SANTA FE - The New Mexico Legislature finally is beginning to act like its old self. The House passed a budget bill on a 35-34 vote, two weeks after its planned mid-session action.
The bill contained the extra revenue from a $45 million cap on film industry rebates negotiated the weekend before between House Speaker Ben Lujan and Republican leaders.
The film rebate cap was seen as a loss for Speaker Lujan but it still wasn't enough to get Republican votes for the budget bill. The Democratic hope is that it will be enough to get Gov. Susana Martinez's signature on the budget.
The votes on the budget and film rebate cap were accompanied by hours of rancorous debate. At one point, House Republican whip Don Bratton of Hobbs called a fellow House member a liar for noting that the oil and gas industry receives bigger tax breaks than the film industry,
Much of the acrimony centered around comparison of tax breaks and which industries are using scare tactics to keep their good deals. The truth is that all sides of every tax break issue use scare tactics - usually either the threat to move to another state or to go out of business.
Movies and TV are highly mobile operations. They have been known to pick up band move to another state during a shoot if they get a sweeter deal elsewhere. The oil industry isn't as mobile. It has to drill where the oil is.
Legislative efforts to prevent national corporations from declaring New Mexico profits in states with lower corporate tax also have been met with threats to move. But it is unlikely a Wal-Mart is going to miss out on a good market just because of a slightly higher tax. It has stores in every state.
Plenty of animosity also came to the fore over the effort to take drivers licenses away from illegal aliens. The subject is a top priority of Gov. Martinez but the bill was killed on a tabling motion in a House Committee.
Rep. Andy Nunez, who became an independent at the beginning of this session, was successful in convincing the House to pull the bill out of committee and onto the floor for debate. The process is known as "blasting" a bill out of committee.
It is attempted once or twice almost every session but seldom is successful because it usually is a move by the minority party and the vote almost always is along party lines. So why waste time trying? Usually it is a case of wanting to get everyone on record concerning a controversial issue that might come in handy during the next election
Taking drivers' licenses from illegal aliens has been the number one issue for Gov. Martinez this session. She has paid for radio ads and automated phone calls during the session on the issue. Getting Democrats on record in marginal districts can be good campaign fodder.
Nunez, who was elected as a Democrat, was accused by Democrats of following orders from our Republican governor. Nunez insisted it was his own idea.
"Dangerous" is a term that has been thrown around by both sides on the drivers' license issue. Democrats warned House members that blasting a bill out of committee sets a dangerous precedent by weakening the status of committees.
Gov. Martinez claims aliens with driver's licenses are dangerous. Rep. Eleanor Chavez, of Albuquerque, counters that Gov. Martinez is dangerous. It's just another example of the hyperbole floating around this session.
At this point, it appears the heat will be on for the remainder of the session. The controversial bills now are in the Senate, which until this year had been the more conservative and volatile of the two houses. Now, with the turmoil in the House, it appears the Senate may seem more liberal and stable.