Q&A: Senate District 13 Candidate Bill O’Neill

  • NAME: Bill O’Neill
  • POLITICAL PARTY: Democratic
  • OCCUPATION: Fundraiser/author
  • CITY OF RESIDENCE: Albuquerque
  • RELEVANT EXPERIENCE: State Senate, 2012-2020, state House, 2008-2012; executive director, New Mexico juvenile parole board, 2005-2008; executive director/development director, Dismas House New Mexico, 1994-2004.
  • EDUCATION: B.A. with distinction, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
  • CAMPAIGN WEBSITE: Billoneillfornm.com

What steps should the Legislature take to ensure New Mexico has a balanced budget amid falling oil prices and an economic downturn prompted by the coronavirus outbreak?

We absolutely need to examine new funding strategies to meet our annual budget, rather than being entirely dependent upon oil and gas revenue to meet our annual budget. Serious tax reform, building upon revenue from alternative energy sources and legalization of marijuana are three areas that immediately come to mind.

What more, if anything, should the Legislature do to address a court ruling that found New Mexico is failing to provide a sufficient education to all students?

While the Yazzie suit comes out of the legitimate needs of our underserved populations of our state, we need to acknowledge the limitations that the state Legislature has on the financial bottom line. The findings of the court are solid, but we do not have an unlimited checkbook, especially after COVID.

What changes, if any, should New Mexico make to its gross receipts tax code?

We need to remove many of the carve outs and exemptions that currently exist in the gross receipts tax code. Our tax code needs to be fair, and reflective of our state’s current reality.

Do you support or oppose legalizing recreational marijuana use in New Mexico and taxing its sales?

I support.

Do you believe changes should be made to the emergency powers held by a governor during a pandemic or other time of crisis. If so, do you believe such powers should be expanded or reduced and in what specific ways?

I believe that our governor has done and continues to do a stellar job in following the science in her response to the COVID crisis. I have no issue with the powers that she has used. These are difficult political decisions, but she has been steady in her commitment to protect New Mexicans.

Do you support or oppose repealing a long-dormant 1969 state law that outlaws abortion, except in limited circumstances?

Yes, I do support, and voted for HB 51 last session.

Do you support or oppose enacting a new state law that would allow police officers and other public officials to be sued individually by abolishing the defense of qualified immunity?

I do not support repealing qualified immunity because I have grave concerns about the effect it would have on recruiting and retaining our best possible police force.

In recent years, New Mexico has steadily increased spending on early childhood programs, such as home visiting, prekindergarten and child care assistance, and created a new early childhood trust fund. Do you support or oppose a constitutional amendment that would withdraw more money from the Land Grant Permanent Fund to increase funding for early childhood services?

I support tapping the Land Grant Permanent Fund in a judicious, responsible manner. I have faith in our Legislature to come up with a plan that expands funding for these vital areas without compromising the financial integrity of the Land Grant Permanent Fund.

What changes, if any, should New Mexico make to its election laws and primary system? Do you support or oppose opening the state’s primary elections to voters who aren’t affiliated with either major political party?

I adamantly support open primaries, and have cosponsored that bill repeatedly. Our democracy is better when more people participate, and shutting out independents and DTS voters from our primaries discourages overall participation. Independents are not “casual” voters, they just don’t identify with either party.

Would you support a merit-based evaluation system to determine how the state spends its capital outlay funding? Should each legislator be required to disclose which projects he or she funded?

I always publicize my capital outlay decisions, and actually take great pride in these decisions and how they can positively impact Senate District 13. I have misgivings about a “centralized” capital outlay system. As legislators, we should know our districts’ needs better than some distant bureaucratic arm of government.

New Mexico is highly reliant on the oil and natural gas industries to generate revenue to fund state programs, as evidenced by recent oil boom and bust cycles. What steps should the state take to diversify its economy and revenue base?

As stated earlier, we need to wean ourselves from this boom/bust dependence upon oil and gas revenue. It does not work anymore. We need serious tax reform, including revisiting the personal income tax code, as well as developing other sources of revenue like alternative energy.

Would you support or oppose a moratorium on fracking? And should the state impose additional renewable energy mandates as a way to address climate change concerns?

With the fracking moratorium I would need to see the actual bill. We are fortunate to have oil and gas which in a typical year accounts for 40% of our state budget revenue. Especially with the uncertainty that the COVID crisis presents, budgetary wise, we need to proceed carefully.

What steps should the Legislature take to address crime and improve public safety?

As a member of the bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Subcommittee, we need to move in a unified way in being “smart on crime.” Translated, that means holding individuals accountable for their behavior, but at the same time allowing for rehabilitation and evidence-based strategies to reduce recidivism.

Do you support or oppose the public’s right to inspect footage taken by cameras worn by law enforcement officers? Under what circumstances, if any, should police video be withheld from the public?

Victims should not be re-traumatized by public viewing of their personal tragedies. Also, there are law enforcement situations where camera footage need not be made public, such as when confidentiality is critical. Still, the public has a right to know. As legislators, we must balance these concerns.

Members of New Mexico’s business community contend some state laws and regulations need changing so the state can better compete with Texas and Arizona when it comes to attracting companies. What steps do you believe should be taken to improve New Mexico’s economic competitiveness?

The best way to increase our competitiveness is to assure companies that we can deliver a well-educated, diligent work force, which gets back to the importance of improving our high school graduation rates and financially supporting students to attend trade schools, community colleges, and our four-year institutions.

Personal background

1. Have you or your business, if you are a business owner, ever been the subject of any state or federal tax liens?

No

2. Have you ever been involved in a personal or business bankruptcy proceeding?

No

3. Have you ever been arrested for, charged with, or convicted of drunken driving, any misdemeanor or any felony in New Mexico or any other state? If so, explain.

No

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