State Rep. Dennis Roch, a Republican from Texico, met with 50 Tucumcari residents on Sunday to answer questions about the 90-day legislative session, which ended on Saturday.
“The state is expecting $5.4 billion in revenue this year,” Roch said. “The state’s budget spends every penny of it, though that is usually what happens. You send money to Santa Fe and they spend it.”
Roch said the budget, which passed on a 35-34 vote in the House, was not popular. Roch voted against it.
“The budget assumes tremendous growth and revenue,” Roch said. “If you’re a business owner you’re not seeing tremendous growth and revenue. If you’re working for someone else, getting wages, you’re not seeing any raises.”
Roch said another reason he voted against the budget was cuts in education. He said Article 12, Section I of the New Mexico Constitution states education must be funded.
“I don’t see any such requirements in the constitution for the rail runner which runs between Albuquerque and Santa Fe,” Roch said. “That alone runs a $20 million annual deficit.”
Roch said in Santa Fe everybody comes with his or her own agenda, perhaps a pet project he or she wants to look out for at the expense of the taxpayers.
“My agenda is to make sure we spend our money on priorities that New Mexico citizens have,” Roch said.
Roch said the legislative session ended on noon Saturday and he had not yet returned to his home in Texico. He said he wanted to stop and speak with people about what happened in this latest session.
“There are some things that people tried to do in Santa Fe that did not work,” Roch said. “Sometimes you play offense and at times you’re playing defense.”
Roch said one of those things was an attempt to break up the Tenth Judicial District. He said some lawmakers wanted to split the counties to the eighth district to the north and the other half to the ninth district in the south.
“We managed to get that stopped,” Roch said. “I went right up to the representative who introduced that. This was the worst idea. They were going to underserve an area already underserved.”
Roch said there was an effort to tap the Land Grant Permanent Fund, which is a fund that was established when New Mexico became a state in 1912.
“If we start dipping into that fund, what we’re doing is we will be spending our children’s inheritance,” Roch said.
Roch said a portion of the fund’s returns is distributed to schools, hospitals and other beneficiaries. He said some state lawmakers wanted to raise the distribution percentage to 5.8 percent. The return has brought in 3.1 percent for the last 10 years.
“You take a little in and give a lot more out,” Roch said. “After time the fund would eventually shrink. This would leave schools and hospitals to fend for themselves. We stopped that on a tied vote, 35-35. It was that close to becoming law.”
Roch said there were some things he tried to stop in Santa Fe. He said an example of that is the new state budget, which uses money from the state Fire Protection Fund.
“The fund provides funds for fire departments to buy equipment including fire trucks,” Roch said. “We fought this idea but many senators said they had already built the money into the budget. Where are they going to replace it from?”
Roch said many representatives caved to the Senate and a member of his party carried the bill on the House floor.
“I stood against it the first and second time,” Roch said. “It was not a question of party politics but rather a question on the priorities of the public.”
Roch said the state’s film industry incentives were addressed by the House and Senate. He said if a film company produced a film in New Mexico, it received a 25 percent tax credit.
“This was not just a tax credit, it was a 25 percent subsidy,” Roch said. “It was not just a credit against their taxes, it was a credit for everything they spent in New Mexico.”
Roch said when a film company comes to New Mexico and spends $100 million, the company’s tax liabilities are about 8 percent, which translates to about $8 million, but the credit they get back is 25 percent of what they spent.
“So they paid into taxes $8 million and when they leave they are getting a check from the state for $25 million,” Roch said. “That is a net loss of $17 million.”
Roch said a reduction in the percentage from 25 to 15 percent was suggested. He said the film industry was up in arms about this reduction and threatened to leave the state.
“We told them perhaps we want industries that want to be here versus industries we have to bribe to be here,” Roch said. “The percentage was not reduced. We just set a cap of $50 million being the most paid out in a year.”
Roch said another issue before the state legislature was the issuing of state driver’s licenses to illegal residents.
“The governor personally pushed this issue and 80 percent of the people polled support the idea that licenses should only be issued to those authorized to be in the country,” Roch said.
Roch said House Bill 78 required people to give a social security number to obtain a driver’s license. He said that bill was sent to committee and immediately tabled.
“When you hear about a bill in Santa Fe being tabled, that means they set it aside and forget it ever existed,” Roch said. “It is a procedural move used to protect the legislators from the scrutiny of the public.”
Roch said the House made a motion to withdraw that bill from committee where it had been tabled and bring it to the floor in order to make it the next item of business.
“That motion was debated for three days,” Roch said. “We brought it to the floor successfully — the first time that has been done in 50 years.”
Roch said the bill passed by wide margins in the House. He said it went to the Senate and they amended it.
“They stripped out all the section of ‘legally authorized to be here,’” Roch said. “They tried to add in other sections for identity and residence requirements. If you have ever seen a magician divert your attention while they make something disappear, that is what they were doing.”
Roch said he and House colleagues called the Senate on the changes and wanted a stronger bill.
“The House and Senate could not agree and the bill died at the end of the session,” Roch said. “Though conversation is changing and it’s about what New Mexico wants, and people can no longer hide behind procedural votes.”