Tax package beats deadline as New Mexico lawmakers reach adjournment - Albuquerque Journal

Tax package beats deadline as New Mexico lawmakers reach adjournment

Rep. Linda Serrato, D-Santa Fe, packs up her stuff in the last minutes of the legislative session Saturday, which ended at noon. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — An enormous tax package authorizing $500 rebate checks zoomed through the Roundhouse in the final hours of the 60-day session Saturday, as New Mexico lawmakers adopted a hard-fought compromise.

But hundreds of others bill died at adjournment, failing to make it across the finish line.

The casualties include legislation to establish a 14-day waiting period for gun sales, open primaries and an independent office to scrutinize New Mexico’s troubled child-welfare agency. Proposals to pay lawmakers a salary and lengthen legislative sessions also died without a vote.

The $1 billion tax package came together in a series of meetings between lawmakers — three from the House, three from the Senate — over the final 24 hours.

Each chamber ultimately agreed to 67 pages of amendments that will cut taxes for personal income below $66,500 per year for single individuals, expand film and child tax credits, and phase in a reduced gross receipts tax rate. It also includes some tax increases to partially offset the cuts, including changes to the capital gains deduction and a higher liquor tax.

The legislation, House Bill 547, would deliver $500 rebate checks to individual tax filers and $1,000 for married couples filing jointly.

Altogether, the tax changes are expected to cost the state about $1.1 billion in annual revenue when fully phased in over five years. The Senate approved the changes about 12:30 a.m., and the House agreed a little after 9 a.m. after an hour of debate.

“Everyone is going to get a real tax cut,” Republican Rep. Jason Harper of Rio Rancho said. “There’s so much in here we can be proud of.”

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who had pushed for even larger tax rebates, said Saturday she was still reviewing the tax bill, adding, “There’s a lot in there.”

Shift in House tone

The session featured an entirely new leadership lineup for both parties in the House. Albuquerque Democrat Javier Martínez won election as House speaker on the opening day, and Republican Rep. Ryan Lane of Aztec took over as minority leader.

Members of both parties described a shift in tone this session.

“We had long, heated debates. We had committee meetings that were rough at times,” Martínez said, “but we tried our best to keep that temperature down. That’s something I’m proud of.”

Lawmakers in the House engaged in less procedural conflict this session, and the proposed budget and tax bills picked up at least some bipartisan support.

“We do things — this year — in the House together,” said Rep. Derrick Lente, a Sandia Pueblo Democrat who led the chamber’s work on tax legislation.

Legislators of both parties offered applause on the final night when Rep. Art De La Cruz, D-Albuquerque, thanked Martínez and Lane for their work. Unlike last year, the House didn’t have any all-night sessions that kept members in the Capitol past sunrise.

The latest night wrapped up at 2:30 a.m.

“This year frankly has been a more productive and humane session,” De La Cruz said.

Lane, the new minority leader, said he and Martínez are about as far apart on policy priorities as anyone in the chamber. But he said the speaker kept his word and communicated well with Republican leaders.

“I appreciate the change of culture that’s happened in this body,” Lane said.

Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said she saw improved cooperation in her chamber, too.

She credited Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, with helping craft a bipartisan update to the state’s medical malpractice law and Senate Minority Whip Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, with playing an important role in the tax package.

The Senate spent its final hours of the session passing a slew of non-controversial bills, including a proposal to make the smell of roasting green chile the official state aroma.

Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque, called it the “stinkiest” bill of the session and said it had rightfully opened up legislators to public allegations of wasting time on frivolous matters.

But supporters said the bill, which has drawn international media attention, could end up bolstering New Mexico’s mystique and tourism allure.

Conflict on crime strategy

Sharp disagreements on abortion rights, election legislation and firearms restrictions produced testy debate throughout the session.

Democratic lawmakers sent the governor two bills intended to strengthen access to abortion and gender-affirming care, an election measure that expands automatic voter registration and a law requiring gun owners to keep firearms out of children’s reach.

Republicans blasted the Democratic majorities for rejecting proposals to reshape New Mexico’s pretrial detention law and stiffen criminal penalties.

Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, said lawmakers talked “tough on crime” this session but didn’t do much.

“Our constituents are really demanding we make the streets safer,” he said.

Perhaps the most significant anti-crime bill is a proposal passed by lawmakers to crack down on organized retail theft through new criminal penalties.

Some Democratic lawmakers expressed disappointment in what didn’t make survive the session. A host of gun restrictions — such as raising the age to buy certain weapons, prohibiting firearms at polling places and establishing a two-week waiting period for firearm sales — failed to make it through.

A proposal to open primaries to independent voters cleared the Senate for the first time but stalled in a House committee, without reaching the full chamber for a vote.

Proposals to revise the structure of the Legislature — through constitutional amendments that would establish a salary and lengthen election-year sessions from 30 to 60 days — also failed, as did legislation on clean fuels and environmental protection.

Stewart, the Senate president pro tem, said she was particularly disappointed in the lack of progress on climate change legislation.

“We don’t have time to waste,” she said. “We’re seeing the impact of climate change all around us.”

Lujan Grisham has until April 7 to act on bills passed in the final days of the session.

Lawmakers passed 246 bills this session — a 56% increase over 2021, a session conducted under strict COVID-19 restrictions.

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