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Tax reform needed, but not during special session

After her veto of all higher education and legislative funding, Gov. Susana Martinez has suggested that any remedy for the budget crisis is conditional on a major overhaul of New Mexico’s gross receipts tax structure.

Rep. Candie Sweetser

Rep. Candie Sweetser

As a state representative and longtime small business owner in Deming, I’m an enthusiastic supporter of tax reform. It’s desperately needed and long overdue.

However, I share the concerns of many of my colleagues – including Senate Finance Chair John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, and House Appropriations & Finance Chair Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup – that a special session is not the appropriate venue to attempt a major initiative like tax reform.

Moreover, as a former board member of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, I am passionately committed to ensuring that tax reforms are the result of an open, transparent, public process.

Gov. Martinez agrees with legislators that the special session should be as short as possible – preferably a single day – to resolve the immediate crisis without running up a tab on taxpayers of more than $50,000 per day.

There is no way to properly tackle tax reform in a short special session. Sufficient time is needed to analyze different proposals and amendments, hold public hearings and legislative debates, and provide New Mexicans with adequate opportunity to monitor the issue and express their opinions to their legislators. At the very least, that process would take weeks.

Presumably, Gov. Martinez and House Republicans are proposing that tax reform be negotiated in advance of the special session, behind closed doors and out of the public eye. Their goal is to get a deal done so it can be rubber-stamped in a short special session, without all the fuss and muss of public hearings and debate.

This is a terrible way to craft public policy and conduct government business.

As elected officials, we serve the public, and we can’t do the public’s business in darkness – not if we want to maintain the public’s trust. They have placed their faith in us, and the least we can do is tackle major policy issues in the public domain, where they can watch us, agree with us or argue with us.

Where most New Mexicans don’t have the opportunity or luxury of monitoring the minutiae of tax policy debates, the media serves an important role as their watchdog. If anyone should be up in arms about a backroom tax reform deal, it should be the media – and as the owner/operator of a media outlet in Deming, I’m concerned at the lack of outrage.

As I see it, the choices Gov. Martinez is giving New Mexicans are: 1) a long special session that could cost a million dollars or more, or 2) a back-room deal on taxes that hasn’t been subject to public or media scrutiny.

I, for one, choose door No. 3: a short special session to fix the immediate crisis by closing tax loopholes and modernizing fees in proposals that have already been subject to significant public vetting and have already earned relatively broad support.

Then, in the interim before the 2018 session, we can invest the time, energy and effort in carefully crafting tax reform in full view of the public and media.

That is how we get this right.

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