Inside the Capitol

Saturday, March 26, 2011

3-23 sine die

WED, 3-23-11

SANTA FE – What a change of pace. The dynamics of the 2011 Legislature were different from the previous eight years in almost every way possible.
A new governor can be expected to be different from the previous governor but Gov. Susana Martinez made the same promise of "bold change," the same promise Gov. Bill Richardson made when he took office.
Who knew that Martinez's bold change meant going from a governor that attempted too much to one who has attempted almost nothing. Martinez's one big change involved taking driver's licenses from illegal aliens. She invested leftover campaign funds in robocalls and radio ads to sell the idea.
Lawmakers were hugely unimpressed. They are not accustomed to governors who mess with constituents in their legislative district. They want to be treated as fellow elected officials and dealt with face-to-face. But face-to-face contact with legislators or anyone else has not been Martinez's style thus far.
Consequently Martinez only got small parts of her meager legislative proposals. She got a watered down version of her Katie's Law changes involving DNA from felons. She got one of three education changes she sought -- the one that will give letter grades to schools.
She got a $50 million cap on tax credits for any one film project. She had wanted to lower the rebate from 25 percent to 15 percent. Neither she nor the film industry liked the compromise. But she refused to meet with top Hollywood executives who twice traveled to Santa Fe with alternatives they felt would be beneficial to both sides.
As the session wound down last Friday night, both houses sent up a flurry of bills to the governor. They did not include taking driver's licenses from illegal aliens, a ban on social promotions, merit pay for teachers and administrators, a reinstatement of the death penalty or photo identification at polling places.
Most of Saturday morning was spent with filibusters by Republicans upset about the sudden death of many of their favorite issues.
It wasn't an outstanding session. The best that can be said is that not a lot of bad legislation was passed. Budget problems were kicked a little further down the road. No noticeable job-creating legislation was passed.
The film industry says the $50 million cap on rebates will be a job killer. We'll have to wait and see on that. Some states lowered their film incentives but others raised or reinstated theirs. The bottom line is that no one has any idea what the best formula might be. Legislation did pass requiring the state Taxation and Revenue Department to analyze receipts and expenditures. Maybe next year we can have an intelligent discussion.
The budget deficit was plugged with about $150 million, mostly from public employee benefit contributions. There was little talk of the $200 million to $450 million gap mentioned during last year's campaigns.
Lawmakers complained that they didn't have all the information they needed for budget decisions. They passed a bill requesting more information on contracts the executive branch signs. The bill became Gov. Martinez's first veto. Gov. Bill Richardson vetoed the same bill last year amid cries of political cover ups.
Martinez has until April 8 to act on bills sent to her the last three days of the session. Maybe those signings and vetoes will give a better picture of her bold program. One of the other evidences of Martinez's lack of communication during the legislative session involved bills sent to executive departments requesting fiscal impact reports.
Normally state employees have a good idea of where the governor stands on all bills being considered by the Legislature. Gov. Richardson used to put a code in the lower left hand corner of the bills he had introduced. But this year, state employees and their department heads had no idea whether they might be trashing a bill the governor liked or saying good things about a bill she didn't want.


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