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Saturday, March 21, 2009
House Rejects SunCal TIDD
By Jeff Jones And Dan Boyd
Journal Staff Writers
SANTA FE — New Mexico legislators met through the night Friday, and one version of a controversial Albuquerque tax and development measure appeared to die on tie votes in the House as adjournment loomed at noon today.
House and Senate sessions that stretched into the morning hours capped a week in which Gov. Bill Richardson signed a repeal of the state's death penalty and legislators sent him a pared-down, recession-era budget. Many top issues had already been voted on, and only a handful of hot-button measures remained.
As midnight neared, the House voted 33-33 on the Albuquerque measure — already approved by the Senate — which would give a West Side Albuquerque developer $408 million in future tax money for infrastructure costs.
The measure was declared defeated on the tie vote, but a vote for reconsideration came minutes later. The reconsideration effort also failed on a tie vote, however, appearing to leave the bill dead shortly before midnight. A similar measure that originated in the House remained alive, but it was unclear whether the measure could gain traction before adjournment.
The measure for California-based SunCal Cos. was one of two bills seeking tax increment development districts — TIDDs — for Albuquerque projects.
In the other bill, Hunt Development and Winrock Partners were seeking $164 million in TIDD money to redevelop the Winrock Mall area in Albuquerque. The Winrock bill was pending.
Backers of TIDDs say developers get none of the future tax money until they build their projects and that the districts benefit the state because they bring new jobs and tax revenue.
For businesses, "This is going to be a new place to go — and a new place to grow," House Minority Whip Keith Gardner, R-Roswell, said during the early volleys of the lengthy floor battle.
Opponents equate TIDDs to a tax giveaway, and some maintain that many of the businesses taking advantage of the SunCal TIDD would be existing Albuquerque-area companies enticed to relocate or expand there by lower rent or construction costs made possible by the subsidy — a concept being called cannibalism.
"I'll be damned if I'll sit here and be sold a bill of goods," said SunCal TIDD opponent Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque. "We'll be sorry if we do this."
The TIDDs weren't the only business that remained unfinished as of late Friday.
The House had also not considered another Senate-approved measure to place limits on political campaign contributions, which most other states already have.
The House had yet to take up another controversial bill that would allow many New Mexicans with a single misdemeanor conviction to have their crime records forever wiped away.
Wildlife advocates were awaiting final deliberation on a measure that would repeal a current state law that allows New Mexico ranchers to immediately shoot crop-raiding elk and antelope.
In the Senate, a reform of the state's return-to-work law passed by a 40-0 vote and headed back to the House after several amendments were tacked on.
The bill, House Bill 616, would curtail the ability of state government employees to "double-dip" by simultaneously collecting salaries and pension benefits.
In another development, Albuquerque Teachers Federation president Ellen Bernstein urged Richardson to veto the nearly $5.5 billion state budget that won final legislative approval on Thursday.
The budget includes $2.4 billion for public schools and education and is based on schools receiving $165 million in federal economic stimulus money to help pay for their operations.
While the combined state and federal money for public school support is about the same as this year's pared-back state share for schools, Bernstein said lawmakers didn't factor in increases for "fixed costs" such as school utility bills and maintenance.
"When electricity, heating or insurance rates go up, school districts will have to make deeper budget cuts to cover these costs," Bernstein said in a prepared statement.
"The governor must veto the education budget and send lawmakers back to work," she said. "This budget balances itself on the backs of children and school employees."
Senate Finance Committee chair John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, defended the budget.
"We avoided (state employee) layoffs, we avoided furloughs, and we avoided taking away paid vacations — while other states surrounding us are laying off people," Smith said.
Richardson said Friday afternoon that he hadn't reviewed the budget yet, but said the state's fiscal woes have led to greater cooperation between lawmakers and the executive branch.
"It's a session with no money," Richardson said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.