Lawmakers express frustration with special session
Depressed, infuriated and disappointed — those are just some of the feelings area lawmakers are bringing home after a four-day special session of the state Legislature ended Thursday with tax hikes on food and cigarettes.
The Legislature adjourned with a new budget after approving more than $230 million from tax increases.
“I think it was a disaster personally,” said Keith Gardner, R-Roswell.
“We had an opportunity here to improve the operation of government. Now what we’ve decided to do is take more from the citizens and not change government and how it does business.
“The real loser here,” said Gardner, “is the tax payer.”
Gardner said revenue projections appear over-ambitious and he anticipates the Legislature will be recalled by summer or fall.
“I don’t see any way it will make it through,” he said. “We’ve got significant issues. We dealt with the fiscal year (2011) budget but we’ve got major issues in the current year budget.”
The House and Senate agreed on a proposal increasing the cigarette tax by 75 cents a pack for four years. It will raise $33 million next year. A third of the money is earmarked for pre-kindergarten and other early childhood programs for one year.
Lawmakers approved a $5.6 billion budget and tax increases to help pay for government operations next year.
Included is an eighth-cent increase in the gross receipts tax on goods and services.
A tax on food, averaging about 2 percent statewide, will be reinstated starting in July.
Holding to his belief the session was premature and should have been held in April when revenues could be better known, Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales said he doesn’t think it’s over.
“We’re doing the best we can, but if the revenues continue to fall, I suspect we’ll be back here at least one more time before January,” he said.
Ingle said he was opposed to the decision to raise taxes and does not think it was fair to residents.
“I don’t want to lay off anybody but we’re at the point we’re going to have to cut some dollars out of state government, not just increase taxes,” he said.
“People in private industry have had some really tough times and state government has not lost one job yet.”
Ingle said he was, however, pleased to see Clovis get money for its new Motor Vehicle Division offices and money to help Cannon Air Force Base purchase land it needs for expansion.
The tax increase had opposition from the minority, many of whom stem from the eastern New Mexico. They never had a chance, according to Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis.
“I’m depressed. I’ve been reading my emails and people say ‘Please don’t increase the food tax, please.’ It makes me really, really sad,” she said.
“We’re elected to do the will of our people and my caucus has held strong about no tax increases, but 25 can’t out vote 45; so we’ve just not been able to do what we really would like to for our constituents ... It’s not that my heart and will aren’t there. We just don’t have the votes.”
Most Republicans entered the session on a platform that government spending needed to be cut instead of raising taxes.
Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Tucumcari said he believes the outcome of the session will be damaging for working New Mexico families.
“I feel infuriated and I believe the taxpayers will feel infuriated as well that state government continues to spend taxpayer dollars on all sorts of non-essential projects and yet taxpayers are going to have to pay,” he said.
“It’s just an irresponsible approach to budgeting.”
Jose Campos, D-Santa Rosa said he opposed bringing back the food tax but supported the raise in gross receipts tax.
“The food tax, I think it’s going to hurt municipalities and it’s also going to hurt the poor, but I think the gross receipts tax is OK,” he said.
“I think it’s shared by more of the population and that way everyone in the population is sharing in the pain.”
Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis, said he was returning home knowing the Legislature voted the party line and did not do what the people wanted.
“I don’t think it went well. The bottom line is we cut expenses by $100 million and we raised taxes in some form or fashion by $240 million; it was all party line,” he said. “The minority had very little input; the majority controlled this process totally.”
“My constituents in general I think up and down have said ‘don’t increase my taxes and cut the growth out of state government,’ and we did just the opposite...(but) on the bright side we didn’t cut education and those programs for the truly vulnerable.”
Harden said he was pleased to see the governor was given the authority to flex the budget and make modifications, giving him the ability to solve budget problems and hopefully stave off another session.
He prescribed optimism.
“I think we need to hold on to the optimistic idea that things are going to improve and we’re not going to be faced with these kinds of draconian cuts (in the future),” he said. “People in the private sector have been cut to the bone.”