New Mexico’s 60-day legislative session doesn’t end until noon Saturday, but Gov. Susana Martinez already is preparing to call a special session because of ongoing budget problems, her staff said Friday night. “A special session could be called as soon as Monday or Tuesday,” said the governor’s spokesman, Chris Sanchez. Note: This post has been updated throughout to reflect news on likely special session. Keith Gardner, Martinez’s chief of staff, said a special session is almost a certainty. “If something doesn’t change dramatically from tonight, yes,” Gardner said at the Capitol on Friday night.
A wide-ranging tax bill that passed the House of Representatives in a unanimous vote ran into obstacles at a Senate hearing Wednesday and isn’t likely to advance in the 2017 Legislature. “Anything still has a chance of moving,” said Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, chairman of the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee, after a four-hour hearing on House Bill 412, sponsored by Rio Rancho Republican Rep. Jason Harper. But during the hearing, lawmakers were more skeptical as they heard concerns from lobbyists for doctors, hospitals, broadcasters, nonprofit organizations, schools, farmers, the dairy industry, hospice nurses and nursing homes about how the tax changes would affect their operations. Related: NM’s revenue still hasn’t recovered to pre-recession levels
Harper was not surprised. “We’ve jokingly called this bill the lobbyist full-employment act.
The state House of Representatives on Tuesday passed yet another bill that would legalize research on industrial hemp. The House voted 65-1 to pass House Bill 530, sponsored by Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque. The bill, which now goes to the Senate, comes on the heels of Gov. Susana Martinez vetoing not one but two industrial hemp bills. She offered no explanation in either of her veto messages. Gentry told The New Mexican earlier this week that following the latest veto, he sat down with the governor’s staff — namely Deputy Chief of Staff Jeremiah Ritchie — to “work out some minor details that brought us more in compliance with federal law.”
Those who work on tax policy probably know the saying by the late U.S. Sen. Russell B. Long of Louisiana: “Don’t Tax You. Don’t Tax Me. Tax That Fellow Behind the Tree.” That is the challenge facing Rep. Jason Harper, R- Rio Rancho, as his bill to revamp New Mexico’s gross receipts tax heads to its first Senate hearing on Saturday before the Corporations and Transportation Committee. Harper’s House Bill 412, co-sponsored by Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, is a years-long effort to calculate what it would cost to eliminate tax deductions, credits and exemptions on some 125 separate economic transactions in dozens of industries.
Members of the Senate Finance Committee say they have reached an agreement on a package of taxes and fees that would help New Mexico resolve its projected budget deficit and shore up cash reserves to about 3 percent next year. The proposal amends several provisions of House Bill 202, including a tax that was opposed by doctors and hospitals. The Senate measure also would incorporate a gasoline and diesel tax increase that has already passed the Senate as a separate bill. By bringing all the elements together, Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, the finance chairman, hopes to stabilize the $6.1 billion general fund and guard against further credit downgrades. It also would buffer the state against expected federal cuts in education and health care.
Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed legislation Thursday that would allow teachers to use their sick leave without it affecting their evaluations. Martinez said if the bill, which sponsors dubbed the “Teachers are Human Too Act,” became law, it would lead to more teacher absences, which would create more expenses, including for substitute teachers. Martinez said this would also lead to decreased quality of education. “We need our teachers in our classrooms, and House Bill 241 would lead to more teacher absences,” Martinez wrote. Related: Education chiefs fail to appear at hearing
The Public Education Department was unable to estimate in the bill’s Fiscal Impact Report how many teacher absences there would be under the bill, and at what cost.
An effort to eliminate hundreds of tax breaks for dozens of businesses and service providers while lowering the overall tax rate on sales is moving forward in the Legislature and may become part of a solution to fix New Mexico’s budget deficit for years to come. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, passed the House of Representatives late Wednesday with no dissenting votes. The initiative had been broadly scaled back from what Harper first proposed with the introduction of House Bill 412, which now has a prime focus on reforming the state’s cumbersome gross receipts tax law. Initial measures to extend that tax to food, as well as changes to income tax rates and how property is valued, were removed from the bill in what House Speaker Brian Egolf called “the largest substitution in the history of the House floor.” Harper accepted the amendments from Rep. Carl Trujillo, D- Santa Fe, as the only realistic way his reforms would move forward.
On controversial abortion bills, Democratic legislators have had a tendency this year to hear prolonged, passionate testimonies and debates—then quickly vote to table the bills. That happened again Thursday afternoon, when the House Consumer & Public Affairs Committee devoted two hours to a controversial bill on what anti-abortion advocates call “born alive” infants. Several people testified in both support and opposition to the bill. Soon, Reps. Bob Wooley and Monica Youngblood, Republicans from Roswell and Albuquerque, respectively, asked lengthy questions of the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington.
Solar energy companies would have to provide more information about the cost and energy savings on residential solar systems under a bill that passed the House of Representatives on Tuesday night by a large bipartisan margin. The House voted 56-6 to pass House Bill 199, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española. The bill now goes to the Senate, which last week approved a similar measure, Senate Bill 210, sponsored by Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants. Rodella told fellow House members that most solar companies have not been a problem. “But a few bad actors ruin it for everyone,” she said.
Financial bonuses for state lottery officials and contractors would be tied to increases in scholarship money available to New Mexico college students under a bill that got unanimous bipartisan approval from a House committee Monday. House Bill 250, sponsored by Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, also would require the state lottery to transfer money from unclaimed cash prizes — usually $2 million to $4 million a year — to the lottery scholarships fund. In addition, the bill would halt a pilot program launched last year in which lottery tickets are sold at self-serve gasoline pumps. Lottery officials launched the program at 13 gas stations — and 100 gas pumps — around the state, despite the fact that a House committee in 2015 killed legislation sought by lottery officials that would have legalized gas pump lottery ticket sales. HB 250 would prohibit all video lottery games connected with fuel pumps or automatic teller machines.