From The Santa Fe New Mexican
OUR VIEW: A Session Stampede
Posted: Monday, March 18, 2013 11:00 pm | Updated: 10:52 am, Tue Mar 19, 2013.
It is somewhat paradoxical that Gov. Susana Martinez, invited to Rome for today’s investiture of Pope Francis, will meet the pope for the poor just after she promised to veto an increase in the minimum wage for our state’s lowest-paid workers. With the 60-day, 2013 legislative session behind her, Martinez is joining Vice President Joe Biden and others to see the pope installed.
Even as a member of the official U.S. delegation, we doubt the governor will get much chance to chat with the new pope. If they did have a conversation, we would love for Pope Francis to ask Gov. Martinez how her policies in New Mexico support the poor. A decent wage, such as the $8.50 an-hour rate she is promising to veto, would help working families and go a long way to moving Catholic economic values from words to actions.
Gov. Martinez, to be fair, believes a tax code that cuts rates for big businesses will stimulate the economy and attract jobs to New Mexico — and more jobs, of course, better conditions for all New Mexicans. We’ll see if she is correct, because she delivered big for business with a last-minute tax deal (approved just before noon, or minutes after, on Saturday). That package lowers the top corporate tax rate in the state from 7.6 percent to 5.9 percent. There’s also a tax break for big manufacturers that make a product here but sell it elsewhere. Because of the late nature of the deal, it’s unclear just how many millions the tax breaks for business will end up costing the state. It’s also unclear how much the deal will hurt cities and counties. A change in how taxes will be given back to municipalities has the potential to hit budgets from Santa Fe to Hobbs, although the local governments will be allowed to raise gross-receipts taxes to make up the difference. This provision will be phased in over 15 years, so there’s time to fix this should it be too big a hit for towns, cities and counties. Remember, too, that because it involves GRTs, it affects working families more directly. Also in the big deal were tax breaks for television series (one Disney executive calls this a game-changer) and fixes to previous tax breaks that had proved overly generous.
The upside of the tax deal, at least in the short term, is that it means Martinez will not veto the $5.9 billion state budget or bring legislators back for another go-round. And Martinez, despite ramming through the tax deal, left with many of her top priorities unfinished. She still has not revoked driver’s licenses for the undocumented (another interesting conversation to have with Pope Francis), didn’t get her end to so-called social promotion of third-graders and did not institute merit pay for teachers tied to standardized test scores. Her nominee for education secretary, Hanna Skandera, still awaits a vote.
Successes for everyone include solid Public Regulation Commission reform, meaning that one of our state’s more dysfunctional agencies is on the road to improvement. Important pension changes to make both of New Mexico’s two public retirement systems reach solvency were approved. The governor has said she will study those bills carefully. We urge her to sign them. Both liberals and conservatives figured out a way to fix liability issues for Spaceport America, passing legislation aimed at drawing businesses to our soon-to-be-up-and-running facility. Legislation to set up the health care exchanges required under the Affordable Care Act was passed.
Left in the dust at the last minute was legislation to require background checks for private firearm sales. Because Gov. Martinez had said she would sign this bill, we are particularly bothered that such a common-sense measure could not make it through the Senate. The hundreds of New Mexicans who lobbied in favor of gun-safety legislation, showing up for hours of hearings and making their voices heard loudly, will be back, we are sure.
We are gratified that Republicans and Democrats found common ground, less satisfied with the manner in which it unfolded. Deciding bills worth millions of dollars in minutes often produces unintended consequences — and we are curious to see what will result from such hasty lawmaking. With divided government, each side has to give. We’ll see soon whether Democrats gave too much, or whether the governor’s tax breaks for business will prove the shot in the arm New Mexico’s still-lagging economy needs.