Thursday, June 16, 2005

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: ROUNDHOUSE HOME COMPANION

As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
June 16, 2005


There was a time, not too many years ago, when you could predict how Republican legislators would vote on any given bill by knowing how the New Mexico Association for Commerce and Industry — the state’s most prominent business lobby — stood on it.

Republicans tend to vote in favor of ACI positions on bills relating to such issues as taxes and easing regulations on businesses. And thus, traditionally, Republicans get the highest scores in ACI’s annual report on the Legislature.

But this year it seems there have been some tensions between the ACI and some GOP lawmakers. During a House floor debate this year, Rep. Dan Foley, R-Roswell, sarcastically referred to the ACI as the “Association of Conflicted Interests.”

And in one of his periodic mass-e-mail “Legislative Reports,” Sen. Rod Adair, another Roswell Republican, says the ACI’s rating of lawmakers is “of absolutely no value whatsoever, even worse they communicate a completely false picture of the attitude of the Legislature toward business.”

He suggests the group has manipulated its scoring system to make Democrats look better.

Borrowing a line from radio humorist Garrison Keillor, Adair wrote, “Some might call the New Mexico Legislature ‘ACI's Lake Wobegone’ where everybody is above average.”

Adair points out that several longtime conservative Republicans this year were rated the same or even lower than some of the most liberal members of the Legislature.

For instance, Rep. Gail Beam and Rep. Miguel Garcia, both Albuquerque Democrats, got higher scores than Rep. Richard Cheney, R-Farmington, while Don Bratton, D-Hobbs, tied Beam with a score of 73. Meanwhile, House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Nambe, tied ultra-conservative Foley with a score of 80 percent.

Adair said he doesn’t want ACI to become a laughingstock. He doesn’t want people to start saying, “Oh, yeah ACI, that's the organization that says Miguel Garcia is more pro-business than Richard Cheney and Don Bratton.”

“I want to make it clear that far from being a critic of ACI,” said Adair, who has been deemed a “Business Star,” by the ACI for having a cumulative score of better than 85 percent for the past four years. “My point is not to criticize the organization, but to encourage a serious discussion of ACI, with the goal of trying to keep it from becoming completely irrelevant,” he said.

Points of conflict: Three bills caused many Republicans to lose ACI points and helped Democrats get better scores this year.

One was a pre-kindergarten pilot program. Another created a new cabinet department, The Department of Higher Education. The third, House Bill 410, delayed implementation of personal income-tax cuts for the state’s richest citizens but contained several tax incentives.

Republicans voted overwhelmingly against these bills, which were backed by Gov. Bill Richardson and supported by the ACI.

ACI lobbyist J.D. Bullington said, “Education reform has been at the top of the business community’s agenda for many years. In Florida, it’s the Republicans who are working for pre-kindergarten.”

As for HB 410, Bullington disputed Adair’s argument that delaying the tax cut is the equivalent of raising taxes.

“HB 410 was the most important economic-development legislation in the session,” he said.

The bill eliminated some of what the business community calls “pyramiding” — charging gross-receipts taxes on business-to-business transactions -- a change which the ACI has advocated for years. It also established a gross-reciepts tax holiday, tax credits for high-tech start-ups, renewable energy production and creating jobs in rural areas.

But by delaying the tax cuts, the state over the next three years will collect an estimated $121 million in personal income taxes that would have been lost if the tax cuts had taken effect on schedule.

“That does not meet our definition of a tax increase,” Bullington said. “We’re still moving downward (in taxes).”

Another reason for high Dem scores: Bullington said besides those issues, there’s another explanation for the Democrats and Republicans having closer ACI scores in recent years. The scores, he said, are based on floor votes.

“We used to see floor votes on whistle-blower bills, union laws, bills that punished business,” he said. “We don’t see those bills coming to the floor any more.”

According to Bullington, lawmakers have “gotten so sensitive to (the ACI) report card for the last 15 years, they’ve shut off the flow of anti-business bills.”

El Queso Grande: There have been two cheese-related announcements coming out of the governor’s office in the past couple of weeks.

First there was the plans for a whey factory in Clovis that will use byproducts from the nearby cheese factory to make food for piglets.

Second, Richardson appointed ‘70s pop star Tony Orlando to the state Music Commission.

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