Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Roundhouse Roundup: Food Tax Rumblings

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 11, 2010

I've heard rumblings that some delegates for Saturday's Democratic Party pre-primary convention at Pojoaque Pueblo's Buffalo Thunder Resort aren't happy about how some lieutenant governor candidates voted in the Legislature last week on reinstating a state tax on groceries.

While tax-hating/tax-baiting is generally the purview of Republicans, lots of Democrats — especially progressives — oppose taxing food because the burden falls harder on lower-income people, who spend a bigger percentage of their income on food.

But all three of the Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor who are legislators voted — directly or indirectly — to raise the food tax during last week's special session.

Sens. Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Linda Lopez, both Albuquerque Democrats, voted March 2 vote against an amendment to Senate Bill 10 that would have deleted the section on raising the food tax.

Over in the House, Rep. Joe Campos, D-Santa Rosa, voted March 3 in favor of tabling an amendment on SB 10 that would have deleted the section on raising the food tax. A "yes" vote on that tabling motion had the effect of killing the amendment, thus keeping the food-tax increase in the bill.

Not voting on the bill were lieutenant governor candidates Brian Colón and Lawrence Rael. They have a good excuse. They aren't in the Legislature.

On the Republican side, Rep. Janice Arnold Jones, an Albuquerque Republican running for governor, voted against tabling the anti-food-tax amendment, while in the Senate, fellow Albuquerque Republican Kent Cravens voted for the amendment that would have axed the food tax.

This shouldn't be a matter of contention at the GOP pre-primary convention in Albuquerque this Saturday. All five gubernatorial candidates have come out against the food tax. I'm pretty sure the GOP's other lieutenant governor candidates won't be criticizing Cravens for his vote.
NM Legislature 2010
Meanwhile, back at Buffalo Thunder: Lt. Gov. Diane Denish isn't worried about what her primary opponents are saying about her — because she doesn't have any.

On the matter of the food tax, she told reporters at a news conference last week that she was against reinstating the tax on food because, she said, it's regressive.

But, when asked by reporters, she wouldn't say whether she'd veto the food tax if she were governor.

In fairness, it's not an easy question. Gov. Bill Richardson, who also says he hates the food tax, is wrestling with the issue.

There's some legal question as to whether any governor has the right to line-item veto that portion of the tax bill. As Barry Massey of The Associated Press explained this week, "At issue is whether the tax bill appropriates money. Under the state Constitution, the governor can make line-item vetoes only in appropriations bills."

And even if SB 10 ultimately is deemed an appropriations bill, whether to veto still can't be an easy decision. If the food tax is vetoed from the bill, whoever is governor will have to find a way to make up for the estimated $68 million in revenue that the food tax would generate.

Even so, you've got to admire the spunk of a suggestion by GOP gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez. In an e-mail to supporters and reporters Monday, she blasted Denish for not taking advantage of Richardson's trip to Window Rock, Ariz., for a few hours last week.

"Just last week, Denish was acting Governor," Martinez said in the letter. "As acting Governor, she even signed legislation.

"So, that raises this question: If Denish is so opposed to the food tax, and she was acting governor, why didn't she take the opportunity to show real leadership and VETO the food tax increase?"

Just think of the political uproar that move would have caused. Whether or not it would have been a wise move, it sure would have been a fun story to cover.

NM Legislature 2010
(Above: Acting Gov. Diane Denish signs a bill -- but doesn't veto food tax)