SANTA FE – New Mexico House and Senate leaders have held discussions about a special legislative session focused on a capital works package, after a previous bill that included $264 million in projects died in the Senate in the final minutes of this year’s 60-day session.
House Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro, said Monday that top legislative staffers are working on potential versions of a new capital outlay bill.
“I’m very optimistic we can get something worked out,” Tripp told the Journal.
However, Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, another key figure in the special session talks, said no deal has been reached.
Top-ranking Senate Democrats have said publicly that Smith, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, likely would be their lead negotiator in any talks preceding a special session.
Gov. Susana Martinez, who has the authority to call lawmakers back to Santa Fe for a special session, said last week that there would have to be a deal in place before she would consider doing so.
“We want to be able to come to a consensus and some agreement before we even decide whether or not to have a special session,” Martinez told a news conference in Albuquerque, pointing out that a special session would cost an estimated $50,000 per day.
“We don’t want to go in there and not have these conversations, and then end up with nothing – or something worse,” the governor added.
The $264 million capital outlay bill would have funded hundreds of projects around the state, ranging from courthouse security upgrades to University of New Mexico building renovations. Every year, typically, lawmakers pass such a package, primarily funded by bonds backed by state severance tax revenue on oil and natural gas production.
Since this year’s bill died on the session’s final day, several business groups have called for the legislation to be revived and passed during a special session. A $4.8 million bundle of tax breaks could also be on the special session agenda.
The state chapter of the American Institute of Architects became the latest to jump on the special session bandwagon, with the group’s president-elect, Andre Larroque, saying in a recent letter to the Journal that the political leaders of New Mexico “owe its citizens a second try” on the public works legislation.
Although Martinez said there is no deadline for her to decide whether to call a special session, Tripp predicted it could happen by mid-May.
In large part, that’s because the state typically holds bonds sales twice a year – in June and December – and waiting until after the first bond sale would mean projects would have to remain on hold for months.
Tripp also said money for highway repair and maintenance work would likely be part of any capital deal. Disagreement over how to pay for such work was a key sticking point in the demise of the original capital works bill.
“I think it’s very important that’s a part of it,” he said, adding the two sides are seeking to find a compromise approach to the issue.