Calling a special session to complete work left undone during the 60-day regular legislative session can be risky. A governor can fail to garner support for a particular bill and look weak in doing so.
Take 1996, when Gov. Gary Johnson called the Legislature back to handle several budget issues. But he also wanted lawmakers to close a loophole in state gasoline tax law that allowed Indian tribes to sell wholesale gas tax-free.
The session lasted from a Wednesday through Saturday. By the end, budget fixes were made, but the gas loophole remained untouched. The Senate killed the legislation.
Why? A story at the time concluded “the governor and his administrators apparently couldn’t convince legislators that the loophole presented an immediate danger to the state budget.”
Fast forward to 2021. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is calling back lawmakers to consider the legalization of marijuana for adult use. Despite being a priority for the governor, legalization fell short during the chaotic final hours of the session.
Too many competing bills and different approaches to legalization complicated the process — and many of those same disputes remain as the special session begins Tuesday.
Those include disagreements about production and license caps, tax rates and how to build a regulation structure. Perhaps most divisive during the just-completed regular session, however, were measures attempting to deal with past drug offenses by expunging convictions and to redirect money into communities affected by the war on drugs.
House Bill 12 made it through the House, through Senate committees and was on the final schedule for a Senate debate in the closing hours of the session. That debate, and a vote, never happened. It remains to be seen whether a compromise can be approved.
This session, then, is a risk because legalization is not a slam dunk.
It’s not the only item on the agenda. In addition to cannabis legalization, the Legislature also will consider an expansion of the Local Economic Development Act. The legislation would allow the state Economic Development Department to work with local governments, using LEDA, to support major job-creating projects that have a significant economic impact.
Should the legislation be approved, a portion of some state and local gross receipts taxes and compensating revenue from projects greater than $350 million would go to the local economic development fund to help draw in more such projects and replenish assistance for smaller ones.
It’s clear the administration wants this special session to be about economic development, with cannabis legalization presented as a way to diversify the economy and bring jobs to New Mexico. Her team has estimated legalization has the potential to create 11,000 jobs. State excise taxes alone are estimated to bring in $50 million to $60 million in the first year, and that’s before gross receipts taxes are figured in.
But this expansion only happens if legislators can build on the work of the past months — including the recent legislative session — and find a compromise acceptable to a majority. But that’s the rub, particularly where marijuana is concerned. There are plenty of ideas and, with Easter approaching, precious little time. We’ll see whether legislators can build a new industry, or just blow smoke.