Editorial: SS repeal a winner of the legislative session; the revolving door of crime keeps turning
This year, lawmakers had much more on their agenda than the budget, which was supposed to be the subject of a 30-day session. Among the wide array of bills, some were good, some bad, some just plain ugly. Of 64 passed by lawmakers and pending governor’s signature, the measures partially repeal the state’s Social Security tax and military benefits, crack down on predatory lenders and modestly tackle the growing problem of violent crime are probably the ones on most New Mexicans’ radar.
It took some serious collaboration to push through an omnibus crimes package and a Social Security tax cut, and that’s how it’s supposed to work.
The compromise on the taxation of Social Security benefits, which should be signed by the governor, is fair. The Journal supported a complete repeal of state taxation of benefits to foster much-needed economic and population growth — and simply because it’s the right thing to do. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham also supported a full repeal. But the compromise that emerged is reasonable, with the tax only applying to single seniors earning $100,000 or more, married couples filing jointly earning $150,000 or more, or married couples filing separately but earning 75 $000 or more each. Low-income and middle-class seniors have something to celebrate. There will be an average of $700 more in their pockets annually.
New Mexico’s seniors, 55,000 of whom are grandparents raising their grandchildren, have been heard by lawmakers and respected. This is the important point, especially since inflation is soaring for everyone. There will be more work to do; New Mexico remains one of 12 states to unnecessarily plunder Social Security benefits, which seniors have earned during their working lives and on which they have already paid taxes.
In an unexpected development, Independent Representative Phelps Anderson of Roswell successfully added an amendment to the bill phasing out state income taxes on military retiree benefits up to $30,000. In a state with four major military bases, it was a delightful development that will surely help retain and attract military retirees – people who often have decades to offer as entrepreneurs, employees, consumers and taxpayers.
- The Legislature also passed an anti-predatory bill that will reduce annual interest rate caps on storefront loans from 175% to 36%. A similar proposal fell through last year’s 60-day legislative session, but this year’s proposal passed both legislative houses with bipartisan support. The absurd 175% ceiling puts too many New Mexicans in debt black holes from which they cannot escape.
- Lawmakers also introduced an omnibus crime bill to the governor’s office, legislation that is must-have amid record homicides in Albuquerque and a growing sense of lawlessness in many cities across the state.
Among its provisions, House Bill 68 creates a new crime and harsher penalties for serious violent criminals who possess a firearm. It increases penalties for brandishing a firearm in the commission of a serious crime; eliminate the ridiculous six-year statute of limitations for second-degree murder; creates a new crime of operating a chop shop; increases penalties for metal theft; increases the death benefit for the family of a deceased officer to $1 million; establishes a fund for officer retention payments at five-year intervals; requires courts to turn over GPS surveillance data to police and prosecutors during a criminal investigation (although the District Attorneys Association says that, as written, this is problematic); and enables statewide funding for violence intervention programs similar to those in Albuquerque.
Mayor Tim Keller calls the session a mixed bag, featuring five of the city’s nine metropolitan crime initiatives. “(M)ut the real change to the criminal revolving door, the behavioral health system and the funding for homeless programs has unfortunately been undermined. We will take our victories and we will fight for what has not been settled in the next round.
The record $8.5 billion budget approved by lawmakers includes many good provisions, such as $55 million for recruitment and retention bonuses for law enforcement officers, funding to boost pay teacher severance to a minimum of $50,000, $45 million to expand college nursing programs and create faculty endowments for nursing faculty, a loan fund for school capital needs chartered, expanding opportunity scholarships for non-traditional students, and fully funding the lottery scholarship for four years.
Also in the win column for New Mexico is the death of a so-called “voting rights” bill, originally drafted to allow 16-year-olds to vote in local elections and bring back the vote. direct. As amended, absentee ballots were still sent automatically each year.
In the losses column, several important initiatives failed. First and foremost, as Keller noted, was remand reform to establish a “rebuttable presumption” for certain defendants charged with specific violent crimes. Other missed opportunities include real tax reform, capital expenditure reform, mandatory K-12 extended learning, a measure to get more money into classrooms rather than bloated administrations , the Bennie Hargrove bill that would have held parents responsible for the negligent use of firearms by their children. , a “second chance” bill for violent juvenile offenders and limiting the governor’s emergency powers.
Also in the loss column, bills have snuck in with little or no discussion to increase taxpayer contributions to educators’ pensions and allow for higher statutory retirement benefits.
It was a busy meeting and everyone was probably relieved when they heard the sine die, which comes after adjournment. It takes research, discussion and compromise to come up with viable legislation for an entire state. Lawmakers know there’s a lot that needs to be done to make New Mexico the safe, profitable place we all want to live. They should continue to forge coalitions and capitalize on the foundations they have laid for the 2023 session, which begins on January 17.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned because it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than that of the editors.