With the session entering its final hours, many standing committees have closed up shop for the year as the focus shifts to the floor to see what actually gets done.
The House Voters and Elections committee held its final meeting Tuesday morning and there was a combination of expected and unexpected drama.
The expected drama came from SJR 13, a proposed constitutional amendment to tie minimum wage to cost of living. HVEC was the last stop for this piece of legislation before the full House gets a crack at sending it to voters.
It was also where a very similar constitutional amendment died last session. HVEC chair Rep. Mary Helen Garcia, D-Las Cruces, joined Republicans and voted against the proposal saying she simply didn’t believe it belonged in the constitution. That along with a vote against a constitutional amendment to legalize gay marriage caused members of her own party to threaten a primary fight (which is going to happen).
It may have been the pressure or the fact that Gov. Martinez vetoed a proposed statutory minimum wage hike last session, but Rep. Garcia stuck with her party this time and sent SJR 13 to the House floor. As I’ve mentioned before, unless Rep. Ernest Chavez, D-Albuquerque, or Rep. Phil Archuleta, D-Las Cruces, rejoins the House it’s tough to see the proposal getting the needed 36 votes.
The unexpected drama came another constitutional amendment that turned from a proposal with little opposition into a proposal that could easily die before the session ends.
The focus of the fight is on SJR 4, a bipartisan proposal from Rep. Larry Larranaga, R-Albuquerque, and Sen. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque. SJR 4 proposes removing the current 15 percent limit on international investments that constrains how the $13 billion land grant permanent fund can be invested.
Right now that fund pays out 5.5 percent, a good chunk of which goes to funding education. But in July 2016, part of that distribution is set to sunset, declining to 5 percent a year. That represents a drop of approximately $53 million to the general fund in FY 17 alone. Increasing the distribution out of the land grant permanent fund was at the center of the recently resolved early childhood debate.
House Speaker Ken Martinez, D-Grants, introduced an amendment to SJR 4 to get rid of that sunset clause, making the additional .5 percent distribution permanent. After hearing from concerned Republicans on the committee and the State Investment Council itself, Martinez backed off, making the additional .5 percent distribution subject to SIC approval.
Republicans still balked at the idea. Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, said he thought it made the issue too complicated for voters.
A first vote on that amendment failed 5-5 because Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Espanola was out of the room. Seconds later, she returned and two votes later, Sen. Keller’s international fix suddenly became a way to increase education funding in the long-term using the land grant permanent fund.
While Speaker Martinez may maintain his change is prudent, the amendment not only requires Senate approval, it also creates Republican opposition in the House where there may not have been any before. On top of that, Senate Finance Chair John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, has been leery of opening the door to increasing the distribution out of the land grant permanent fund.
Given that I’m typing this with less than 41 hours left until sine die, that one change may be the poison pill to a constitutional amendment that had previously appeared to be on its way onto the November ballot.