Last Hour Tax Deal Violates the Spirit of Open Government
The League of Women Voters of New Mexico is concerned about the last-minute tax bill slammed through the New Mexico Legislature and the broken process.
HB641, like any comprehensive tax legislation, has many components which will have long-term effects on New Mexico’s economy.
Experts are still debating the overall cost and benefit projections, the challenges for municipalities, the difficulties of implementation, and other effects.
Open discussions on these important matters should have taken place before and during the session. Much more time was spent on congratulatory memorials than on examining the various aspects of this major bill.
Committee hearings and floor sessions on many inconsequential matters slogged on for most of the session. In the last few days of the session, legislators had to work unreasonably long hours and vote on legislation that they had never seen, much less studied.
They were under tremendous pressure trying to arrive at a grand bargain that the Governor would sign.
Very few legislators ever saw the bill before it was introduced on the floor of the House during the last hours.
How could legislators make an informed decision on the numerous components in this bill when the document most legislators rely upon, the Fiscal Impact Report (FIR), wasn’t completed until nine days after the session was over?
Some legislators have argued that each component provision of HB641 had been through the Legislative committee process.
We don’t buy that argument. Interested parties should have had the opportunity to look at the various components and decide whether in balance they would have supported the entire package.
The public was also denied an opportunity to weigh in.
Over the last 15 years, the New Mexico Legislature has made considerable progress in improving transparency and openness.
The way HB641 was handled is a regrettable regression to old bad practices. With the haste in adopting this omnibus tax reform bill also known by the governor as the NM Jobs Package, we can expect “the law of unintended consequences” to kick in.
We’ll soon see that it was far easier to pass and sign this law than it will be to amend it after we see how it plays out. It is imperative that both the legislative and executive branches think ahead and work together in meaningful, thoughtful ways.
We ask the leadership to create rules that will clean up legislative processes so that the Legislature can work in a thoughtful, deliberative, transparent manner.
It needsrules to reduce the amount of legislation to be considered to whatever is manageable. It also needs to improve the committee process to avoid redundant hearings on duplicative bills and excessive discussion on weak bills and memorials.
We also ask the Legislature to use some of the state’s impressive technology resources to support their work while they are in session and the interim. The Legislative Council Service’s website can post agendas, minutes, reports, spreadsheets, and webcasting of hearings.
Why not allow blogs for legislators and controlled opportunities for public input? Why not use the technology that the state already has so that experts can contribute data and pros and cons so that legislators weigh alternatives wisely in open meetings?
If we are to move from the bottom of the ranks, New Mexico must make significant improvements in the way our citizens’ Legislature works and the way our government operates.
No matter what, our legislators need to know the facts before they vote, and they need to refuse to act on legislation that is sprung at them at the last minute.