The following opinion piece appeared in Las Cruces Sun News and other papers recently.
In her message in which she explained her veto of large portions of the Legislature-passed tax bill, Gov. Lujan Grisham wrote, “Although HB 547 has many laudable tax reform measures, I have grave concerns about the sustainability of this tax package as a whole.”
She wrote this while the State of New Mexico sits on a $3.6 billion budget surplus thanks to oil and gas revenues (a boom that shows no signs of slowing down). She also signed a 14 percent budget increase which grew the size of government by $1.2 billion and included everything from increased film subsidies to $10 million for an abortion clinic primarily to serve Texans. Last year’s budget increase was over 13 percent as well.
The “tax reform” effort in Santa Fe got off to a bad start when the House didn’t seriously attempt to reform the unfair and job-killing “pyramiding” of the gross receipts tax. That “original sin” of New Mexico tax policy (reform of which was supported by the Gov.) should have been the Legislature’s top priority. It clearly was not, and it was never included in any version of the bill.
Worse, instead of just cutting taxes, both houses of the Legislature sadly included tax increases in versions of the bill including the final version. Raising taxes is inexcusable with a $3.6 billion budget surplus. Worse still, the tax hikes included anti-economic-growth policies like imposing two new top rates on personal income and increasing both capital gains and corporate income taxes.
Each of these tax hikes would have done great harm to our economy. The Gov. was right to veto them. Gov. Lujan Grisham’s tax policy agenda is hardly above reproach, however. The Legislature initially planned to reduce the GRT by 0.5 percentage points. This should not be mistaken for reform, but it is much better than nothing. Reducing the GRT also fits nicely with “progressive” economic policy goals as the GRT is a classic “regressive” tax meaning that poor pay a higher percentage of their incomes on it.
But, in the waning days of the session as the Gov. expressed concerns about the size of the tax package legislators adjusted the package by phasing-in the gross receipts tax reductions “to make room for” the film subsidies which had been added during the legislative process.
It would be hard to come up with worse tax policy than delaying broad-based tax relief to pile even more generous subsidies on top of those already given to a favored special interest (Hollywood). Adding insult to injury these GRT rate reductions were vetoed by the Gov. while film subsidies were left intact.
The best that can be said for tax package is that New Mexicans will get one-time rebates and medical doctors will no longer be taxed on deductibles and copays.
Watching the many twists and turns of the tax bill in the 2023 session highlighted that New Mexico’s political leadership simply does not understand basic economics. Given their ignorance, it is no wonder New Mexico performs so poorly economically. And it’s not just the Gov.’s vetoes, but the Legislature’s approach which was misguided from the start.
Economically, the 2023 session was a big disappointment. But, unless something dramatic happens, the State will likely again be awash in oil and gas revenues when the 30-day session rolls around next January. Can the Legislature and Gov. come up with a real tax reduction plan that will diversify our economy and move New Mexico out of last place?
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