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Editorial: Bipartisanship pays off in royalties for the state

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New Mexico will, after all, receive $26 million in mineral royalties for the current fiscal year that the federal government had decided to confiscate in the name of budget cuts. It’s money the state was owed but is being held back by the feds as part of sequestration, which took effect in March.

New Mexicans can thank the efforts of its entire congressional delegation and some other westerners for making sure the state got what it deserved. Only Wyoming will get more back than New Mexico.

The U.S. Department of the Interior, prodded by legislation introduced by New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat, and Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi, a Republican, on Monday reversed its earlier decision to withhold millions of dollars in mineral royalty payments from oil and gas producing Western states. The royalties are collected from energy companies that extract oil, gas and other minerals from federal lands. Normally, states where minerals are extracted get half of the royalties, but Interior said it was going to withhold 5.1 percent of the state’s cut, claiming it was authorized to do so by sequestration. Never mind that sequestration was supposed to rein in federal spending, not let the feds pick the pockets of states.

Udall contended the Mineral Leasing Act protected states’ full shares and that royalties payments are different than other federal programs that give money to states, because in this case the states are producing revenue. Interior’s reversal came after a legal review of the Balanced Budget Act of 1985 and its 2011 amended version.

This was the right call by the Obama administration and a worthy bipartisan effort by the New Mexico congressional delegation, led by Udall. The state and the entire country would be well-served to see more of that kind of cooperation and sensible thinking.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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