Gov. Bill Richardson termed this the “year of the Legislature.”
Many lawmakers left Santa Fe on Thursday using different words.
“This session was mean, ugly, nasty and vicious,” said Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis. “We didn’t get off the floor until 5 a.m. on Thursday. Thank goodness this is over.”
Many veteran lawmakers said the 30-day session included too many items.
“It was crazy,” said Rep. Brian Moore, R-Clayton. “I have been here four times and this is the worst I have gone through. We all are tired and cranky. We call it a melt down. It was just wild.”
Many lawmakers have been preaching the same message since the session started in mid-January — a 30-day session should be focused on the budget.
“The whole idea of the 30-day session is to do the budget,” Moore said. “We can take on some other things if we need to, but not 1,200 bills, major tax changes and new DWI legislation. All of that is tough to do in a 60-day session. It was real challenging.”
Some lawmakers liked that there was so much to get done.
Rep. Jose Campos, D-Santa Rosa, said while things may have been hectic, he thought lawmakers did a good job overall.
“It was a blaze,” he said. “It was kind of like a flurry of projects. But overall I would say it was good. It turned out good. We got a lot of things done.”
“Non-partisan people who have been here for many years say this is the worst session we have ever endured,” Crook said. “I’m thrilled to death to go home.”
While Crook and others left the session exhausted and frustrated, New Mexico’s governor is all smiles.
Richardson called the session a “major victory for New Mexicans.”
The governor guided numerous issues, including the most controversial bill of the session, a tax on food.
As time ticked away on Thursday, the Legislature approved a proposal to remove the tax from food and some medical services.
It passed on a 23-19 vote.
If the governor approves the bill, which he’s expected to do, the tax of groceries and a portion of medical services would be removed but the gross-receipts tax on other goods and services would be raised to ensure local governments can deal with the loss of more than $140 million.
Crook said she was disappointed with the decision.
“When we did the presentation of the bill the thing that was spun was that we were up here doing what we were sent up here to do,” she said. “Cutting taxes on food sounds good, until you look at the nuts and bolts of the bill. But it was very deceitful. Basically we took it out of one pocket and put it in another.”
What Crook finds “deceitful” is that the legislation isn’t going to eliminate the gross-receipts tax on everything purchased at a grocery store. Several non-food items, such as toilet paper and toothpaste, will still be taxed.
Moore said at least the tax doesn’t hurt city and counties. City officials across eastern New Mexico expressed concern earlier this week that a Senate-approved measure would remove tax from food and medical practitioners, but would put local governments in harm of losing millions of dollars.
That proposal was changed.
“At least the tax held cities and counties harmless,” Moore said. “I just worry that the Tax and Revenue Department won’t administer this properly.”
Moore voted against the measure because he still viewed it as a tax increase.
“It’s really just a tax shift,” he said.
The House’s debate of the bill was so heated that at one point Republicans took their rule books to the front of the chamber and dumped them in front of House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, the bill’s sponsor.
“They just ignored us on the rules,” Crook said. “Every one of us Republicans took our rule books and marched up there and put them on the platform and then went back to our seats. It was just so contentious.”
The legislation, if approved, would take effect Jan. 1.