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Senate Adjourns, Leaving House To Wrap Up Work

   
   
   
By Barry Massey and Deborah Baker
The Associated Press
       SANTA FE   —   Senators headed home Friday from a special session of the Legislature, leaving unfinished part of the agenda that Gov. Bill Richardson had laid out for lawmakers.
    The Senate's abrupt adjournment left the House to wrap up work on sex offender legislation and to try to salvage part of the governor's other big priority   —   a package of tax changes.
    The House planned to push ahead during the weekend to develop a tax measure that at least would finance highway and transportation projects.
    Richardson, at a news conference, said he was "disappointed" with the Senate and acknowledged that chances had "diminished significantly" for enactment of a broader tax package with incentives for businesses and economic development. He said he would push for those tax changes in the Legislature's 30-day session in January.
    He also said, however, "we've got a shot at a road package" before lawmakers go home for good.
    "This is a temporary setback. There's no question about it. But we'll be back next week and we'll be back in January," said Richardson.
    Under the state Constitution, neither chamber of the Legislature can adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other chamber. That means the Senate would be forced to return to work next Wednesday   —   Sundays dont count   —   if the House remained in session rather than adjourning.
    "I want to praise the members of the House for staying and working, and for making a difference for New Mexico and our economy," said Richardson.
    "I call on the Senate to join the House and me in passing important jobs and transportation legislation for the people in New Mexico."
    Senate President Pro Tem Richard Romero, D-Albuquerque, was among the 23 senators   —   eight Democrats and 15 Republicans   —   who voted to go home rather than continue trying to develop a tax package that might clear both chambers.
    "Tax reform is very, very difficult. It's a long-term process. There was general disagreement here in this body, so it wasn't going anywhere," said Romero.
    The House was expected to give final approval to sex offender legislation by accepting some Senate changes to the package. Richardson said he would sign the legislation.
    "We've had a success   —   the sexual predator law. It's just what we want. It's good and strong."
    Richardson had called lawmakers into session starting Monday to deal with tax legislation as well as the sex offender proposal.
    Richardson said it was difficult to get an agreement on taxes because lawmakers were reluctant to vote for tax increases with an election year looming in 2004.
    "I think legislators get nervous when they have to vote on taxes in an election year, and I recognize that," said the governor. "But I think we have to be bold, and we have to be strong."
    Some lawmakers suggested that Richardson had failed to adequately spell out his tax package before the session   —   particularly provisions that would raise taxes or fees   —   and didn't effectively build support among House and Senate members.
    "The biggest thing that bothered the biggest number of members I talked to was the fact that we didn't have communication with the governor on this. We were kind of voting blind," said Sen. Ben Altamirano, D-Silver City.
    Richardson disagreed.
    "It's a good excuse, šOh, we weren't consulted.' That's not true. I was here meeting with many, many legislators on both sides," said the governor.