Hailing from districts in Lea County, two representatives and one state senator voted against the bill that will provide payments totaling $500 for individual New Mexican adults or $1,000 per New Mexican households.
In a decisive 35-1 Senate vote, with Sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, the sole dissenter, the Democratic-sponsored bill went to to Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who called the special session for that purpose. Opponents of the bill said the move is political theater designed to “buy votes” in Lujan Grisham’s re-election bid.
The House voted 51-13 with broad support from Democrats and a scattering of Republicans, with Rep. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs, and Rep. Randall Pettigrew, R-Lovington, among those voting no.
Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, voted yes, noting the state has the money and should return some of it to the residents.
The package will distribute nearly $700 million to adult residents of all income levels, including undocumented immigrants and elderly people who don’t usually file taxes due to little or no income.
“There are quite a few things I just didn’t like in that bill,” Sen. Gallegos told the News-Sun. “For instance, if a farmer has a monthly fuel bill for his diesel of $45,000 and I have a $300 a month fuel bill, he and I get the same amount.’
Additionally, the senator said he felt it wrong that the hundreds of individuals who work in the oilfield and live in “man camps” in Lea County for 185 days of the year would get the same payments as permanent residents.
Gallegos said the plan to send separate checks around the time of the upcoming primary and general elections rubbed him wrong.
“How much more do you need to see to see it’s just all about votes?” Gallegos asked. “I never did get an answer why they had to cut two checks, except it comes in the mail and says Gov. Lujan Grisham. Everything I saw just made this hard to swallow.”
Gallegos concluded, “I think people need the money because they’re having a hard time paying for things, but I think we chose to do it in a way that we have winners and losers.”
Rep. Scott agreed with Gallegos’ conclusion the session was about elections.
“I can very safely say this was purely and simply a vote-buying exercise,” Scott said.
Scott pointed out the concept of rebates was a misnomer and the argument against the bill based on the state constitution’s anti-donation clause carried merit.
“They’re not really rebates because if you’ve declined to file a tax return, they’re simply payments,” Rep. Scott said. “As it turns out, the anti-donation clause is very fluid. It only comes up when there’s legislation the Democrats are not interested in passing.”
With regard to returning funds to the public, Scott continued, “This was a tough one for me. Any time you can put $1,000 back in the pocket of a family, that’s a good thing.
“But I have in the past stood on the principle that New Mexico is in desperate need of significant tax reform. The excuse that we get since I’ve been in the Legislature with respect, for example, to the gross receipts tax, is that we don’t have the money. We’ve got to put it off until next year,” Scott continued. “Here, when we do have the money, we did not try to effect any changes in our tax code that would have meaningful impact not just today, but tomorrow and years down the road. That’s where I was so disappointed.”
Rep. Pettigrew doubled down on his fiscally conservative philosophy by also being the only representative to vote no on the legislative feed bill, which paid for the session but also had $4 million set aside for improvements to the State Capitol, a provision he said could be done in a regular session with more detail.
On the “rebate” bill, Pettigrew pointed out, “I said I was going to be fiscally conservative and that’s the way I am, which is the reason I voted no on House Bill 2 (the rebates).”
Pettigrew had problems with the section that set aside $20 million for non-taxpayers and the blanket payment to all taxpayers without regard to income.
“(Payments to non-filers and immigrants) are going to be through the Health Services Division and not through the state tax system,” Pettigrew said. “It doesn’t matter whether you make $450 a week or $450,000 a week, you’re going to get your money.”
Sen. Gay Kernan voted yes on the bill for different reasons.
“The House and the Senate look at things differently. With all the reserves at the level they are, we really needed to put some money back in the hands of New Mexicans,” Kernan told the News-Sun. “We have now a 27 percent reserve, but that does not include the Early Childhood Trust Fund where we have over $2 billion. So, when you include that, we’re almost at 50 percent. That’s a lot of money to be sitting in Santa Fe.”
A separate bill, Senate Bill 1, garnered unanimous approval in both the House and Senate. Almost identical to the regular session’s SB 48, which the governor vetoed in early March, the Democrat-sponsored bill outlines capital outlays from all legislators.
“Senate Bill 1, originally SB 48, the governor changed some stuff around. I voted for it in the 30-day session,” Pettigrew said. “At the end of the day, my funds went to the Lovington Schools, the Hobbs schools, the Lea County veterans, the FFA, shooting sports, the ag farm outside Artesia that support our schools and the sheriff’s training center.”
Scott also like passing the capital outlay bill.
“The other thing we did that I was completely in support of was the capital outlay that the governor vetoed,” Scott said. “The number of programs for kids, the drug rehabilitation here in Hobbs that are going to get some money they wouldn’t have otherwise, I am pleased.”
The only surviving change from the original bill is a provision legislators must be identified with the capital outlay they support, which Scott pointed out is no problem for him because he already publicizes the projects he supports.
“Everything else is identical to what she vetoed,” Scott said, emphasizing his conclusion the session was a political exercise to buy votes.