SANTA FE — The clock had struck 12 and many legislators had not even read a late-breaking 35-page bill on tax reductions, but the speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives pushed through a winning vote on the measure that reshaped the political landscape.

The tax bill approved at the buzzer or after it depending on who was watching the clock was to the liking of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. She said she was satisfied enough with what the Legislature did at the bitter end that she will sign rather than veto the bulk of the state budget.

Martinez said this means there will not be a special legislative session.

"That is good for everyone, including New Mexico taxpayers," she said.

Only two days earlier, Martinez talked of calling a special session because of her unhappiness with legislators amending the state budget, especially by removing money for her initiative that would have given merit pay to certain teachers.

A late night and early morning of political maneuvering by leaders in the House and the Senate staved off the special session but angered a dozen or so legislators. They said the final vote was irresponsible if not illegal.

House Speaker Ken Martinez of Grants was at heart of the controversy. He said he followed all procedures to the letter.

But Rep. Mimi Stewart, a fellow Democrat, publicly said the session's noon deadline already had elapsed before Speaker Martinez hurried through a vote on the tax bill.


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The measure carried 46-18. An earlier motion to disallow debate on the bill and move straight to a vote carried 46-21, which Speaker Martinez said was the necessary two-thirds margin for the extraordinary measure.

Had Stewart and Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, been allowed to debate the bill as they wanted, the session deadline would have expired without it being voted on.

"It was more than ugly. Procedurally, we are looking into what happened," Steinborn said.

Never before, he said, had all debate been curtailed on a bill, especially one as detailed and complex as this one.

Stewart said the handling of the bill was a shock to her.

"It was rammed down our throats," she said. "No one on the floor understood it, and we could be impacting the general fund (budget) for yeas to come.

The 70 House members only received copies of the tax bill a few minutes before the vote. Actually a combination of four tax programs, the bill was approved only a half-hour earlier by the state Senate.

Asked if he had read the tax bill before voting on it, Rep. Miguel Garcia, D-Albuquerque, simply said, "no."

But Garcia, one of the committee chairmen who joined Speaker Martinez at his post-session news conference, said he considered the legislative session a successful one in which much was accomplished.

Stewart said it could be a disaster.

She said the tax breaks could create unforeseen problems by depleting state revenues. In addition, Stewart said, she was concerned about other fallout because the bill will reduce state funding to cities and counties.

Gov. Martinez downplayed that possibility. She said cities and counties would have two years to prepare for a 7 percent cut in state funding. She said this was less challenging then when she took office in 2011 and had to work with the Legislature to cut 8 percent, or about $400 million, by midyear to reconcile declines in revenues.

Speaker Martinez permitted the bill drafter from the Legislative Council Service to outline for House members highlights of the bill. But the drafter said he was not qualified to comment on what effects the bill would have on cities and counties.

Soon after, Speaker Martinez called for the vote. Stewart politely but publicly told him it was past 12 noon and the session was over. He ignored her, and his side won the vote.

Speaker Martinez later said he was watching the clock and he met the deadline. Clocks on computers and mobile phones showed otherwise.

He also said many in the House, which has a freshman class of 20, were familiar with all or parts of the bill. Speaker Martinez conceded that some members were not knowledgeable about the bill they voted on.

The bill would reduce the state's corporate income tax rate from 7.6 percent to 5.9 percent across five years.

In addition, it would change the tax filing system for state-based manufacturers that sell most of their goods or services outside New Mexico.

Another part of the bill would reduce business tax incentives to help shore up state finances.

The final component would give rebates of up to 30 percent to television series that shoot at least six episodes in New Mexico. The existing rebate is 25 percent for TV producers and moviemakers.

Milan Simonich, Santa Fe bureau chief of Texas-New Mexico Newspapers, can be reached at msimonich@tnmnp.com or 505-820-6898. His blog is at nmcapitolreport.com