The Legislature has convened for its biennial 30-day budget session, but as usual there are many non-budgetary bills pre-filed. Two are of great interest: repealing the state tax on Social Security and curtailing the governor’s emergency powers.
Eliminating taxes on Social Security is a no-brainer: beyond the obvious correctness of the act, it’s also an election year. Yet, similar legislation has been introduced session after session and gone nowhere. If it doesn’t pass this year when we are awash in federal cash and surging oil and gas revenues, Republicans must organize strong messages and castigate the majority for continuing a punitive tax on pensions.
(Free tip from me to Republican candidates who need to get non-Republican votes to win the general election: Calling Democrats socialists is not a great message. “Democrats will tax every dollar you have earned, tax your pension, and spend it on non-functioning government” hits a little closer to home for crossover votes.)
Even more interesting is House Bill 40, filed by Republican representatives Greg Nibert (R-59) and Randall Pettigrew (R-61), and Democrat Daymon Ely (D-23). It would curtail the governor’s emergency powers by requiring the Legislature to be called into special session no later than the 90th day of a state of emergency in order to extend the state of emergency past 90 days.
HB 40 is a must-pass for the State of New Mexico, and an important first step for our Legislature to restore the balance of powers in state government. It not only must pass but pass with enough votes to discourage a gubernatorial veto.
The smart play for Gov. Lujan Grisham and the Democratic caucus is to go along with HB 40. One of the GOP’s strongest arguments in this year’s gubernatorial election is executive overreach. Passing HB 40 and signing it into law without rancor would help take some of the teeth out of that argument.
But power, once gained, is hard to let go. Look at redistricting. At the same time Congressional Democrats have been trying to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would take redistricting out of the hands of state legislatures for once and for all, back in Santa Fe, the Democratic caucus happily gerrymandered the state’s congressional districts beyond recognition.
(In the rabid drive to make re-election as difficult as possible for Second District Republican Congresswoman Yvette Herrell, the Legislature may have hurt their own chances in the First and Third Districts. Congresswomen Stansbury and Leger Fernandez will have a difficult time selling their previous campaign themes in Roswell and Hobbs.)
So it’s entirely possible that the effort to trim back the governor’s powers will meet a similar fate as independent redistricting. And that would be a shame. Restoring checks and balances should be a priority of this Legislature, and not just as a power grab. New Mexicans have suffered under inadequate government for too long.
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and former Navy officer. She appears regularly as a panelist on NM PBS and is a frequent guest on News Radio KKOB. A Republican, she lives amicably with her Democratic husband north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached at email@example.com.