May 23, 2017

Questions remain in hours ahead of special session

The New Mexico State Capitol, or Roundhouse Wikicommons.

Questions on what can be accomplished during a special session linger even as legislators head to Santa Fe today.

The main priority for legislators is a budget. Legislators must pass a new budget after Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the entire budgets of higher education and the Legislature. If a new budget isn’t passed before the start of the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1, New Mexico community colleges and universities will have no money.

But Martinez also wants legislators to address a massive tax overhaul and confirm two University of New Mexico regents.

Legislators have already said those two things won’t happen. And House Speaker Brian Egolf said that the chamber would pursue overrides of the line-item vetoes by Martinez.

He cited the state Supreme Court saying the Legislature hadn’t exhausted all remedies for addressing Martinez’s vetoes before the legislative council filed suit against her office earlier this year. Because of this, the state’s high court declined to hear the suit.

As for the tax overhaul, Egolf said Tuesday the House would not deal with the effort because the plan was still not available to legislators or the public.

“The public doesn’t know what’s in it, members don’t know what’s in it, the media doesn’t know what’s in it,” he told the Santa Fe Reporter.

Last week, Egolf said he supported studying a tax reform bill and coming back later in the year to pass it.

But the Santa Fe New Mexican reported a deal on the budget would be difficult without tax reform. While Martinez has been staunchly against raising any taxes in the past, in recent weeks she has softened that position and said she would agree to some tax increases if they come as part of a package with a comprehensive overhaul of taxes.

In the office’s typically pugnacious fashion, a spokesman for the governor sounded a warning to Egolf.

“If the Speaker doesn’t want to consider tax reform, then he shouldn’t waste time passing tax hikes, because they will all be vetoed,” spokesman Michael Lonergan told the New Mexican. “Unfortunately, Speaker Egolf is already demonstrating for the state his refusal to work together towards any kind of compromise and instead is once again trying to jam the same old tax hikes through the legislature.”

State Rep. Jason Harper, the Rio Rancho Republican leading the tax overhaul push, told the New Mexican he was finalizing technical fixes to the bill.

As for regents, Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen told the Associated Press confirmation hearings would not take place during the special session. Instead, she said, legislators would be focused on the budget.