When Bill Richardson started flirting with a plan to run for president, some of his actions as governor looked suspiciously as if he were using New Mexico to advance his political ambitions.
It’s hard to avoid the same suspicion about Gov. Susana Martinez. She’s taken a number of actions over her two terms that have seemed to be more about piling up sound bites for somebody else’s policy checklist than what’s best for the state.
Now she’s officially a lame duck. It may be hard for her to run for any higher office, not because of any lack of competency or accomplishments but because of the infamous Christmas party incident of 2015. (If you don’t remember this, please Google “Susana Martinez pizza.”)
But she still could have political ambitions in a less obvious direction. We can watch to see how this plays out in the bills she chooses to sign or veto.
It’s widely understood that New Mexico’s tax system could use a major overhaul. In order to do that, policymakers must be able to engage in give-and-take, which means some taxes may go down and others may go up. Gov. Martinez’ inflexibility on raising any taxes has looked like she wants to preserve her anti-tax bragging rights, not like she wants to solve the problem.
In the midst of this year’s unprecedented fiscal crisis, the session would be a good time for the governor to let go of her absolute position against raising any taxes. There are several tax bills that would not only increase revenue but would also make the tax system fairer.
One proposal (SB 264) would tax Internet sales, to which I can only say, it’s about time. At minimum, brick-and-mortar stores employ New Mexico workers. Most pay some New Mexico taxes, even if they are out-of-state owned. We do ourselves no favors by not taxing Internet sales.
Similarly there is a proposal (HB 266) to tax “short-term rentals” such as airbnb, which now compete unequally with hotels that pay lodgers’ tax.
Both of these tax proposals help to level the playing field for New Mexico business. There are technical problems with implementing any tax program, but on balance, these proposals seem to serve the constituencies we should be caring about. So if they make it through both houses, let’s watch to see what the governor does.
I’m even more interested in the hemp bill.
Hemp got a bad rap many decades ago because it’s a cousin of marijuana, but it’s also a plant of many industrial uses from rope to clothing to face cream, and it grows easily on marginal soil without a lot of water – an ideal plant for parts of New Mexico and one that could replace crops that consume more water.
There are several hemp related bills this year, notably SB 6. It would allow hemp cultivation only for research and development purposes, in conformance with recent changes in federal law. Martinez vetoed similar legislation in 2015 with a veto message that could charitably be called silly. (See my article, posted May 2015, on www.triplespacedagain.com.)
SB6 sailed through the Senate with a 37-2 vote and may have passed the House by the time you read this. There is no reasonable justification to veto this legislation. So if the governor does veto it, we may wonder for whose benefit she’s planning to update her resume.
I sometimes recall Bruce King with great nostalgia. Whether you agreed with Gov. King or not, you knew that his ambitions extended no further than the governor’s mansion, and that as soon as his term was up he would be going back to the ranch. You didn’t have to play guessing games about his motives. We’ll probably never see such a governor again.
Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2017