Local legislators predict a special session

Local legislators say tax increases in revenue package could cause the governor to call a special session

Hannah Grover
Darryl Dunlap, owner of Dunlap Performance and Motorsports in Farmington, talks on April 28 about how to modify an off-highway vehicle to make it legal to drive on Farmington's streets. A bill sponsored by a local legislator would allow the state to issue license plates for the vehicles.

FARMINGTON — Local legislators anticipate Gov. Susana Martinez will veto the fiscal year 2018 budget and revenue package and call a special session. Even if the budget is not vetoed, they say she may make several line-item vetoes in the revenue package that funds the $6.1 billion budget.

Martinez could use her veto power because of tax increases included in the budget. If the budget is vetoed, legislators will reconvene for a special session. When reached by phone today, Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, R-Kirtland, said the revenue package was "loaded with tax increases" to pay for the budget.

Sen. Steve Neville was the only local legislator who voted in favor of both the fiscal year 2018 budget and revenue package. When reached by phone, he said he wanted to move them down the line to get the good portions passed. Neville said the revenue package included several taxes that were fairness issues, such as an internet sales tax for purchasing goods online, which supporters say will help level the playing field for brick-and-mortar businesses operating in New Mexico. He said the spending portion of the budget was close to what Martinez had proposed.

Several legislators say this year was different from previous years. The first two weeks were spent balancing this fiscal year's budget and the rest of the session was spent working on the budget for fiscal year 2018, Neville said.

Rep. James Strickler, R-Farmington, said the fiscal year 2018 budget calls for too much spending.

"We've got plenty of revenue, we just spend too much," Strickler said when reached by phone today.

Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, expressed similar concerns when reached by phone today.

"I think it's clear that New Mexico has a spending problem, but, as I've been saying for years, we also have a how to tax properly problem," he said.

He said there are a lot of tax breaks that have narrowed the tax base. Sharer said it is important for the state to work on tax reform. During the session, Sharer proposed a two-percent flat purchase tax.

Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, said he hopes a tax reform bill that broadens the tax base can be passed along with the budget during a special session.

Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, said there were a lot of "unfunded expenditures" passed, such as an increase in minimum wage. Montoya said the state and schools will now have to find a way of paying employees more.

"It doesn't just affect the private sector," he said. "Government has a lot of minimum wage employees."

He said these expenses created holes in the budget that would have to be paid by raising taxes. Montoya said he was not happy with the outcome of the session.

"We didn't accomplish really anything," he said. "We passed a lot of legislation."

He said the legislature spent several days discussing making the green chile cheeseburger the official state sandwich and saw several bills related to license plates. However, one bill that he was glad to see pass was the bill that would let residents vote on creation of an independent ethics commission.

Strickler said there were a lot of "bad bills" introduced, including health care bills introduced in anticipation of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which could restructure Medicaid, and a bill that would raise minimum wage. Strickler said he hopes the Republican governor will veto the "bad bills" that were passed by the Democratic majority House and Senate.

"You need balance and the governor gives us balance," he said.

Several local bills are currently waiting for the governor's signature. These bills include one sponsored by Neville that would require pre-paid cell phone and internet users to pay for emergency 911 services. Landline and monthly billed cell phones are already required to pay. Another bill Neville sponsored would allow municipalities to issue license plates to off-road vehicles driven on public streets.

Strickler and Clahchischilliage were two sponsors on a bill waiting for Martinez' signature that would increase the amount of revenue a person can earn from providing a check cashing service before the person is required to be licensed. Strickler said small grocery stores and trading posts were having to pay a $4,000 license fee if they made more than $500 a month on check cashing services. The bill will raise that threshold to $2,500 a month.

"That was something really needed by the traders in the area," Clahchischilliage said.

A bill consolidating local elections is also waiting for the governor's signature. Bandy, who sponsored the bill, said special districts have elections at different times and in different places. The bill will set these elections for November of odd-numbered years.

"People will know where and when the elections will be held," Bandy said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.