Sin, businesses supported by legislature

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By Harold Morgan

From year to year, the broad pattern of state government activity changes relatively little. No doubt this inertia results from the state being constitutionally prohibited from borrowing the money that would allow for large changes, such as massive health programs, or wars.
Of the state’s businesses, education is the largest with 42.5 percent of the $5.9 billion budget for the year starting July 1 going to public schools and another 13.5 percent for higher education. That makes education the place to start reviewing the policy actions of this year’s legislative session.
In the “Highlights 2013” publication, the Legislative Council Service says about 40 of the 298 bills that passed “could be loosely classified as public and higher education bills.” One definition of the continuing education debate comes from Governor Susana Martinez vetoing 22 of the bills reaching her desk — more than half.
Teacher evaluation rules went from a “line in the sand” to “perhaps … a concrete divide,” LCS says. Spending control was “one of the earliest divisive issues.” Local boards of education have more control of “above the line” appropriations while “below the line” are specifically directed with no local control. Some legislators favored above. Others liked below.
Other buzzwords and buzz phrases (have you ever heard of a “buzz phrase?”) joined the education vocabulary this year, adding to the already considerable confusion about education governance, and, in the view here, further tightening the control of the education establishment, the unions, that is.
Individual public education bills dealt with special education (House Bill 628), free lunches (HB 310), bullying and cyberbullying (HB 54), home s chooling (Senate Bill 302), “organizing resources… to ensure student success” (HB 542), and created an option via constitution amendment for changing the date of school elections (House Joint Resolution 2).
What didn’t happen in higher education was a fix for the financially challenged lottery scholarship program. The 10 lottery related bills resulted in two bills requesting study, if time allows, during the 2013 interim between sessions.
Human services, including health, hospitals and children — the second largest category of state government — attracted a bunch of legislation. Health care coverage was the big topic, partly in reaction to the new federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Elsewhere, yet another technology research collaborative was established by HB 562. A new law (SB 339) was needed to merge two divisions of the General Services Department. A tax increase is the doubling of the fee “for a business authorization certificate,” whatever that is (HB 347).
Energy got “a few minor tweaks,” the LCS said. More regulation comes to geothermal resources (HB 85). For solar, the law now says “solar electricity generating equipment is electrical wiring” (HB 279).
Our statutory world, already much too large and complex, grew with the inclination to add to the law operations already working perfectly well. Examples are the use of electronic tickets for petty misdemeanors and traffic violations (HB 178) and the New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center (SB 140).
Sin and entrepreneurship got breaks, a surprising development in our ever more restrictive society, but it came with tax increases. The businesses don’t have to pay, so who cares. Microbrewers and small winegrowers both got a significant bump in the legal production cap. An excise tax goes on the newly allowable wine production. The local liquor excise tax increases one percentage point. (SB 81, 116 and 397)
Liquor sales can now start at 11 a.m. on Sunday (SB 154), which will bring revenue to retailers and happiness to my mom who likes champagne with her Sunday brunch.