Sen. Candelaria outlines priorities, debates PNM proposal

State Senator Jacob Candelaria

At a town hall Saturday, six-term State  Senator Jacob Candelaria outlined issues such as increased funding for prosecutors, more police vehicles, and improvements to roads such as recent work completed along Ladera Drive.

He focused on what he considers a major problem in combatting crime. The Albuquerque metropolitan area, he said,  accounts for over 50 percent of felonies, while only 24 percent of statewide district attorney funding goes to the Bernalillo County office. He is working in cooperation with other Albuquerque-based legislators to correct the imbalance but runs into opposition from members who represent rural areas and smaller cities. This, he said, is a long-standing problem.

Two major legislative efforts in the current session drew the most discussion:

  • A state constitutional amendment — House Joint Resolution 1 — to provide additional support for early childhood development programs
  • A measure — Senate Bill 47 — to allow the sale of bonds by the Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM, to mitigate the costs of moving away from coal-based generation

The early childhood amendment is sponsored in part by fellow Albuquerque legislator Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas. It would allow up to one percent of the funds in the state’s Permanent School Reserve Fund to go toward early childhood education. He noted that the legislation has been approved by the House Judiciary Committee. If passed by both houses, it would be presented to the pubic during elections later this year. It would also require approval by the U.S. Congress.

The PNM initiative, Sen. Candelaria said, grew from conversations with residents of San Juan County during a visit on unrelated business. Saying that his priorities as a state senator “should not be limited only to concerns of his district, but also to issues that affect the state as a whole,” he expressed concern about loss of jobs at the plants as well as funding for schools in the county.

Some attendees, however, questioned the rationale behind the measure. PNM was described as using the change away from coal as a means to increase rates and at the same time receive top price for its investments. “No matter what you do,” said one man, “don’t make my rates go up.”

Sen. Candelaria argued that allowing the bonds to be released at low interest rates would stabilize the transition and ensure continued funding to provide on-going support for people around the plants. “We are talking about some 1,600 jobs and support for around 9,000 Navajo students in the Central Consolidated School District in the county,” he said, noting that the Public Regulation Commission would have to approve any plan and take into account any effect on ratepayers before allowing the process to begin. Also, he said, 13 other states have adopted similar programs for their utilities.

Articles in favor and against the PNM program have subsequently appeared in the Albuquerque Journal, written by Sen. Candelaria and John Boyd, an attorney for New Energy Economy,