Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

9-30 Dems can't criticize gov on job creation

93011 JOBS

SANTA FE – Ever since Gov. Susana Martinez presented her initiatives to the Legislature last January, Democrats have accused her of concentrating on wedge issues instead of job creation.
Gov. Martinez countered that insisting on no new taxes and reduction of regulations on businesses was the best jobs program possible. Democrats disagreed and argued that more immediate solutions were necessary.
Democrats picked up some extra ammunition as the Legislature adjourned in March. A group of Republican senators, upset that some of the governor's priorities were not scheduled for debate, staged a filibuster that caused a big capital outlay bill to die upon adjournment.
An omnibus bill, funding public works projects throughout the state is usually always the final item heard on the floor of the Senate before adjournment. The strategy is to preclude senators from last-minute efforts to add projects in their districts.
Martinez had no visible connection to the death of the capital outlay bill but it could be argued that she was more interested in issues other than jobs.
When the special session rolled around in September, that capital outlay bill was a major priority of the governor. The state's business and labor communities got together to support it. Capital outlay bills are popular because they don't require taxpayer money. They are funded by taxes on the minerals that are mined or pumped out of our state land.
Capital outlay bills are especially popular these days since they fund infrastructure projects at a time when our state and nation is becoming aware of our decaying infrastructure.
So it came as a big surprise when the Senate Finance Committee pared the capital outlay bill from $213 million to $86 million. Committee chairman John Arthur Smith, of Deming, took the lead in arguing that in a time of such economic uncertainty, we should hold some money back in case there is less income to the fund or in case interest rates on severance tax bonds increase.
It was assumed that more moderate Democrats, along with Republican supporters of Gov. Martinez, could push the appropriation back up to its original level. But it didn't happen. Republicans were not united behind the governor's proposal.
Any hopes of House members rallying in support of a higher figure were dashed when the Senate passed the bill at its lower amount and then adjourned at 1 a.m. last Saturday morning, leaving the House with no choice other than to accept the Senate's figure or go home empty handed again.
In fact, the zero option almost was the case. Several Republican House members made numerous attempts to adjourn the session without passing any further measures. Eventually the $86 million bill was passed 68-1.
Special sessions differ from regular sessions in that they are authorized by law to last as long as 30 days but never do. Therefore, there are no deadlines for adjournment. That is why the Senate could pull a fast one on the House.
So why couldn't full funding of the capital outlay bill get through the Legislature? Lawmakers haven't said much about their reasons but several possibilities exist. Some obviously agreed with Sen. Smith. Others, possibly even including a few Republicans, may not have wanted to give Gov. Martinez a big victory. Let her claim a partial victory but that's it.
Remember what the capital outlay bill normally is called. This is the pork bill, sometimes called the Christmas Tree Bill. It has a little in it for everyone. Legislators like to pass those just before elections so they can go home and brag about bringing home the bacon.
The items in the $86 million mainly were of statewide interest and, therefore, more important to the governor. Years ago, an agreement was made to divide the pork equally between the governor and each house of the Legislature. This was the governor's third. And if she wants her piece of the pie now, we'll give it to her.


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