In the wake of Gov. Lujan Grisham’s State of the State address, Republican House Minority Leader State Rep. Jim Townsend, said that during the speech he thought the governor “almost became a Republican.” He’s not wrong.
After three full years and legislative sessions (not to mention multiple special sessions and the constant invocation of her “emergency” powers) of governing as a hard left “progressive,” the Gov. seems to be tacking to the center in advance of her reelection bid this fall. This may be both good policy as well as good politics.
Specifically, in her State of the State address Lujan Grisham announced that she wants New Mexico to stop taxing Social Security. New Mexico is one of just 13 states in the nation to do this and bi-partisan efforts have been made in recent years to eliminate or vastly reduce the tax.
Her support for repeal is welcome, but many “progressives” in her own party seem skeptical. As of this writing one Social Security tax repeal failed on a tie vote in the House Labor Committee. Only one Democrat and three Republicans endorsed the idea. So, Social Security tax repeal is by no means a “done deal.”
This is true even though the state has plenty of money, as evidenced by the Gov.’s ambitious budget which contains a 13.5% spending increase over last year. The $80 million or so in “lost” revenue from ending the tax is a drop in the bucket when compared with the flood of new revenues. This is a flood that seems likely to continue with high oil prices and record production in the Permian Basin. So, New Mexico has plenty of money to cut taxes. In fact, the Gov. and Legislature should be looking for ways to use this flood of new money to both cut and reform taxes in ways that help diversify the economy.
While the decision to eliminate the Social Security tax is welcome, this is not the first time the Gov. has had a large surplus (or budget increase) available. In her first year in office (2019) the budget grew by 11 percent while increasing several taxes including taxes on car sales and hospitals. Bipartisan Social Security tax elimination bills have repeatedly been proposed since then. It certainly seems like the Gov.’s decision has a heavy dose of election year politics. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it is worth noting.
To her credit, the Gov. seems inclined to eliminate the Social Security tax without raising other taxes as one bill introduced this session would do. With the kind of money available, it is hard to justify raising taxes to make up for the small loss of revenue. Worse, a “revenue neutral” bill, introduced by Sen. Bill Tallman, would increase regressive tobacco taxes to make up for “lost” revenue.
Eliminating Social Security taxation should be a straight tax cut for the benefit of New Mexico seniors and those who might consider moving to New Mexico but see our State as “unwelcoming” for retirees due to our tax policies.
This legislative session is indeed an opportunity for the Legislature to “be bold” by enacting transformative policy changes. Reforming the broken gross receipts tax to eliminate taxation of services remains the very best way to do that. However, eliminating an unnecessary tax that makes New Mexico unattractive as a retirement destination is a worthwhile goal and we are hoping for the best and stand ready to support proponents of Social Security tax repeal this session.
Paul Gessing is president of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, nonpartisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility