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$200M pandemic relief measure nears passage

In this file photo, Gilbert Sanchez, operations manager at Sadie’s of New Mexico on Fourth NW, sits at a table at the popular restaurant. New Mexico legislators are considering bills aimed at helping the restaurant industry. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — A proposal to offer $600 tax rebates to New Mexicans who make $15 an hour or less and to authorize a four-month tax holiday for restaurants is speeding toward final approval in the Legislature.

The legislation, Senate Bill 1, passed the House Taxation and Revenue Committee on Monday, leaving just full House approval necessary to send the bill to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, a Santa Fe Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, said the goal is to help grocery store clerks and other essential workers who have put themselves at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. They would get a $600 rebate when they file their taxes this year if their annual income was $31,200 or less.

The tax relief for restaurants and bars, he said, is intended to make it easier for them as they rehire workers and expand in-person operations this year. They could continue collecting gross receipts taxes and keep the money rather than pay it to the state from March through June.

Bars would be covered by the bill, but fast-food establishments would be excluded.

“What we’re trying to do is get money into the pocket of working families and the food, hospitality and bar industry as fast as we can,” Wirth said.

The measure would cost about $200 million, with the cash coming from state reserves. Wirth said state reserves now stand at 35% of state spending but are expected to remain at least 20%, even if Senate Bill 1 and other relief measures pass this year.

The bill passed the Senate 42-0 last week and the House tax committee 10-0 on Monday. Its next stop is the House floor.

Allison Kuper Smith, a lobbyist for the New Mexico Restaurant Association, said the proposal would give restaurants “a little bit of breathing room as they focus on staying open and keeping their members employed.”

New Mexico’s public health order now limits restaurant operations depending on the prevalence of COVID-19 in their home county. The state’s most populous counties — including Bernalillo, Sandoval and Santa Fe counties — can now offer indoor dining at 25% capacity.

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