One lawmaker looming large as the smoke clears from the 2013 New Mexico legislative session is John Arthur Smith, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
In the last hours of the 60-day legislative session, the Deming Democrat spearheaded the attachment of a 35-page amendment to a 20-page House measure dealing with film and TV tax credits, turning Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas’ “Breaking Bad” effort into what Smith called a broad tax reform measure.
Some say the hurried-up passage was no way to do business on major tax legislation. But like it or not, it also was a master legislative stroke.
It reminded me of the late 1970s when another fiscally conservative Democrat, the late Aubrey Dunn Sr., ran the Senate Finance Committee and often pulled off bold legislative feats.
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The result of Smith’s massive amendment (Senate Floor Amendment 1 to House Business and Industry Committee Substitute for House Bill 641) was an eleventh-hour compromise with Gov. Susana Martinez that greased the skids for approval of the state budget and averted a special session.
It was the last piece of the puzzle in a contentious session between the Republican governor and the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.
Passage of the tax deal in the session’s last minutes allowed both sides to claim victories in the session overall. And, to note that Smith is not all-powerful while a major player, I doubt it could have happened without the assistance of majority and minority leaders in both chambers.
Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, said the tax deal, and the legislative session in the end, had the classic elements of compromise: neither side pleased with it all but satisfied with enough.
The loudest critic of the tax deal seemed to be Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, a progressive Democrat whose chief objection seemed to be the compromise — or royal screw-job, as she called it — with the governor on a corporate tax cut.
Of course, it also was Smith, in the Senate Finance Committee, who blocked the progressives’ would-be raids on the Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood programs.
In the House, as the clock seemed to tick past the noon adjournment deadline, 13 Democrats and five Republicans voted against concurrence with the big Senate tax amendment.
House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, among those voting yes, and later defending the tax deal, said the House concurred on a vote of 46-18.
The House concurrence vote went across party lines, and not all of the chamber’s progressives joined Stewart in opposing it.
Majority Whip Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, was among those who voted yes, although his “Breaking Bad” tax credit, of course, was part of the deal.
Albuquerque Democratic Reps. Miguel Garcia (who may have been in the Senate for last-minute debate on his gun control bill), Emily Kane, Sheryl Williams Stapleton and Christine Trujillo were among the six representatives shown absent for the concurrence vote. Democrat James Roger Madalena and Republican Tom Taylor were the other two.
Over in the Senate, where Smith was a key member of a conservative philosophical alignment that elected Papen president pro tem at the outset of the session, the lineup on the big amended tax bill was only a little bit clearer.
A half-dozen of the Senate’s more progressive Democrats voted no: Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, Jacob Candelaria, Linda Lopez, Howie Morales, Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Bill Soules.
Still, it wasn’t entirely the corporate-favoring, conservative-leaning deal that Stewart would have you believe. It included a corporate “combined reporting” requirement long sought by Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe., neither a conservative nor a corporate crony.
The noise about about the tax deal seemed to be coming mostly from the House. The Journal published a photo of Smith and Sanchez after adjournment, and they looked like two of the happiest blood brothers around. Journal photos of Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, showed him looking just as happy.
Makes you think they had an understanding.
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Meanwhile, in terms of winners and losers, the legislative session result would not seem as cut-and-dried as some might paint it.
Both the governor and Democrats will be claiming victories.
Martinez got her tax deal, but she did not get her long-sought repeal of driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants or her ban on “social promotions” of struggling third-grade readers. Her education secretary-designate, Hanna Skandera was left dangling without confirmation.
Democrats, along with a bunch of other stuff, sent her a minimum wage increase, which she is expected to veto and would seem likely to be a favorable issue for Democrats in the 2014 election.
And — although at too high of a price for some — Democrats got their “Breaking Bad” bill for TV and film production incentives.
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Smith started revealing himself as one of the major architects of the 2013 session even before it began.
He announced at a tax forum in Albuquerque in December that his chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee might be in jeopardy because of Senate politics and fallout from the 2012 election.
The result — and I’ve always thought Smith engineered it — was everyone running to Smith’s defense and effective assurance that he would continue in the job.
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Reading the clock: There were a couple of objections on closing day -— from Stewart and others — that the clock in the House had ticked past the noon adjournment hour when the House voted on concurrence with the Senate tax amendment.
The issue has come up before.
In the old days, knowledgeable folks recall, lawmakers used to throw a cloth over the chamber’s clock at the end of a session to allow business to continue past noon. These days, it’s accepted that the official timepieces are kept by the majority floor leaders, but that’s more a statement of legislative rules than the state Constitution.
The Constitution says lawmakers shall commence their annual sessions at noon on the third Tuesday of January and, in odd-numbered years, “shall remain in session not to exceed sixty days.”
The New Mexico Supreme Court touched on the question in a 1974 case called Dillon v. King.
The court was more focused on another post-adjournment question, but it seemed to reserve the opportunity to rule on the House and Senate clock question if it ever arose more directly.
In case you missed it: Journal editorial cartoonist John Trever always is on the money in my book. Here’s one of his takes on the just-completed New Mexico legislative session.