Joseph Sanchez

Joseph Sanchez

For more than 70 years, Los Alamos National Laboratory has relied on essential labor from the Española Valley to support its nuclear research and weapons work. Yet the massive economic benefits from the lab have flowed almost exclusively to Los Alamos County, the wealthiest county in New Mexico, authorities said.

With Rio Arriba County and Española struggling to pay for basic services and essential infrastructure, its time the federal lab start sending an equitable share of money to its economically struggling neighbors, said state Rep. Joseph Sanchez (D-Alcalde). 

“Los Alamos is one of the richest counties in the country, and Rio Arriba is one of the poorest,” said Sanchez, who said he filed a memorial in the Roundhouse this week aimed at ensuring reoccurring payments from LANL to local governments in the Española Valley. “Los Alamos County Council members are pushing projects for golf courses and swimming pools, and down the hill people are struggling to live.”

Sanchez’s memorial urges that any state taxation task force convened in 2023 be asked to “research and develop legislative recommendations and alternatives that can promote more equitable regional tax distributions” from LANL or  other federal research facilities in New Mexico.

If no taxation task force is convened, Sanchez’s memorial calls for the Legislative Finance Committee, as well as the Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy Committee, to study the issue. 

According to data in the memorial, LANL’s operations and construction led to the lab paying over $136 million in Gross Receipts Tax revenue in 2022. 

Data provided by Sanchez shows the Gross Receipts Tax rate in Los Alamos County is 7.18 percent. The state’s share of those taxes is five percent, with the rest of the money, 2.18 percent, incrementally flowing to Los Alamos County, the data shows.

Additionally, the county gets a “municipal distribution” of 1.22 percent from the state’s share. When all accounts are settled, the state’s actual share is 3.77 percent and Los Alamos County’s is 3.41 percent, the data shows.

Rio Arriba County’s share of that money is zero, authorities said.

“I would like to see the Gross Receipts Tax [money] from LANL flowing down to these areas in need on a reoccurring basis,” Sanchez said.

Money from LANL’s purchases of goods and services also flows mostly outside the Española Valley, with 21 percent going to Los Alamos County and 19 percent to Bernalillo County, according to past economic research by the University of New Mexico.   

Lucia Sanchez, the county manager in Rio Arriba County, said she supports Rep. Sanchez’s move in the legislature. She said the lab should begin sending reoccurring payments to Rio Arriba County and other local governments to narrow the wealth gap with Los Alamos County.

“Rio Arriba County and its residents, from the pueblos to the city to the county, have long supported the mission of the laboratory through its work force and through the services we provide in the region,” Sanchez said. “To have this disparity between how Rio Arriba County is functioning and looking in terms of infrastructure, and then you have Los Alamos County...the disparity is obvious. You can see it.”

Lucia Sanchez said  “a small way for the federal government to give back” to the Española Valley would be through economic development funds.

“That money could bring stores, attractive streets and revitalization to a regional commerce hub in Española, boosting the county’s economy,” Sanchez said. “We don’t have parks and [flourishing] streets and places where people can come spend money. There are more than enough resources to spread that wealth [from LANL].”

More than a decade ago, a coalition of northern communities signed memorandums of understanding with Los Alamos County that ensured small but reoccurring payments, authorities said. Those agreements lapsed.

In November, Los Alamos County Council members voted to funnel $2.3 million toward two Rio Arriba County infrastructure projects. Other expenditures have been made by the council in recent years with an eye toward more economic equity for its neighbors.  

But its not nearly enough, Rep. Sanchez said. 

“Currently, all that [tax] money stays in Los Alamos County and a majority of the workers at the lab are from Rio Arriba and northern Santa Fe Counties,” he said.

In 2020, Sanchez said he filed a similar memorial that was killed due to opposition in the since-dissolved Local Government, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs Committee.

Sanchez said he has also drafted a bill for equitable distribution of LANL funds, which may be filed depending on the memorial’s reception. 

State Rep. Susan Herrera (D-Embudo), who opposed Sanchez's previous memorial, said that changing the tax revenue distribution system for LANL would be bad policy and would "wreak havoc on our state."

"When you make tax policy for counties, it should be applicable to all counties," Herrera said. "I think [LANL is] trying to help the communities of the Valley and they do that in a lot of different ways."

Julie Williams-Hill, a spokesperson for Los Alamos County, said on Tuesday that: "As of today, the Memorial filed by Representative Sanchez is not available to the public, and we have been unable to obtain a copy. Without seeing what is stated, it is difficult to provide a comment. We look forward to reading it once it is available."

Española Mayor John Ramon Vigil on Tuesday said he also had not seen the memorial, and so could not speak to whether he supports or opposes the measure.

Any official endorsement or opposition to the memorial would have to come from Española's governing body, which consists of the mayor and city council,  Vigil said. 

A LANL spokesperson said the lab’s fiscal year 2022 Economic Impact Report was released Tuesday and showed the lab paid $1.5 billion in salaries to its more than 14,000 employees, who are residents of Los Alamos, Santa Fe, Rio Arriba, Bernalillo, Sandoval and Taos Counties.

The lab did not respond to questions about Sanchez's memorial before deadline. 

Editor’s Note: Rep. Joseph Sanchez is an investor in El Rito Media, which owns the Rio Grande SUN.

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