Compromise in Legislature?

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By Sherry Robinson

Conflict makes news, I’ve learned. Somehow, headlines about agreement don’t have quite the same zing as those big black letters signaling a good fight.
But it happens. Agreement, that is.
There’s a lot of agreement in the Legislature, and a good deal of meaningful compromise. Except for the inevitable outbursts in the last week when they’re sleep deprived, our lawmakers mostly work with thought, diplomacy and humor.
Here are a couple of examples.
Everybody likes the K-3 Plus program, an outgrowth of Kindergarten Plus. It extends the school year for kindergarten through third grade in high-poverty areas. Legislators of both parties support it it; so do the administration and educators. Recently it scored well in a national evaluation.
“We’re using this program as a bulwark for all our students who aren’t reading,” said Stan Rounds, superintendent of Las Cruces Public Schools.
HB 14, by Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, would make the six-year pilot K-3 Plus into an ongoing program of the Public Education Department. The bill has glided through three committees and the House, which passed it unanimously.
Another bill with something for everyone is HB 116, by House Speaker Ben Lujan. It offers tailored tax breaks for the Tres Amigas project, the state’s biggest economic development opportunity at the moment. The $1.5 billion project, just north of Clovis, would connect the nation’s three power grids.
The excitement on the East Side is electric (pun intended).
“From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate the speaker carrying this legislation. It’s a big project,” said Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis.
Said Paul Stout of the Renewable Energy Land Owners Association, “We strongly, strongly support this bill. We have an opportunity to make history.”
Hoyt Pattison, a former legislator, said, “We’re interested in a wind farm. Without Tres Amigas, we won’t have it. We need transmission. We will generate numerous opportunities for the gross receipts tax in wind farms, solar farms and the industries that grow up around them.”
Their enthusiasm is understandable. Albuquerque and Rio Rancho are also lined up, hoping to get the Tres Amigas headquarters, which would also include a control center, an operations center, and a commodities exchange for electricity
New Mexicans probably don’t appreciate this detail. A headquarters means decisions get made here. It’s easier to cut jobs in a distant outpost than it is at home. But we have competition from Amarillo for the headquarters.
Rep. Edward Sandoval, chairman of the House Taxation and Revenue Committee, asked the question of the hour – and the decade: “What is Texas doing that we aren’t?”
“Texas has no gross receipts tax, which gives them a 6 to 7 percent advantage,” said former Gov. Toney Anaya, a lobbyist and adviser to Tres Amigas.
“Texas is upset that the project is located in New Mexico. Amarillo is hugely aggressive, offering buildings and other things. The one kicker is the gross receipts tax.”
That, folks, is how we pass tax incentives for a great many projects, industries and companies.
With the support of communities, business, unions, rural electric cooperatives, renewable energy producers, both parties, the Navajo Nation and even AARP, the bill sprinted through three committees and passed the House unanimously.
While we’re talking about cooperation, we should give the House Appropriations and Finance Committee a tip of the hat for its $5.6 billion budget.
Everybody was heard. Each side tried to accommodate the other. To hear them talk, they all had aches and pains from bending over backwards. In a lengthy process that began Jan. 9, they pounded out a budget number by number, resolving differences in subcommittees.
Despite what you hear, they work together. When they disagree, well, that’s what the democratic process is for.
Sherry Robinson
New Mexico News Service