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NM economic council outlines recommendations

In this file photo from May, Samuel Marcus, from California, and Mandi Makala of France walk through the Santa Fe Plaza. Leisure and hospitality businesses have been hit especially hard in the pandemic. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

SANTA FE — An economic council that includes business and labor leaders is recommending New Mexico dedicate about $215 million in bonding capacity this year to expanding broadband internet service, revise its liquor laws and boost other economic aid to businesses.

The policy initiatives are part of a 31-page report aimed at helping New Mexico recover from the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was developed by the Economic Recovery Council, established by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham earlier this year.

Christina Campos, a Santa Rosa hospital executive who also owns two restaurants, said the recommendations include a mix of short- and long-term steps to help the economy.

“This doesn’t answer all the needs,” Campos, chairwoman of the council, said in an interview. But “this is our first, best shot.”

The council, she said, considered input from a variety of industries as it worked on the recommendations. The ideas include:

— Dedicating 50% of the state’s severance tax bonding capacity this year to broadband projects, a move that would make about $215 million available for that purpose. The council also suggested creation of a new body that would oversee investments in critical infrastructure, backed by 25% of the severance tax bond program in future years.

— Adding $100 million in funding to the state’s Job Training Incentive Program and expanding eligibility to hospitality and leisure businesses.

— Revising a loan program for small businesses to make it more flexible and accessible and authorizing an extra $100 million to help small companies with rent and mortgage payments as they reopen and rehire employees.

— Supporting the Lujan Grisham administration’s request for $25 million to promote tourism.

— Amending liquor laws to allow takeout or delivery with meal orders from restaurants, in addition to allowing a delivery option for businesses that focus on package sales.

The report also includes an economic damage assessment, noting that the state had lost about 65,500 jobs during the pandemic, as of November, with especially severe losses in leisure and hospitality.

New Mexico legislators are set to begin a 60-day legislative session next week. High-ranking lawmakers have said a pandemic relief package is among the early priorities.

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