Bill to aid businesses unanimously passes committee

Sen. George Munoz, D-Gallup

The state Senate's Tax, Business and Transportation Committee unanimously endorsed a two-pronged proposal Tuesday (Feb. 9) designed to provide businesses with economic relief and also stimulate job growth, part of an ongoing effort to help New Mexicans struggling with the fallout of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Senate Bill 5, sponsored by Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, expands the Local Economic Development Act in two ways.

"The first one provides [$200 million in] immediate economic assistance in the way of grants for thousands of small and midsize businesses to use for mortgage, rent or lease abatement so that they can rehire workers or new employees," Alicia J. Keyes, Cabinet secretary of the Economic Development Department, told lawmakers.

In recent discussions with business owners, Keyes said their No. 1 concern is the debt they've incurred on their rents.

"LEDA is a job creation fund, so the businesses that accept this money have to commit to hiring or bringing back a specific number of workers," she said.

The maximum allowable grant to a business would be $100,000.

The other part of the bill would allow the state to use incentives to draw big businesses, such as pharmaceutical companies or manufacturers, to New Mexico, Keyes said. It provides partial sharing of gross receipts tax revenues during the construction phase of a project, but only with the approval of the county or municipality — or both — where the company would be located. Those companies would not be eligible for recovery grants under the first part of the bill.

"This additional funding will make our state more competitive for big job creators. It will also ensure that funds are available when great opportunities arise," Keyes said. "Projects like this do not come along very often in New Mexico, but when they do, we want to be able to win them and get the long-term economic gains to our communities."

The bill drew no opposition. Representatives of the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce and the New Mexico Technology Council were among its supporters.

"Small businesses are suffering terribly," Sen. Carrie Hamblen, D-Las Cruces, said before the vote. "I think we need to be able to give them the opportunity to receive financial support so that they can be around once we come out on the other side of this pandemic."

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