SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez said Thursday that she has “no intention” of calling legislators back to the Roundhouse for a special session, dealing a blow to lawmakers’ hopes of reviving and passing a massive capital improvements bill.
The announcement came after top Senate Democrats issued a news release reiterating their support for a reworked capital outlay plan but claiming a tax break package sought by the Republican governor and House GOP leaders would not help “ordinary” New Mexicans.
“We do not believe it will create jobs nor will it generate economic activity for existing businesses,” Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said in the release, referring to the proposed bundle of tax breaks.
After the governor’s announcement, House Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro, blamed Senate Democrats for a lack of sincerity in special session negotiations.
“It is very difficult to work with people who do not value their word, and their unwillingness to negotiate in good faith has cost New Mexico a capital outlay bill and a jobs package that passed the House unanimously as part of the budget agreement,” Tripp said in a statement.
He also said a medical expenses deduction in the tax package would help roughly 300,000 New Mexicans.
A special legislative session appeared likely as recently as last week, but the tax package emerged as a sticking point. And disagreement over it led to increased finger-pointing in recent days.
A Martinez spokesman said the governor spoke twice Thursday with Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, the lead negotiator for the Senate Democrats, in an attempt to forge an elusive deal on legislation.
However, the news release sent out later in the day by Senate Democrats, which the Governor’s Office blasted as “partisan” and “misleading,” apparently cemented the decision to not call a special session – at least for now.
“If the Senate Democrats want to publicly debate the merits of their plans to raise health care taxes on 300,000 New Mexicans and increase the gas tax in order to protect funding for their pet pork projects, then that’s a debate we can have,” Martinez spokesman Chris Sanchez said, referring both to the tax provision and a separate bill – not included in the package – that Smith proposed during the 60-day session.
“But that political debate is not something taxpayers should fund, and the governor therefore has no intention of calling a special session,” Sanchez said.
Smith told the Journal he was surprised to hear of the governor’s announcement, saying he thought discussions would continue today.
“Evidently, it’s a big deal in her eyes,” he said of the Senate Democrats’ news release, “But it’s no different from the message we’ve been on.”
Negotiations have been ongoing for weeks about reviving and passing a $264 million capital works bill that died on the final day of this year’s 60-day legislative session. The measure died largely due to a dispute over the source of money for statewide highway projects.
Since the bill’s demise, business groups from around the state have pushed for both the capital improvements bill and the tax package to be approved in a special session, saying the measures would help create jobs.
The tax package included more than a half-dozen expansions of existing tax breaks and new measures. It would cost an estimated $4.8 million in foregone revenue next year.
Lawmakers said earlier this week that Monday could be the deadline for a special session to happen, because bond sales to finance infrastructure projects – the key piece of special session talks – have to be advertised for at least 30 days and such sales typically occur in mid-June.
But Martinez has maintained she would not call lawmakers back to Santa Fe for a special session, which would cost an estimated $50,000 per day, unless an agreement were to be struck in advance.
Journal staff writer Deborah Baker contributed to this report.