Inside the Capitol

Monday, October 19, 2009

10-21 Getting Ahead of the Game

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- It isn't snowing in Santa Fe yet but many in the Capital City seem to think next January's regular session of the 2010 Legislature has arrived.
For many weeks, Gov. Bill Richardson has been cautioning that the current special legislative session will be limited strictly to budget items and no consideration of tax matters.
Gov. Richardson made it even clearer in his opening day proclamation, saying legislation shall not include raising tax rates, reducing or eliminating tax credits, rebates, exemptions or deductions or imposing new taxes.
That's pretty clear. But dozens of bills have been introduced in both houses dealing with taxes. Some legislators argue that these restrictions prevent them from fulfilling their constitutional duty to balance the budget.
But since the restrictions are on tax increases, the Senate's conservative leadership is not making a fuss. That may mean a fairly quick end to this special session.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, often differs with Gov. Richardson but Sanchez says he will take the governor at his word that he'll approve no tax legislation now but will entertain it at the session beginning in January.
Sanchez's support of the governor on this issue likely means there will be no impasse of the sorts that have stalemated several states for months in addressing their budget deficits. Sanchez says he expects to be voting for tax bills come next January.
So why are all these tax increase bills being introduced now? Many lawmakers have committed to support raising more revenue. On Saturday numerous education groups were at the Capitol, along with state employees, Medicaid recipients and social service organizations to encourage legislative support.
The tax bill sponsors know their efforts won't yield legislation this session but it puts them on record and starts the discussion for next January. And they won't hear as much static as their colleagues between now and then from parents worried about school programs being cut.
Shortly before lawmakers went into session Saturday afternoon, a coalition of teacher, administrator, school board and parent organizations released survey results showing overwhelming public support for not cutting school funding and strong majority support for increasing certain taxes and closing tax loopholes.
One tax item that has been declared germane to this session would require the state to release a tax expenditure report listing the hundreds of tax credits, exemptions and deductions in its tax code. It would show how much revenue the state is forgoing as a result of favorable tax treatments.
Estimates run as high as $5 billion. New Mexico is one of only nine states that don't produce such a report. We would be producing the report but Gov. Richardson vetoed a similar measure two years ago.
Richardson said the report would confuse the public. Those individuals and industries benefiting from favorable treatment would like the public to remain confused.
Also at the Capitol on Saturday were supporters of equal marriage rights for gays. They also knew their cause will not be heard until January but they want to be sure no one forgets about it.
And while they're at it, why not add a flourish? The group strung a wide gold ribbon all the way around the Roundhouse, held up by 150 volunteers. Where the ends met, a fake silver colored stone was positioned. Organizers have petitioned the Guinness Book of World Records to recognize it as the world's biggest engagement ring.
The number of gay rights supporters on the west steps of the Capitol easily outnumbered the representatives of education, state employees, Medicaid recipients, Tea Partiers and backers of Tom Mullins for Congress.
A rally, at the same location, on Friday of the previous week attracted a reported 1,500 state employees and teachers. Evidently it is easier to get people to give up a work day than a play day.
WED, 10-21-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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