Legislature wraps up
November 6, 2003
SANTA FE (AP) — The Legislature finished its work when the House gave final approval to a measure financing nearly $1.6 billion in highway and transportation projects over the next seven years.
Before lawmakers headed home Wednesday, Mexican President Vicente Fox addressed the Legislature and other state leaders.
The highway legislation, which Gov. Bill Richardson is expected to sign into law, will increase taxes and fees by nearly $60 million a year. Among its provisions: a 3-cents-a-gallon increase in the tax on diesel and a 33 percent increase in yearly motor vehicle registration fees.
The money will help back bonds to pay for more than three dozen road projects across the state.
‘‘The benefits of this legislation will reach every county in New Mexico,’’ said Richardson.
The governor called the special session, which lasted 10 days and cost an estimated $680,000, to consider proposals to toughen penalties for sex offenders, tax revisions and highway financing.
‘‘Two out of three is not bad,’’ Rep. John Heaton, D-Carlsbad, said at a post-adjournment news conference.
The sex crime legislation passed unanimously in the House and Senate, and Richardson has signed the measure into law. The highway financing package passed mostly along party lines, with nearly all Republicans opposing it and Democrats largely backing the bill.
However, Richardson came up empty-handed on the topic that he had once described as the main focus of the session — tax reform.
By the time the session began last week, Richardson had stopped calling for ‘‘tax reform.’’ Instead, Richardson said he wanted economic growth initiatives. The governor asked lawmakers to support a collection of tax cuts — for individuals as well as businesses — and tax increases.
Overall, the proposals would have produced a net revenue increase of more than $130 million next year, with part of that to finance highways.
House GOP Leader Ted Hobbs said the tax legislation should never have been placed on the special session’s agenda and could have waited until the Legislature’s regularly scheduled 30-day session in January.
‘‘We could have been here two days, done the sexual offender bill and left town — and that’s what we should have done,’’ said Hobbs.
House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, said no agreement could be reached between the Legislature and the governor on a broad package of tax law changes so the focus was narrowed to highway financing.
By passing the road bill, the Democratic-led Legislature salvaged at least a partial victory for Richardson on the tax issue.
‘‘Instead of us staying here and bickering with each other, I think we felt that it was important to address the most needed issues that we had before this session,’’ said Lujan.
Transportation Secretary Rhonda Faught said she was ‘‘very confident’’ that Richardson would sign the highway bill. However, she said the governor is reviewing the measure to determine whether some provisions should be eliminated with line-item vetoes.
For example, a Senate-added provision would force the state to issue special permits for oversize trucks within 24 hours.
The highway bill won final approval when the House voted 39-29 to accept a Senate-passed version of the legislation. The Senate had worked until past midnight Wednesday before adopting the bill.
The Senate approved the measure on a mostly party line 22-18 vote. One Republican joined with 21 Democrats in voting for the bill. In the House, four Democrats voted against the measure and one Republican supported it.
Rep. Dan Foley, R-Roswell, said the tax and fee increases would hurt in-state truckers, including those involved in the oil and natural gas industry as well as farming and ranching.
‘‘The people of New Mexico just went through a session from a supposedly tax-cutting Democrat where we just raised taxes. And no one seems to want to call him a tax-raising Democrat,’’ Foley said of the governor. ‘‘We have really significantly hampered the growth of agriculture and oil and gas in this state.’’
The governor and his supporters contend the highway financing measure will boost the state’s economy by creating thousands of construction jobs. They say out-of-state truckers will shoulder a large share of the tax and fee increases.
Lujan said the increases ‘‘will not be a big burden to the citizens but will definitely pay dividends in the long run for safer roads for our children, for the citizens of this state.’’