A Senate committee rolled back proposed tax increases in a sprawling bill that would change rates on internet sales, car purchases, e-cigarettes and more. House Bill 6 represented a push by top Democrats in the House of Representatives to shore up the state’s finances, which now rest largely on revenue from oil and gas. But it prompted plenty of skepticism for threatening to raise taxes for many New Mexicans at a time when the state enjoys a hefty budget surplus from an energy boom. The big question now is when the bill will get a hearing in its next and last committee as the Legislature hurtles toward a noon Saturday adjournment. If the Senate Finance Committee doesn’t act on the measure until Friday, House Democrats may be left with little time to negotiate and have to choose between either accepting the Senate’s changes or nothing.
The chairman of an influential Senate committee proposes to strip out big pieces of a sprawling tax bill, scrapping a proposed increase in New Mexico’s personal income tax rates and scaling back a suggested increase in a credit for families. For backers of House Bill 6, the measure is key to making the tax system more progressive and shoring up the state’s finances before the oil industry takes another dive and New Mexico’s government is left strapped for cash again. But the idea of passing several tax increases at a time when the state anticipates a budget surplus from an ongoing oil boom has drawn plenty of criticism. Some senators on both sides of the aisle have argued the proposed tax hikes are too much, too fast — and potentially a big political liability. Sen. Clemente Sanchez, a Democrat from Grants who chairs the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee, on Tuesday called for changes to the bill that would reduce the amount of money raised for the general fund from more than $300 million in the next fiscal year to an estimated $93 million, not including some other changes.
A handful of Democrats joined with Republicans at the Legislature on Friday to quash a bill that would have allowed the state to charge higher royalty rates on some oil and gas production. The first committee hearing for House Bill 398 turned into a showdown between New Mexico’s influential oil industry and a newly elected Democratic land commissioner who came to office pledging to collect a greater share of revenue from oil produced on the millions of acres her office controls. Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard argued that raising royalty rates is strictly good business for a state rich in oil and gas but that has one of the highest rates of poverty in the country. But the oil and gas industry countered that it already generates a large share of the funds for New Mexico’s government through taxes and royalties. Raising royalty rates, representatives from the industry argued, would drive away business and ultimately hurt the state.
ByAndrew Oxford and Robert Nott, Santa Fe New Mexican |
Brian Egolf, speaker of the Democrat-controlled state House of Representatives, says the body is moving legislation faster than ever, clearing the way for reform of every level of state government. The House minority leader, Rep. James Townsend, R-Artesia, says Egolf doesn’t ask for input or collaboration. He simply reveals what’s coming and how it’s going to play out, Townsend said. Welcome to the halfway point of this year’s 60-day legislative session. Proceedings in the House often are angry and combative, as outnumbered Republicans say their side is being ignored or steamrolled.
The state House of Representatives on Saturday approved a bill seeking to create bigger prizes in the state lottery, but not before heavily amending the measure to protect the lottery scholarship fund for college students. House Bill 147, sponsored by Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park, cleared the House on a vote of 37-30. It eliminates a requirement that the lottery turn over 30 percent of its gross revenue for scholarships. The lottery staff and lobbyists for lottery vendors said scrapping the funding requirement actually would one day lead to significantly more money for scholarships. Democrats and Republicans alike were skeptical of that claim.
One of the biggest winners in the just concluded 60-day session of the New Mexico Legislature was a man who never set foot in the Roundhouse and, in fact, never came close to crossing the state border. His name is Donald J. Trump, the president of the United States. Republican Trump lost New Mexico in November by 8 percentage points, and Democrats control both the state Senate and House of Representatives. Even so, several pieces of legislation aimed at Trump failed to get traction in the Legislature. Senate Bill 118, sponsored by Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, would have required presidential candidates to disclose five years of personal income taxes to get on the general election ballot in New Mexico.
Most members of the Senate Rules Committee trickled out of a hearing Monday, scuttling a vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to expand funding for early childhood education. The lack of a quorum stalled House Joint Resolution 1 in the first of two committees it must clear before even reaching a vote of the full Senate before the legislative session ends at noon Saturday. A couple Republicans were in the room when the Rules Committee took up the proposal. But all four Republicans on the committee either left the hearing or never entered it. Two Democrats also were absent, so only five of the committee’s 11 members remained as the debate wound to a close.
In a late-night surprise Wednesday in the House of Representatives, Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, who has missed most of the legislative session because of a heart operation, showed up to help pass a proposed constitutional amendment that would take an extra one percent of interest earnings from New Mexico’s $20 billion land grant permanent fund to help pay for early childhood education. The House voted 37-32, mostly along party lines, to pass House Joint Resolution 1, a vote which had been delayed for more than a week, partly because of the Santa Fe legislator’s absence. Trujillo, a long-time advocate of the proposal, received a standing ovation when he walked into the chamber immediately before the House ended a three-hour debate. Related: Education chiefs fail to appear at hearing
The measure now goes to the Senate, where the road is expected to be much rougher. The proposal is certain to meet resistance from the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, a longtime opponent of taking extra money out of the land grant fund.
Supporters of a popular idea among Democrats — a proposed constitutional amendment that would take between $153 million and $163 million a year in the first three years from the state’s land grant endowment to expand early childhood education — are having a difficult time mustering the votes to get it through the state House of Representatives. House Joint Resolution 1 has been waiting all week to get a floor vote. Word got out Friday that the resolution once again would not be heard, even though it was the top item on the House calendar. The measure would amend the state constitution to draw less than 1 percent a year from the endowment to pay for early childhood education. The sponsors of the proposal, Democratic Reps.
State Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, remained in a Denver hospital Tuesday for treatment of a heart condition. Trujillo, 77, was flown to Denver last week. He couldn’t be reached for comment, but House Speaker Brian Egolf said Tuesday that Trujillo is out of the intensive care unit and is “up walking and talking.” “My understanding is that he is doing well and should be out of the hospital this week,” said Egolf, D-Santa Fe. I am not sure when he will be back in Santa Fe, but we are hoping in the next 10 days or so.”