Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

3-25 column update

WED, 3-25-09

SANTA FE - March Madness. That's what Attorney General Gary King calls the aftermath of the 2009 New Mexico Legislature. He does see some good coming out of the session but figures most of the results were either bad or ugly.
The amount of good that came from the session depends on who is doing the talking. The state's business community, for instance, should be ecstatic. As the session began a spokesman for New Mexico businesses said he saw three things coming out of the 2009 session: taxes, taxes, taxes.
Zero out of three won't win any tournaments but it should please many New Mexicans that the 2009 Legislature managed to balance the budget without raising any taxes. Most states were not as lucky.
Arizona, for instance, is $3 billion short on a $10 billion budget. The governor and Republican Legislature are currently fighting over the need for a huge tax increase. There's nothing new about that. Democrat Gov. Janet Napolitano did fought lawmakers for six years. But she's now in Washington on the president's cabinet.
The current governor is former Republican legislative leader Jan Brewer, who says she can't believe one of her first actions in office is to propose a tax increase after having fought them for years. She says the only place to cut that much money is in education and she's not going to jeopardize the state's future by doing that.
The possibility always exists that a special session later in the year could raise our taxes if the economy gets significantly worse. But it doesn't appear likely. In January, discussion centered on an April or May special session. In February, talk turned to a summer session. Now a fall special session is deemed the most likely timing. That's an indication our leaders are becoming more confident of our fiscal position.
Some of the committee chairmen, who didn't get their jobs finished during the regular session, have mentioned a special session as a time they might get some of their work finished.
The biggest dallier was Sen. Linda Lopez, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, who didn't get confirmation hearings finished and who ended the session with numerous ethics bills stranded in her committee.
The judiciary and finance committees of both houses also are famous for being places bills go to die. Not to be Pollyannaish about this, however, many of those deaths are intentional.
A special session also could be a good time to work on webcasting technology some more. And the House still has to get the ball rolling on webcasting of floor sessions. The Senate got a great deal of bad press for authorizing the purchase of webcasting equipment and then taking it down. But the House hasn't even taken those steps.
Parking, however, will still be a problem for everyone but lawmakers until at least next January. A large parking garage is being constructed on the west side of the Capitol Building. It was scheduled to be finished by this past January but the many problems of getting anything done in Santa Fe are making a completion by next January start looking optimistic.
An item we never got around to discussing during the legislative session was Tax Increment Development Districts, or TIDDs. Three such legislative authorizations were sought this past session for in Albuquerque and Las Cruces.
A big California firm wants to develop the former Atrisco Land Grant southwest of Albuquerque. Huge media buys sought to sell the idea to New Mexicans statewide and a lobbying team, the size of which has seldom been seen, was hired to twist lawmakers' arms.
Considering the amount of money spent, passage was considered a slam-dunk. But around midnight on the last full day of the session, the measure died on a tie vote, while the other Albuquerque TIDD request for redevelopment of the Winrock shopping center passed easily.
The following morning, time ran out before the non-controversial TIDD request for Las Cruces could be approved.
You'll hear much more on this subject in coming months.

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