For Martinez, session brings wins and losses
The governor got her tax breaks and a budget she can work with, in addition to tougher penalties for corruption-related crimes. Democrats got their bill to close a corporate tax “loophole,” though it’s likely to be vetoed. PRC reform will be on the ballot in November.
Gov. Susana Martinez didn’t succeed on many of the issues she had endorsed, but she emerged from the 30-day legislative session with the tax breaks she most cared about and a budget she can work with. Democratic leadership succeeded in killing bills aimed at repealing licenses for undocumented immigrants and ending so-called social promotion, and quickly dispensed with moves to reinstate the death penalty and impose a restriction on abortion.
Senate Majority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said he leaves Santa Fe pleased that lawmakers approved a plan to reduce tax “pyramiding” in the construction industry and a fix to the unemployment insurance fund that is designed to save money for businesses. See more in the video.
Legislative Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, also touted the unemployment insurance fund fix.
“It is probably the largest reduction in cost to employers in the state of New Mexico, and it flew under the radar,” Smith said.
Lawmakers also approved Martinez’s proposed tax credit for business hiring veterans. But they rejected a proposal to provide legal immunity for supply and manufacturing companies involved in flights from Spaceport America.
Democrats succeeded in getting a bill they characterized as closing a gross-receipts tax “loophole” for-out-state corporations, but the bill seems destined to be vetoed by Martinez.
Some were disappointed that legislators failed to address fears about long-term solvency of the educational pension fund.
“Not doing pension reform was a big mistake,” said Carter Bundy of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “We had a compromise that would have fully funded the Educational Retirement Board over the next 30 years, and this was a missed opportunity.”
A signature piece of Martinez’s education agenda also went down in flames in the session’s final hour as Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Tucumcari, led a last-minute filibuster because of the refusal to hear a bill that would have held back third-graders not reading at grade level. By the time the so-called social promotion bill came up for discussion, the session was near an end and another filibuster killed it.
Senate Democrats again declined to consider confirming Martinez’s education secretary designate, Hanna Skandera.
“I’m disappointed that this is not a state that cares about education reform,” Sen. Rod Adair, R-Roswell, said after sine die. “This state is still beholden to the educational establishment.”
A move to spend some of the state’s permanent fund on early childhood education failed for the second year in a row, but lawmakers and the governor agreed on spending more on such programs.
“We put a lot more money into early childhood, early reading programs, K-3. We funded education about $89 million more,” said budget guru Sen. Smith. “That’s real generous with where we were with our dollars.”
Campaign disclosure and reform
In this election year, lawmakers also leave Santa Fe without a bill to require more transparency in political spending, after Democrats, Republicans, nonprofits and the Attorney General’s Office failed to compromise on a bill they all wanted.
“I think it’s a real setback for the voters, and I’m disappointed,” said Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, who worked hard to bring all concerned parties to agreement. In the end, Wirth said, the parties came pretty close but simply ran out of time. See more in our video.
As for reform, a Martinez-backed bill to impose steeper penalties for officials convicted of public corruption-related crimes was passed, as were three proposed constitutional amendments that would reform the scandal-tarnished Public Regulation Commission. A proposal to impose a cooling-off period before legislators can lobby their former colleagues died.
Democrat-sought legislation to ask voters to move the Public Defender’s Department out from under the governor and make it an independent agency passed, so that question will join the three related to the PRC on the November ballot.
On top of all that, lawmakers in the House and Senate took time to laud and applaud retiring Speaker of the House Ben Luján, who banged his gavel throughout the session despite saying in January that because of advanced lung cancer he might not be able to finish the session.