Legislators will reintroduce bipartisan solar tax credit bill

Dec 16 - McClatchy-Tribune Content Agency, LLC - Steve Terrell The Santa Fe New Mexican


Two state legislators -- a Senate Democrat and a House Republican -- are teaming up again to push a solar energy bill that last year passed the Legislature with strong bipartisan support only to be pocket-vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez.

Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, both have pre-filed bills that would extend the current state solar tax credits. The 10 percent credit for a solar installation is set to expire at the end of 2016. These bills would extend the credit through 2024.

Although the legislation passed last year, Stewart said in an interview that she is afraid the bill could have a harder time getting out of the Senate Finance Committee. That is because falling oil prices mean less tax revenue for the state.

"This is a jobs bill," Stewart said in a news release. "There are more than 90 solar businesses in New Mexico employing thousands of people across the state. These jobs are homegrown and cannot be outsourced. Subsequently, improving air quality reduces the number of children's asthma attacks. We need to continue supporting the solar industry that provides jobs, protects our environment, and improves public health."

In a separate statement, Maestas Barnes said "There is one thing that New Mexicans across the state agree on and it is the need for sustainable, long-term employment." She said the state's solar industry accounts for 1,600 jobs, "which are, supported in no small part by New Mexico's smart, targeted, tax policy. ... In 2014, New Mexico's economy saw $172 million invested in solar projects, which in my view, receives an impressive return on a relatively modest investment."

Stewart said Tuesday that because the bills deal with a tax, they will not need a message from the governor in order to be considered by the Legislature. Bills introduced during a 30-day "budget session" must either deal with state finances or receive a message from the chief executive.

In the last session, Senate Bill 391, sponsored by Stewart and co-sponsored by Maestas-Barnes, passed the Senate 37-5 and the House 39-24. House Republicans who supported the measure included House Majority Leader Nate Gentry of Albuquerque and Rep. Jason Harper of Rio Rancho, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee.

A bill is considered to be "pocket-vetoed" when a governor doesn't act by the signing deadline after a session.

Martinez has never explained why she didn't sign it.

Contact Steve Terrell at (505) 986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexican.com. Read his political blog at tinyurl.com/roundhouseroundup.