Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Special session to focus on fuel rebates, spending package

The Roundhouse in Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/)

SANTA FE — Democratic legislators and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham reached agreement Friday on plans to call a special session April 5 focused on issuing tax rebates and passing a $50 million package of omnibus spending, legislative leaders said.

In an interview, Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said the session would allow lawmakers to determine the size and scope of the one-time rebates — intended to help New Mexicans hit by the high cost of gasoline.

The Lujan Grisham administration and the Democratic majorities in the Legislature have been in talks this week about how to provide economic relief to New Mexicans hit by escalating gas prices and resolving conflict over the supplemental spending bill.

Legislators are reviewing the possibility of one-time checks of $110 to $160 for each tax filer, or twice that for couples who file jointly. They may also limit the rebates to filers who made under $75,000 last year or under $150,000 as a couple.

But the details remain under debate.

“I think it’s a good use of our nonrecurring general fund revenue,” Stewart told the Journal. “Our reserves are at almost 30% — that’s $2.5 billion.”

The session could also resolve a budget confrontation between Lujan Grisham and legislators of both parties. The governor last week vetoed a $50 million supplemental spending package that features projects and programs picked by individual legislators.

The special session agenda would include a revised version of the bill addressing the governor’s objections and avoid the possibility of lawmakers calling themselves into session to override the veto.

As lawmakers prepare to return to the Capitol, economists for the Legislative Finance Committee have analyzed the possibility of issuing $110 to $160 rebates for each tax filer, or $220 to $320 for couples filing jointly. They also studied how much it would cost to limit the rebates to filers who made $75,000 or less in 2021, or $150,000 for couples.

The estimates range from $139 million to $242 million, depending on the size of the rebate and who’s eligible.

As the nation’s No. 2 oil producers, New Mexico is enjoying a revenue boom on pace to exceed expectations.

The main budget package authorized this year already calls for record-high spending of $8.5 billion.

Some lawmakers have suggested suspending the state’s 17 cents a gallon tax on gasoline, but opponents said it would interfere with the state’s debt obligations.

Now lawmakers and the governor are turning their focus to rebate checks, building on a similar measure they approved earlier this year.

Tax legislation approved in this year’s 30-day regular session, for example, already calls for $250 checks to taxpayers who made less than $75,000 last year, or $500 for married couples filing jointly who make under $150,000.

The new rebates would come on top of that.

As for the $50 million spending bill, the Democratic governor angered legislators of both parties when they vetoed it, contending it circumvented the usual budget-vetting process.

The bill allowed each member of the state House to allocate $360,000 to projects and programs of their choosing, and $600,000 for each senator. The proposal, Senate Bill 48, passed without a dissenting vote.

But Lujan Grisham argued that some of the money would go to projects that weren’t fully funded, meaning the money couldn’t be used.

Talks between her administration and legislators accelerated this week about how to resolve the conflict.

Some lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans alike — had pushed for bypassing the governor altogether and overriding her veto. The state constitution permits lawmakers to declare an emergency and call themselves back into session with support of three-fifths of the members in each chamber.

Comments are closed.