Both Republicans and Democrats say there will be no special legislative session to consider funding $264 million in capital construction projects in New Mexico unless they can reach an agreement before the weekend begins.
Rancor continued Thursday after three phone conversations between Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and the chief negotiator for Senate Democrats failed to produce a compromise that would clear the way for lawmakers to reconvene in Santa Fe.
“I have a hard time understanding why her feathers are ruffled,” said Democratic Sen. John Arthur Smith of Deming, who has been leading talks with the Governor’s Office since this year’s regular legislative session ended in March without a vote on the public works projects.
Smith wants a special session to approve the construction bill, which is widely seen as a potential economic stimulus. But Martinez and House Republicans also want a tax-reduction bill of about $5 million for businesses. That is a stumbling block in the negotiations.
Smith said the governor expressed resentment over a series of press announcements by Senate Democrats in recent days, including one Thursday that reiterated their objections to the tax proposal.
“I don’t see anything really inflammatory about that,” Smith said. “One of those tax packages — the company’s already said they’ll come to New Mexico without the tax package, so we’re giving money out that we don’t have to. One of them has a real benefit to trust-fund people.”
Smith said he and governor did discuss funding fixes for the cash-strapped Magistrate Courts and Public Defender’s Office. “I also alluded to her that she’s got a huge, gaping hole in her Health Department budget, and that’s a $5 [million] or $6 million fix,” he said.
Chris Sanchez, a spokesman for the governor, criticized the proposals put forth by Smith and other Democrats, who control the Senate 24-18.
“If the Senate Democrats want to publicly debate the merits of their plans to raise health care taxes on 300,000 New Mexicans and increase the gas tax in order to protect funding for their pet pork projects, then that’s a debate we can have,” Sanchez said in a statement. “But that political debate is not something taxpayers should fund, and the governor therefore has no intention of calling a special session.”
He did not immediately respond to calls and messages seeking further comment.
Senate Democrats have proposed $45 million in road improvements as a compromise with Martinez’s push for such a program. Half the money would come from the general fund, and severance tax revenue bonds would cover the rest.
House Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro, also criticized the Democrats.
“I have been waiting for several days for Senate Democratic leadership to return my calls so that we could come to an agreement that would benefit the most New Mexicans,” Tripp said in a statement Thursday evening. “Time and again, however, our negotiations have been derailed by an obvious lack of sincerity by the Senate Democrats. It is very difficult to work with people who do not value their word, and their unwillingness to negotiate in good faith has cost New Mexico a capital outlay bill and a jobs package that passed the House unanimously as part of the budget agreement, and that would have helped 300,000 mostly elderly and low-income New Mexicans.”
Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said he was holding out hope that a compromise bill could be agreed upon so a one-day special session could be held Monday.
“It seems so simple to me,” he said. “We just meet halfway and do it.”
Maestas said the governor could help open the way for compromise, starting with the business tax credits bill.
She vetoed a bill to extend solar tax credits during the regular legislative session, but she could include that measure in a tax-cut package to build support for the idea, Maestas said.
“We need to go, pass the capital outlay bill and go home,” he said.
Smith, who had said earlier in the week that agreeing to a special session by Monday might still work, said he now agrees wholeheartedly with Martinez’s assessment during one of their conversations that, if an agreement isn’t reached Friday, it will be too late.
Contact Margaret Wright at 986-3011 or email@example.com.