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February 2024

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EDITORIAL: Critical Questions Help New Mexico Refocus and Move Forward

Senator George Muñoz (D-Gallup) is the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, February 9, he stated, in a Santa Fe New Mexican article on February 9, “I want to be known as the guy that had agreements to move New Mexico forward.”

Really? How has Senator Muñoz done that? Senate Bill 197, sponsored by State Senator Bobby Gonzales, and co-sponsored by State Representative Kristina Ortez and State Senator Pete Campos, passed the Senate Conservation Committee with an 8-1 vote on January 30, 2024.

From there, SB 197 went to Muñoz’s committee and died while waiting for a hearing. This was a bill to appropriate $12.7 million for water infrastructure in Taos County—including funds for acequias, mutual domestic water associations, the Village of Questa, and the Town of Taos. All these projects are shovel-ready. Two projects would have helped in implementing the crucial Abeyta Settlement, in partnership with Taos Pueblo—a top priority for the state of New Mexico.

Senator Muñoz chose to hear the following bills in his committee, instead of SB 197:

  • SB 106 – Declaration of Independence Anniversary
  • SB 93 – Chile Harvesting Funds

While these may be good bills, do they really take priority over struggling rural communities of Taos County? Communities that are in danger of losing their water rights due to a lack of sufficient water infrastructure?

A question I have for Senator Munoz is, What’s the process? How does the Senate finance committee determine what bills set precedence over other bills, what’s important enough to get the attention of the committee, who makes that decision and how is it determined? What harm would there have been to simply hear SB 197 in his committee for the benefit of Taos County? It was passed 8-1 in the previous committee, so does that hold no merit? A vote like that tells me 8 out of the 9 Senators in the previous committee thought SB 197 was a good Bill and needed to go to the next level, was that not taken into consideration?

I had the honor of assessing the needs of the northern acequia associations, and helping Senator Gonzales draft SB 197, I have the honor of being one of his expert witnesses for the Senate conservation committee for this bill, as I stated before, passed 8-1. Although it is discouraging that SB 197 didn’t make it to be heard in the Senate finance committee, we have to give a big thank you to Senator Gonzales for not giving up. Although the bill never moved forward Senator Gonzales is actively working with State agencies to get funds appropriated so the projects can be completed.

Juan Cisneros is a Questa school board member, business owner, and rancher in Questa, New Mexico.