Lawmakers fail to give governor some key items

By Deborah Baker

The Associated Press
SANTA FE — Lawmakers wrapped up 30 days of work Thursday without delivering on several of Gov. Bill Richardson’s key priorities.

He called the session “disappointing” and said he would decide next week whether to call them back for a special session.

Among the casualties: a minimum wage increase, a tax cut package, anti-corruption legislation, payday loan restrictions and highway funding.

In a year when New Mexico’s oil and gas revenues provided an unprecedented surplus, it was “the least productive session that I’ve had as a governor,” said Richardson, a Democrat who is running for re-election this year.

The chief task for lawmakers was to draft a budget for next year and they did that, sending the governor a nearly $5.1 billion spending plan. They also passed a record $900 million in spending for capital projects.

Richardson complained that the Legislature may have overspent as much as $100 million between the capital and budget bills, and warned that he will use his veto pen to “cut out all of the fat.”

“Any pork is going to go that is not justified,” he warned.
He has until March 8 to make those decisions.

Most of the measures Richardson lost had passed the House — where Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, is a close ally — but died in the Senate.

“It appears the Senate wants to be independent. That’s fine. But what did that accomplish?” Richardson said at a news conference.

Democratic legislative leaders said the session was fruitful, and they pointed to the raft of gubernatorial proposals they did approve, including paper ballot voting systems statewide and money for many of Richardson’s education and health initiatives and water projects.

“It was a grueling session, but overall what we came into the session to do, we were able to do,” Lujan said.
The proposed Southwest Regional Spaceport also got a thumbs-up, with $33 million in the capital projects bill and a separate measure authorizing cities and counties to raise gross receipts taxes to help fund the spaceport’s infrastructure.

The highway funding bill that failed also included $25 million for the spaceport. Economic Development Secretary Rick Homans said he’d ask for the money again next year.

The hugely controversial minimum wage bill took one last breath on the House floor in the closing minutes of the session, as lawmakers adopted a last-ditch proposal for an increase from $5.15 to $7.50 an hour over three years. But that proposal, billed as a compromise, never was presented to the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen — who supported a $7.50 rate — said the proposal wouldn’t have passed the Senate even with more time. Had it been debated in the closing hours, “it would have shut the place down,” he said.

The last hours of the Senate session were marked by testy debate on the issue of payday loans. Lawmakers who didn’t think an industry-backed compromise bill was consumer-friendly enough stalled other action while they debated it, but they relented so the capital bill and other items could be considered. Debate never resumed on the payday measure.