Governor likely to call special session ‘soon’

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – With New Mexico’s 60-day legislative session in the rearview mirror, the Roundhouse is a quiet place – for now.

But a simmering disagreement between the Democratic-controlled Legislature and Gov. Susana Martinez over budget and tax bills could reignite soon, as the governor has vowed to call lawmakers back to Santa Fe for a special legislative session.

A Martinez spokesman said Monday that the two-term Republican governor will call a special session “soon” and said other items may be added to the agenda in addition to budget and tax-related issues. He did not specify what those other items might be.

“Besides the budget, it’s not final what will be on the call, but there’s room for other items, given that they squandered two months of work,” Martinez spokesman Michael Lonergan said, referring to legislators.

However, some leading lawmakers from both political parties have urged the governor not to call a special session too hastily, and take issue with her calling the session a waste of time.

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said Monday that it makes sense to craft a deal before calling a special session.

“Before we’re called back in, I think we have to have a mutual agreement on what we’re going to do,” Smith said.

That sentiment was echoed by House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, who said a special session isn’t the place to negotiate a budget deal.

“I think both sides know what’s wanted,” Montoya said. “There’s no reason to get there and try to hammer out a deal. I’d rather see the principals get together beforehand.”

The cost of taxpayer-funded special sessions can vary depending on how long they last and other factors. In the past, they’ve topped $50,000 a day in some cases and less than $40,000 a day in others.

House Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said after the Legislature’s adjournment Saturday that he’d like to see a June 2015 special session on public infrastructure funding used as a model.

That year’s session was preceded by weeks of closed-door negotiations and was ultimately conducted in about four hours.

However, other special sessions have not been quite as efficient.

A budget-related special session called last fall by Martinez lasted seven days, after more than 60 days of talks failed to yield a deal. In addition to the budget, the governor also added crime-related issues, including a proposed reinstatement of the death penalty for certain cases, to that session agenda.

A special session is expected this year because Martinez has said she would veto both the lawmakers’ $6.1 billion spending plan and $350 million package of tax increases to help pay for it.

The governor has accused majority Democrats of discarding other budget-balancing options – such as requiring state workers to pay more into their state retirement plans – in assembling a budget plan for the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1.

She has also been critical of Senate Democrats for not approving a bill proposing an overhaul of New Mexico’s gross receipts tax system, which some tax experts have criticized as being unfair and full of loopholes. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, could be included on the agenda of the likely special session.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said a special session isn’t necessary.

The budget and tax package passed by the Legislature gives the governor everything she needs to build an acceptable spending plan through her line-item veto authority, he said, and it was crafted with input from her administration – which he said wasn’t always consistent about what it was seeking.

“It was bit of a moving target, what the governor wanted,” Egolf said. “If we’re going to go back into special session, the governor needs to put on paper” her own budget plan.

The proposals Martinez had suggested to generate more revenue included increasing worker retirement contributions, which would reduce take-home pay, and streamlining state government agencies. At least some of them were never introduced in bill form during the 60-day session.

Journal Capitol Bureau reporter Dan McKay contributed to this report.

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