Political insiders and ordinary foreigners will have more money in their pockets thanks to new state laws.
Gains were easy to obtain for one group but difficult for the other. It shouldn’t be surprising who had it easy.
This winter, state lawmakers voted to receive a 27% increase in their pensions.
The measure, Senate Bill 159, received overwhelming support from the people it would benefit from. Senators authorized the pension increase 34-0, and the House of Representatives approved it by a vote of 61-5.
Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed their bill without fuss.
While taking care of themselves, some of those same lawmakers have opposed bills to repeal the state tax on Social Security income.
Representative Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, was the most outspoken. He said eliminating taxes on Social Security benefits would benefit the wealthy.
Even if it were true – and it isn’t – so what? New Mexico was one of 12 states that taxed Social Security income. No one knows how many people looking for a retirement home have bypassed New Mexico because of its hostile system.
Instead of people keeping more of what they earned, Alcon wanted the Legislature to continue taxing Social Security and spending that money.
Lawmakers finally came to their senses under heavy public pressure. They approved a bill that eliminates the Social Security benefit tax for people with annual incomes below $100,000 and for couples earning up to $150,000.
The tax should have been abolished entirely. Instead, a compromise proposal with income limits was added to Bill 163.
This major measure contains a series of other tax credits. They include breaks for some nurses and parents, the development of solar energy and the purchase of feminine hygiene products.
With something for everyone in the bill, it has become harder for lawmakers to oppose a partial repeal of Social Security taxes.
Even Alcon voted for the buffet bill. It was easily approved by the legislature and Lujan Grisham signed it.
The repeal of certain Social Security taxes applies to tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2022.
As for the bill increasing legislators’ pensions, it had a vague and lackluster title: “Retirement Legislative Changes.”
The real purpose of the bill — lawmakers giving themselves more money — has been obscured.
The bill contains another generous provision for lawmakers. Those who did not join the retirement program may still qualify by making nominal financial contributions until the end of this year.
New Mexico legislators do not receive a base salary. Taxpayers might wonder how they can receive a pension.
It’s quite simple. They wrote a law for their own benefit.
Their formula for pensions is calculated on their years in office and the daily expense allowance they receive while on official business.
Under the pension plan they recently approved, lawmakers would receive the 27% increase if they retired at age 65 or older and held office for at least five years.
Eligibility for Social Security is more difficult than the standard lawmakers set for themselves. A person must work at least 10 years to be eligible for Social Security retirement income.
Eight lawmakers who have served at least five years are retiring at the end of the year. Most leave voluntarily. We are not.
Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, decided not to run again after being arrested on suspicion of aggravated drunk driving. This is her 10th year in office, and she was hoping for many more.
Louis, a 44-year-old lawyer, is eligible for a statutory pension whether or not she is convicted of an aggravated DWI, a petty misdemeanor.
Whether there is political upheaval based on how lawmakers have handled their retirement benefits and taxes on Social Security income remains to be seen.
Alcon, a lawmaker for nearly 14 years, ran unopposed in the 2020 Democratic primary election. He has two main challengers this year.
In addition to its views on Social Security taxes, Alcon voted against the bill reducing annual interest rates on storefront loans. Lawmakers reduced the maximum rate from 175% to 36%.
Alcon and Rep. Ambrose Castellano of Las Vegas were the only two Democrats to oppose lowering interest rates. The governor signed the new rate into law, although it won’t take effect until January 1, 2023.
Having two main opponents could actually help Alcon win an eighth term. If he holds his political base, his competitors could share the remaining votes.
Another possibility is that increased competition signals problems for Alcon.
If so, he could have a soft landing, thanks to the legislature’s enhanced retirement program.
Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and current affairs. Contact Milan Simonich at [email protected] or 505-986-3080.