FARMINGTON – As New Mexico’s legislative session nears its end, two House bills have small businesses concerned about increased taxes and increased exposure to lawsuits.
The first bill, House Bill 50, sponsored by Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Bernalillo County, an attorney, would allow anyone to make a claim against any businesses for violating the Air Quality Act, Water Quality Act, Hazardous Waste Act, Solid Waste Act and Oil and Gas Act.
The Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce senior adviser for policy, planning and operations, Scott Darnell, said in an email that the same people who say civil legal actions are needed because violations are going unpunished also say the number of lawsuits would be minimal.
But Darnell and Farmington Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jamie Church are skeptical that only a few lawsuits would be brought against small businesses.
A Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce newsletter says the bill would award attorney fees in successful cases, ultimately encouraging lawsuits. Also, the measure would permit a judge to issue an injunction to halt business operations “even if ultimately the plaintiff is dead wrong or has merely filed a nuisance suit.”
The newsletter said groups that want to shut down the oil and gas industry could use the bill to “harass” the industry.
“Faced with that, they may well leave the state and do business in a state that encourages rather than discourages economic growth,” the newsletter said.
During an interview, Church said no statute of limitations is included in the bill. A three-year limit had been discussed, but it was never included in the bill.
House Bill 291 is the other bill the chambers are advocating for changes. The measure deals with taxes for individuals and businesses.
“If it hurts business and it hinders economic development and growth, then we really need to look at it, and it’s not a good thing,” Church said during an interview.
The chambers see three problems with the bill:
Small businesses’ taxes would increase.It would make it more difficult to attract people to New Mexico.It sends a message that the state favors higher taxes than neighboring states.“The bill is taking the money out of the hands of small businesses and families and people in the state, who spend throughout the economy and invest in growing their businesses,” Darnell said. “This is money to be better used in the private sector to grow and diversify the economy over the long run as opposed to taking it out of the economy and putting it into the government coffer.”
Both chamber executives said now is not the time to raise state taxes.
“We’re trying to essentially say: ‘We are in the middle of a pandemic. It’s not over yet. We don’t need to be raising taxes in the midst of a pandemic.’” Darnell said. “This isn’t the proper conversation for us to be having right now.”
Both bills have until Sunday to pass both the House and the Senate before the legislative session ends.