jaramillo and District 6 Sen. Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales.
Rep. Chandler noted that she is the chair of the Taxation & Revenue Committee in the House right now.
“We had a very interesting summer. We talked a lot about trends across the country, our tax code and how we could modernize it and move forward in a way that we, at least in the perspective of a number of us, believe promotes equity and fairness in the tax code and recognizes some form of progressivity and an effort to enhance that,” she said.
Chandler added that another committee she is on during the summer is the Legislative Finance Committee.
“I was brand new to that this year and I’m still learning a lot, believe me, in terms of budget process and all the intricacy of that,” she said.
Revenues are exceeding last year’s budget by a current estimate of $3.5 billion, which Chandler said is “huge of course”.
“It’s a blessing and a curse to have so much money because it’s a big responsibility to ensure that we develop recurring expenses that are responsible but not so many or so high that we could be in a very difficult position when the oil and gas boom starts to peter out, and it will. We all know that it will and we have to plan for that,” Chandler said.
She addressed the new leadership in the House where there is a 45-25 Democrat majority. She praised former Speaker of the House Brian Egolf for being a great leader and for organizing the House along with his staff and others in leadership in a really responsible way and positioned the House to be a very effective chamber.
Chandler explained that what the Taxation & Revenue chair does in addition to conducting hearings on bills is work with leadership and the rest of the body to develop what is called “the tax package”.
“Typically in a way it’s almost like the budget in that it has multiple topical items and we do it that way because we have to account for the expenditures. Remember when we cut taxes or offer tax credits or deductions – that’s an expense. That is money that we could have been collecting so we have to make sure that we balance that out with what the budget side of the House is doing,” she said. “The Tax chair works with the Appropriations chair in leadership and there’s a number that we’re looking at in terms of what the budget could absorb in terms of tax expenditures. That’s a rough dollar amount and after that we look at the bills that have been presented and we develop a package that takes into account that we should stay within the tax expenditure budget.”
Chandler said that’s what legislators have been doing and frankly what she has been working on all summer behind the scenes – looking at possibilities and at things they have looked at before, at what has been done in the past and what can be done moving forward.
“There are a couple of things we are going to be focused on. We have been hearing for quite some time that our GRT rate is too high so we’re going to look at another GRT tax decrease on the state level. There is some talk about another round of rebates and something I’m interested in is looking at the personal income tax brackets to see if we can make them more progressive. They are very flat. We have five brackets. Almost everybody is in the 4.7 bracket. That’s it. It’s almost like a flat tax,” she said. “So we are looking at trying to make it more progressive so prepare yourselves because that could mean looking at the high end as well as the low end. Remember, we’re smoothing it out to make it more progressive and what I think is more equitable. Those are the big ticket items we’ve been doing in the tax world.”
Chandler said she will continue to work on Paid Family Medical Leave, which is something she’s been carrying since she has been in the House. She also filed a Minimum Wage Bill last week.
“What it does is it increases the minimum wage to $16 an hour in 2024 and perhaps more importantly it adds an inflationary factor. So we’re not going to be revisiting this whole notion of what is an appropriate minimum wage. It will start to track inflation and cost of living increases,” Chandler said.
She is also working on a Student Loan Bill of Rights.
“I’m super proud of just filing a bill on breast imaging, which would eliminate the co-pay for diagnostic breast exams. Those exams are very expensive and unlike routine mammograms, people pay significant co-pays on those,” Chandler said.
She is also working with Equality New Mexico on a bill that would eliminate the pre-publication requirement for when someone is changing their name.
“It’s not a small thing because the LGBTQ community are often at risk in a lot of ways and if we pre-publish there’s a potential risk for those individuals as well as victims of domestic violence, stalking etc. if they feel unsafe and feel a need to change their name. Putting it in the newspaper is not quite the best way to go about it,” Chandler said. “So we are trying to get that bill through.”
She said she has a few other bills that are in the works including a tax bill that will provide incentives for industrial scale storage of renewable energy.
“I’m working on a ‘bad actor’ bill in the environmental sense that will disqualify certain operators for criminal conduct, fraud etc. I’m also working on a water bill with the acequias. I have a full plate but some of this stuff is really important and I’m excited to be working on it,” Chandler said.