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SANTA FE – Minority Floor Leader Tom Taylor and Whip Dan Foley are optimistic about the upcoming 30-day legislative session, which begins at noon Tuesday. “We’ve had a cordial relationship with the governor,” said Foley, R-Chaves, Lincoln and Otero. “He’s had an open-door policy and we’ve been able to go in and talk with him about issues.”The GOP leaders discussed this year’s draft agenda, “Progress New Mexico,” during an interview at the state capitol Thursday.Taylor, R-San Juan, described the draft agenda as the top five items the Republican caucus feels are most important to making New Mexico better for its citizens. “Education wasn’t mentioned because education is a perennial item – always at the top of our list,” he said.In the past, Foley said, Republican legislators got together as a caucus the morning before the session and decided what they were not for. “With time, we decided that was not good leadership,” Foley said. “Last year we holed up at a hotel for 48 hours and discussed the important issues. That proved successful so we did the same thing this year and developed our Progress New Mexico draft agenda.”The agenda is comprised of five items: regulatory reform, ethics reform, truth in taxation and legislation, health care and water.Regulatory Reform
The GOP leaders used personal income tax (PIT) reform as the example to best exemplify regulatory reform. “An economic impact study should be conducted before a new rule is enacted,” Taylor said, “and if it’s found to have a certain percent of impact on the state, then legislative approval must be granted.”The Progress New Mexico plan proposes limiting special interest group access to rule making agencies, saying many of the rules and regulations being promulgated and written by state agencies have been heavily influenced by special-interest groups, while other industry groups have been shut out.The third and final part of the regulatory reform proposal calls for the creation of an oversite committee for rule-making agencies to oversee and monitor those activities.
Republican legislators propose a three-point plan ethics reform including political campaign reform, legislative reform and governmental reform. “The overall approach we have is one of simplicity,” Foley said. “We advocate having legislators report once a month all donations received and have the reports readily available online for the public to see.”Taylor agreed and said the plan also calls for prohibiting any individual who has a state government contract from providing contributions to state officials. “And we don’t believe state agencies should have paid lobbyists,” he said. “It’s crazy to pay someone else to do the job that they are suppose to do.”
Truth in Taxation and Legislation
This issue involves ensuring tax dollars are actually used for their intended purpose. Taylor explained that in recent years, funds that were to be used to fund certain programs are being diverted for other uses. An example, Foley said, is the road fund, which is running short by some $500 million. The GOP proposes halting the diversion of funds. They also advocate directing Gross Receipts Tax to specific projects.
Some 44 percent of New Mexicans surveyed said controlling their health care costs is one of their top priorities for the legislature, according to the Progress New Mexico plan. Foley describes Gov. Bill Richardson’s proposed single-payer health care plan as “not doable.” “We do not need Washington, D.C., ideals with a single-payer system, we need coverage that is more convenient and cost effective,” Foley said. Progress New Mexico advocates providing tax incentives to small business if they offer health care to their employees. Several incentives may be offered for individuals and working families who purchase their own health coverage including state income tax deductions equivalent to the amount they pay in premiums for individuals and tax rebates for working families.
The Department of Finance and Administration currently requires all mutual domestic water associations become regional entities and GOP legislators are against it. Taylor and Foley explained that while some mutual domestics can regionalize based on their location, many cannot. To make matters worse, the New Mexico Environment Department places large fines on these associations as their infrastructures crumble from lack of funding. “Before requiring systems to be regionalized,” Foley said, all financial needs must be met so these associations do not continue to rack up large fines while they wait for funding.”In 2001, the legislature created the Water Trust Fund but failed to appropriate funds until the 2006 session. The fund supports a broad range of water projects from building major pipelines to restoring watersheds. “We believe we should have put a lot of money in the Water Trust Fund,” Taylor said. Republican legislators will ask an additional 5 percent per year go to the fund to enable the funding of water projects throughout the state.Under the 2004 Arizona Water Settlements Act, New Mexico must develop and implement a plan for the use of the Gila River Water by no later than 2014. GOP legislators propose developing a plan, as soon as possible because it must meet federal approval and environmental standards, which could take years. If New Mexico declines or forfeits its benefits under the 2004 Act, all federal funds and water will revert to Arizona.The Progress New Mexico agenda was sent to Gov. Bill Richardson Wednesday. “We’ll meet with him Tuesday morning before the session opens,” Foley said. “We’re ready to go to work. Our goal is to deal with all the stuff we agree on first. We have plenty of time to start arguing later. We’re in this to make New Mexico a better place.”Both Foley and Taylor were elected to the House in 1999. They were elected whip and floor leader two years ago.“We’re a pretty good team,” Foley said of his collaboration with Taylor. “I’m a political guy and Tom is a policy guy.” Taylor, a former mayor of Farmington, brought a sense of diplomacy to his new position, Foley said. “...Tom brought to the table the ability to agree to disagree.”Foley and Taylor praised longtime Los Alamos Rep. Jeannette Wallace, calling her a hard worker who is dedicated to her constituents. “Jeannette has really been strong for us in our caucus,” Foley said. “She’s a leader and she’s one of just two ranking members on the Appropriations Committee. Los Alamos is lucky to have her.”
Editor’s Note: The Democratic House leadership is in the process of completing their legislative agenda. That information will be published in the Monitor later this week.