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Sen. Brantley in Santa Fe ahead of 30-day session


The week before New Mexico’s legislative session opened on Tuesday, state Sen. Crystal Brantley (known as Crystal Diamond before her recent marriage) was already in Santa Fe meeting with the Senate Finance Committee.

The 30-day session, running from Jan. 16 to Feb. 15, will focus on budgetary matters and other items per a message from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham or proposals, such as memorials or constitutional amendments, that do not require a message.

Brantley is entering the last session of her first four-year term in the New Mexico Senate, representing District 35. In 2020, the Elephant Butte Republican was elected to the seat held since 1989 by Deming Democrat John Arthur Smith, who was ousted in a primary challenge. Brantley said she is currently collecting signatures for a 2024 reelection run.

This year, the governor has recommended a record-high $10.5 billion spending budget, nearly a 10 percent increase over last year, that would maintain a 34.2 percent reserve. Sustaining such a high budget will be revenue from oil and gas production in the state’s southeastern Permian Basin region.

“Fiscal year ’25 projected revenues that were presented to us are project at over $13 billion,” Brantley said in an interview. “And that’s thanks to this strong oil and gas economy that just continues to skyrocket. … That single industry is producing over half of our budget right now.”

The state’s reliance on a volatile industry has been a perennial issue for economists and political leaders looking to long-term planning and stability, and as New Mexico progresses toward ambitious zero-carbon deadlines in the coming decades, a hard stop to petroleum revenue is approaching, as Brantley acknowledged with words of caution.

“We can help them make sure that we’re environmentally sound and extracting that oil in the safest way possible, but New Mexico cannot afford to operate without oil and gas, and I think this budget right here in front of us is evidence of that.”

As it stands, regarding a cyclical downturn as inevitable, Brantley said her committee was looking to the best use of revenue for budget planning, taking a hard look at new recurring expenses and ways to endow trust funds and buffer essential programs for “when the money goes away.”

Brantley also championed investing in rural infrastructure while the revenue is high, particularly in roads and sanitation and water systems. For instance, in Truth or Consequences, reportedly 200 million gallons of water are being lost per year because of failing pipes, threatening service to residents and businesses as well as schools and medical facilities. Brantley is cosponsoring $20 million in emergency appropriations over four years addressing water lines in the city.

When it comes to diversifying the economy, Brantley pointed to the potential of aerospace industries in her own district, which includes Spaceport America, a facility positioning itself to attract industry development beyond Virgin Galactic’s commercial space flight enterprise. She argued, however, that the state still has too many “mandates and restrictions in place” and is “making it difficult to do business here in New Mexico.”

“If we simply get out of the way, I think you’ll see, especially, rural communities and small businesses begin to bloom; but right now, we’re really tying the hands of businesses with all the mandates we continue to put on them.”

CYFD reform, guns and politics

Among non-budgetary items, Brantley is calling for reform to the state Children, Youth and Families Department and its services under the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, a 2019 federal law requiring New Mexico to organize care infants exposed to drugs and alcohol and their families, but which a 2023 legislative analysis found to be lagging. She has pre-filed a bill requiring CYFD to conduct family assessments and provide referrals for services when families do not comply with a plan of care.

Brantley expressed hope bipartisan reforms would advance despite the shorter session because, in her view, Democrats — who hold majorities in both chambers — seem more willing this year to act independently of Lujan Grisham, a Democrat in her second and final term in the governor’s office.

In step with Republican leadership, Brantley expressed a dim view of the governor’s proposed measures on gun safety: “Is restricting legal gun owners’ access and ability to buy weapons really going to make a dent in our public safety issue?”

Lujan Grisham has called for a package of bills including raising the minimum age for purchasing long guns, requiring waiting periods of purchases and regulating “assault weapons.” Republican leadership have called the proposals an attack on Second Amendment rights and have promised alternative proposals.

“We’ve got to come in and really fix mental health,” Brantley said. “We’re not providing substance abuse facilities. We don’t have early intervention for children in need. … Just restricting access to firearms does nothing to really, truly move the needle when it comes to public safety.”

The session also falls on an election year for both chambers in the legislature, and a governor who will not be seeking reelection in 2026. Brantley saw an opening there for more bipartisan work and for greater independence among her Democratic colleagues as more bills are pre-filed ahead of the session: “So many (are) kind of coming over a little bit, a bit more receptive to more common-sense legislation and working with us; I don’t see those radical ideas emerging like I expected to.”

Among her other pre-filed bills, as of Monday morning, are proposed tax credits for new or replaced rail infrastructure; measures to support New Mexico vineyards and the wine industry, including the hire of an enologist at New Mexico State University; $9 million in compensation for livestock lost to Mexican wolves in Catron, Sierra and Socorro counties; funding for a combination of research and industrial development benefitting the state’s chile industry at NMSU; and $100,00 for two consecutive years of funding windmill technician certification workshops at the university.

N.M. Sen. Crystal Brantley, R-Elephant Butte