Senate Democrats said Tuesday that New Mexico’s future looks bright — partly because it doesn’t include outgoing Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who also struck a combative tone at the start of the 30-day legislative session. “There’s a new day on the horizon for the state of New Mexico,” said Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, who delivered the response from his caucus to Martinez’s final State of the State address. “Soon, we will have a new leadership team that will guide the state in providing more jobs, better classrooms, protection for our environment [and] safer places for our communities to raise our families and lead prosperous lives,” he said. “New Mexico has been on too many of the lists, at the bottom, for far too long.” In her speech, Martinez, who leaves office at the end of this year, focused on issues she has been working on since she was first elected governor in 2010.
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.
A key Senate committee on Tuesday night pushed ahead a proposal to nearly double New Mexico’s tax on cigarettes to raise money for public schools. Though health advocates say it would help curb smoking and some legislators warn of more cuts to education funding if they cannot raise revenue to bolster the state budget, the proposal is unlikely to make it past Gov. Susana Martinez. When asked about the measure on Tuesday morning, a spokesman for the Republican governor reiterated her stand against raising taxes. But the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, countered that the governor has also pledged that she will not cut classroom spending. “That’s what she would do if she vetoes this bill,” Morales said after the Senate Finance Committee advanced his bill in a bipartisan 9-3 vote.