A handful of bills passed by both the state Senate and House of Representatives continue to sit in limbo. Normally, those bills would be signed or vetoed by the governor. Instead, their fate likely lies with the judicial branch. The head of the Legislative Council Service (LCS), the nonpartisan administrative arm of the state Legislature, said he and his staff suggested to lawmakers and the secretary of state that some vetoed bills should actually be chaptered. Chaptering, or printing, the bills is typically the first step to writing them into state statute.
A legislative session that began 60 days ago with calls for bipartisanship to balance the state’s quavering budget ended Saturday with bitterness, acrimony and a promise by Gov. Susana Martinez to bring lawmakers back for a special session to craft a new budget without any tax increases. It would be the third year in a row that Martinez has called lawmakers into a special session to address budget shortfalls and other financial issues, illustrating the continuing discord between the Republican governor and Democrats in the Legislature. This session’s disharmony was particularly notable because it included skirmishes between the governor and some lawmakers of her own party. “Many in the Legislature failed to do their jobs this session,” Martinez told reporters shortly after lawmakers adjourned. “They actually squandered 60 days and cowed to special interest groups.
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 Senate on Wednesday night defeated a bill that would have legalized assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. In a 22-20 vote, seven Democrats joined 15 Republicans to stop the measure. Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, sponsored Senate Bill 252 to allow people expected to die within six months to obtain a prescription for drugs meant to end their own lives. In addition, a patient would have to be deemed mentally competent by two doctors. The bill called for a mandatory 48-hour waiting period between the time the prescription was written and filled.
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.
The New Mexico Legislature came closer Saturday to sending Gov. Susana Martinez a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, as well as a $300 million tax package. The Senate passed House Bill 2, as well as HB 202, which could raise more than $300 million — depending on which new taxes and fees are signed and which are vetoed by Martinez, a Republican who repeatedly has vowed never to raise taxes. Both pieces of legislation will have to return to the House of Representatives for final passage because of amendments made in the session. “This budget and revenue package reflects the desire of the legislature to produce a plan that supports New Mexico families and makes practical long-term spending decisions necessary for the success of our state,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said in a news release. “By raising new recurring revenue,” Smith said, “we were able to prevent dramatic cuts and strengthen our support for critical state services like public education all while leaving an appropriate level of reserves necessary to reassure bond companies that we have financial stability needed to protect our credit rating.”
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.
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.