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Saturday, March 8, 2003

Around the Roundhouse

    CAMPAIGN FINANCE TEST SUPPORTED
    SANTA FE The Senate on Friday voted 20-11, mostly along party lines, to support a pilot project of public financing of campaigns, using the five-member Public Regulation Commission as the test group.
    "This is a common sense pilot project," said Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque, who carried the House-passed measure (HB 420) in the Senate.
    Because the Senate made minor changes, the bill was sent back to the House for consideration.
    Under the plan, candidates for the PRC who agreed to cap spending and snub private contributions could get public money for their campaigns in 2004. The pilot program would cost about $300,000 and would be paid for by regulatory fees collected by the PRC.
    Current state law caps campaign contributions to PRC candidates at $500 and prohibits those candidates from accepting contributions from regulated industries. Candidates can, however, accept contributions from lobbyists for those industries.
    "The public is tired of having politicians bought and influenced to the degree that it's bad for public policy," said President Pro Tem Richard Romero, D-Albuquerque.
   

    TAX-SYSTEM STUDY BACKED IN HOUSE
    SANTA FE A 23-member commission will study New Mexico's tax system and recommend a comprehensive overhaul under a proposal approved by the House on Friday.
    Gov. Bill Richardson proposed the tax study group and has said he will call a special session of the Legislature later this year to consider the commission's recommendations.
    "Our tax system is antiquated and begs for a complete overhaul," said House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, who sponsored the measure.
    The commission would be made up of five House members, five Senate members, two members from the public appointed by both House and Senate leaders, and 11 members named by the governor. The governor's appointees must include at least one representative each for cities, counties and tribal governments.
    The commission will issue a report to the governor and Legislature by Sept. 1.
    The legislation directs the commission to consider changes in tax laws to "modernize the tax system and make it more conducive to economic growth."
    In addition, the commission must review recently enacted personal income tax reductions to determine if any changes are needed. Richardson championed the tax cut package, which will lower the top marginal rate of the income tax from 8.2 percent to 4.9 percent over five years and implement a 50 percent deduction for capital gains.
    The House unanimously approved the tax-study measure and sent it to the Senate, which has approved its own version of the proposal.
   

    INDIAN EDUCATION PLAN APPROVED
    SANTA FE The House approved a proposal Friday that supporters say will help improve educational opportunities for American Indian students in New Mexico.
    The measure by Rep. Ray Begaye, D-Shiprock, would establish the Indian Education Act.
    It requires the creation of an Indian education division within the state Department of Education. The division will assist school districts and tribes, including planning and implementation of "curricula in native languages, culture and history designed for American Indian students."
    The proposal would also create an Indian Education Advisory Council, which would include representatives of tribes and pueblos.
    The House approved the bill unanimously and sent it to the Senate for consideration.