State relief plans take shape at New Mexico Legislature

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – An economic relief package is taking shape at the New Mexico Legislature as a Senate panel endorsed a $600 rebate to low-income workers and a separate bill that would waive licensing fees on liquor stores.

Residents of New Mexico who earned up to $31,200 during 2020 would be eligible for the $600 payout or credit against tax liabilities under a bill that also provides a temporary tax break for restaurants as they endure restrictions on indoor dining.

A panel of lawmakers unanimously advanced those proposals on Tuesday.

The concept of a rebate to low-income workers who labored through the pandemic at essential businesses was pioneered late last year by Republican lawmakers without approval.

Democrats have embraced the approach under a bill from Sens. Peter Wirth of Santa Fe, Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque and Siah Correa Hemphill of Silver City that also includes temporary tax breaks for restaurants and other food service businesses, from food trucks to crafter breweries, for a four-month period starting March 1.

The income tax rebate alone could distribute an estimated $95 million in credits and rebates. The bill received unified praise from business associations and a progressive-leaning advocacy group for solutions to childhood poverty.

Candelaria predicted that the proposed state relief would quickly ripple through the economy as people living on the cusp of poverty pay for clothes for children and other essential goods and services.

“We are also likely to see secondary economic activity to the state,” Candelaria told the Senate panel.

Republican Sen. Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho voiced support for the relief measures and also bristled at business restrictions imposed by the administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in response to the pandemic.

“The most important thing that we need to do is open the economy back up,” said Brandt, the minority whip to Senate Republicans. “Let the customers come back in.”

In a State of the State speech on Tuesday, Lujan Grisham touted the impact of a $330 million relief package late last year that funneled federal funds directly to the unemployed, small businesses and immigrants in the country without legal status.

The state Constitution bars the state from replicating the effort with its own funds through direct subsidies. Lawmakers have drafted a variety of tax deductions and credits instead.

Lujan Grisham called on the Legislature to retool a low-interest loan program to provide a large supply of cash to struggling businesses.

Legislators said restaurants in particular may be reluctant to take on debt as they struggle to survive through the spring months.

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