Tweety Bird and the Legislature

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By Sherry Robinson

In December, Keith Gardner, the governor’s chief of staff, told a legislative forum, “It’s important to put differences aside and collaborate.”
He went on to talk about how important it was to “compromise and work together” and to “come together and do what’s best for New Mexico.”
After Republicans bankrolled an election like a coyote hunt that failed to alter the political makeup of the Legislature, Gardner sounded like a cornered Tweety Bird saying, “Nice puddy tat.”
In January, the governor sprinkled her state of the state speech with “compromise” and “bipartisan” and extended her hand instead of her foot to Sylvester the Cat.
So for this and other reasons (the sequester kicked in as I was writing this), this has been a session of compromise.
More or less.
Right off the bat, the governor took a couple of major steps. First she committed to Medicaid expansion and decided against pushing right-to-work. That was a respectable olive branch.
We’ve seen good faith negotiating on such high-profile issues as spaceport liability and film tax credits, and in committee the members have held respectful discussions. There is a conscious effort, sometimes voiced, to not look like Congress. Look at some of the big compromises, and you have to wonder why they didn’t do this before.
The spaceport compromise bills extend protection against passenger lawsuits to manufacturers and suppliers. It’s not enough to have just Virgin Galactic – we need vendors as well, and they won’t come without the protections that 12 competing states offer.
This bill took several tries because we had a political rookie taking shots at the spaceport before she became governor. And because the northern half of the state was in the dark about how important the spaceport is to the southern half. And because some legislators just didn’t see the urgency in protecting the state’s investment.
Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española and chair of the Business and Industry Committee, sounded a mite defensive when the compromise bill passed the House: “I did nothing to hold this bill up.”
So now the touted meeting of the minds is heading toward the finish line, but it has a defective O-ring: a sunset clause that undoes the whole thing in 2021. As Rep. Don Bratton, R-Hobbs, said, that doesn’t exactly encourage investment in New Mexico.
Film incentives, another battleground, saw a truce this year. Democrats backed off a move to lift the cap on film incentives and settled instead on the “Breaking Bad” bill to give TV shows another 5 percent on the 25 percent rebate for qualified in-state expenses and allows unused film tax credit funds to roll over to the next year.
The same rookie governor made headlines far and wide with her crusade against industry credits. She got her cap in 2011, and the film people went to friendlier climes, especially Louisiana. Last year, the state handed out $9 million, far less than the $50 million allowed.
As one political veteran told me, “Words hurt.”
This year, I’ve noticed Republicans going out of their way to say nice things about the film industry. The “Breaking Bad” bill, to encourage TV shows, passed unanimously in the House.
I think the most ambitious compromise was the collective effort on pension reform.
The wrangling that went on over myriad technical details of public employee pensions is mind numbing, even to number geeks, but after a heroic outreach and dozens of meetings, an array of unions, retiree associations, state agencies, lawmakers and the governor have agreed on a plan to keep the pension funds afloat into the future.
None of the compromises is perfect, but they can work. The fence-mending mood isn’t universal; on many bills, legislators still vote along party lines. But Tweety and Sylvester sometimes talk.