Think New Mexico had a two-year plan to reform the Public Regulations Commission (PRC) and make it a slimmer, less bloated agency — as well as more qualified. And after this year’s session, the small not-for-profit found it had done what it set out to do.
Executive Director Fred Nathan told New Mexico Telegram in an interview last week, “That’s been sort of a two-year fight if you will and sort of a ten-step process.”
And the ten steps were all checked off. It started in 2012 when they sought to get constitutional amendments in front of the voters to make some sweeping changes to the PRC, including requiring new qualifications for PRC commissioners.
“You had a good mix of both chambers, both parties,” Think New Mexico field director Jason Espinoza told New Mexico Telegram. “I think we came to a reasonable compromise.”
Since the interview, Gov. Susana Martinez signed the legislation which would require 10 years experience or schooling in an area related to what the PRC covers, as well as 32 hours of training a year.
Other pieces that required constitutional amendments were moving the corporate registration division to the Secretary of State’s office and moving the PRC’s authority over insurance the Superintendent of Insurance who is appointed by an independent committee.
A final piece of the puzzle that only required a statutory change and not a constitutional amendment.
This was relaxing some regulations on transportation companies like taxi companies, limo companies and moving companies to help break up monopolies in smaller areas of the state.
Nathan said the previous rules “gave regulators enormous power to say who can compete in the market place and what they can charge.”
It was born out of outdated regulations back from when motor carrier companies were a new industry challenging railroad companies’ dominance.
One reason the group feels they are so successful despite their small size is that they focus on specific areas — not a range of bills like other groups do.
“Because we’re small, our staff is only 3.8 people and we have a tiny budget, it puts a premium on focusing on one issue at a time,” Nathan said. “Our critics would says that we are myopic, focusing on only one thing.”
But they still keep an eye out for old signature issues — like the food tax. Think New Mexico helped repeal the food tax and was among the first to see that a re-implementation of the food tax was in a version of the controversial omnibus tax bill.
It was fortuitous that the group found out about the issue when it did — on Friday evening, less than 24 hours until the end of the session.
Espinoza said that
Christina Kristina Fisher, the associated director of Think New Mexico, was waiting on concurrence on the insurance portion of their PRC reforms.
Fisher decided to tune into the webcast of the Senate Finance Committee hearing, wondering why it was holding a hearing so close to the end of the session. She then called Espinoza, who ran over to the committee room and was able to grab a copy of the bill — and found the re-imposition of the food tax was included as part of the package.
“When we discovered this, there were 15 hours left in the session,” Nathan said.
They then began to work towards how to stop it — and started contacting friendly legislators and others to help fight the food tax. One is former Think New Mexico intern Jacob Candelaria — a freshman Democratic Senator from Albuquerque. Candelaria was one of the Senators who were prepared to filibuster the tax package if the food tax was included.
Other outside groups were key as well; Espinoza said the Conference of Catholic Bishops were helpful in the effort.
And social media and blogs were a big part as well; the newspapers “already had their stories for the day, they weren’t able to change them.” So they put the word out on Twitter, Facebook and through online media — and, importantly, the Associated Press.
“I think the governor was also working it on their level,” Nathan said.
So what’s next for Think New Mexico?
The group will debrief with the board on how their topics went this year. The board will select a new topic for Think new Mexico to focus on — which will likely come in May when the board meets.
“The board selects a new topic and that board meeting isn’t until May. We can’t tell you what’s next, we’re sort of still digging out from the session.”
Then Think New Mexico works until announcing the new emphasis in the fall on things like fundraising and research on the new topic.
One initiative that Nathan was passionate about, however, is on building smaller schools, which he says research shows will cut down on dropouts.
“New Mexico is unique among the 50 states in that most states just pay for school construction at the local level,” Nathan said.
The state of New Mexico pays $100 million a year on school construction.
“It’s just a funding formula,” Nathan said. “It doesn’t look at academic outcomes.”
Nathan says it will also save money in the long run.
So perhaps barring large schools from being build with state money, as is currently done, will be the next big move by Think New Mexico. One thing is sure — whatever the new initiative is, Think New Mexico will bring a full-court press to the Roundhouse to ensure its passage.
Filed under: Featured, New Mexico House, New Mexico Senate, Roundhouse · Tags: 2013 Legislative SEssion, 2013 legislative session recap, food tax, Fred Nathan, Jason Espinoza, Public Regulation Commission, Think New Mexico