- Associated Press - Monday, June 8, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - After months of backroom negotiations and public finger-pointing, New Mexico lawmakers came back to Santa Fe on Monday and resolved partisan bickering over a $295 million capital projects bill and a package of tax incentives.

The GOP-controlled House and the Democratic-led Senate raced through a four-hour special session following an agreement that called for a compromise on capital spending. Despite calls from business leaders to pass a capital spending bill for roads and water projects, the quibbling chambers failed to reach a compromise before the regular legislative session ended in March.

The new agreement between Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and Democratic leaders called for passing a capital spending plan and tackling “a limited number of key issues” on infrastructure and public safety.

It also called for a package of tax breaks and funding for two state agencies facing shortfalls. Under the funding proposal, lawmakers set aside $112,000 for the costs of the special session, $300,000 for courts and $4 million for the Health Department.

Both chambers raced through debate over three measures, forgoing the usual banter and singing of birthday songs for lawmakers.

“We’re not Washington, D.C.,” Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, said while commending both sides for drafting an agreement. “We can get things done.”

The governor’s office said the capital-outlay deal increases funding for senior centers and higher education institutions around the state. In addition, the deal also called for highway projects to be paid for through a combination of state general funds and severance tax bonds.

Lawmakers failed to pass the measures in March amid last-minute public bickering during a session where the GOP-controlled House and the Democratic-led Senate found little common ground.

Martinez said she was pleased lawmakers put aside their differences for New Mexico residents this time.

“We worked really hard before we called a special session to come to agreements,” Martinez said. “I’m not saying we agreed all the time … But we thought, at the end of the day, once I called a session, that we had agreements that were really, really good for New Mexicans.”

But Martinez stopped short of saying she wouldn’t veto specific line items for projects. Martinez said she will take her time to examine the details of the capital spending bill.

Senate Democrats also took a bipartisan tone after the session and called the measures “a strong job creation package.”

“This legislative package was a strong compromise, a compromise between the Senate, House and the executive branch,” said Senate Finance Chair John Arthur Smith, D-Deming. “All sides made concessions and negotiated in good faith. The Senate has fulfilled its part of the agreement.”

The Republican Party of New Mexico, however, took a more partisan approach and said the GOP was the main reason the special session was a success.

“Gov. Martinez and Republican leaders held firm to produce a deal that not only avoided a harmful gas tax increase but will improve our tax code, level the playing field for New Mexico’s small business and provide resources for vital infrastructure projects across the state,” GOP New Mexico chairwoman Debbie Maestas said.

Republican Party officials also called out a few Democrats who voted against the tax package.

The special session did not address other proposals that had widespread support but languished amid the infighting in the regular session. Those proposals included reform of mental health treatment and legislation addressing ride-booking services like Uber and Lyft.


Follow Russell Contreras at https://twitter.com/russcontreras.

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