News Column

Election Adwatch: Martinez TV spot rips King over tax bills, lawmaker perks

August 8, 2014

By Steve Terrell, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Aug. 08--A 30-second TV spot called "Good to be the King" rips into King for voting for what a narrator calls "the biggest tax increase in history" as well as voting to "raise his own pay" and to "sweeten his own taxpayer retirement."

While the charges are serious, the attack ad has a lighthearted tone. Playing on King's surname, the ad shows King with a crown on his head. Background music is cartoonish, and at one point it employs what sounds like an actual recording of King's chuckle.

The script is as follows:

Narrator: "Gary King. It's good to be the King.

"Gary King voted for the largest tax increase in history. Made working families pay more. Higher taxes on food, medicine and gas. The tax hike hit struggling families the hardest.

"But Gary King took good care of himself. King repeatedly voted to raise his own pay and voted to sweeten his own taxpayer retirement.

"Gary King: Higher taxes for us. Sweet perks for the King."

The spot is similar to a mailer sent last week that also attacks "The King" for voting for tax increases and to raise his own pay.

The Martinez campaign has documented King's votes on pieces of legislation that are the basis for the attacks. But the facts are a bit more complex.

The ad says King voted for the "largest tax increase in history." Martinez's opposition research website ( as well as the recent mailer specify that the campaign is saying it was the largest increase "in state history."

The tax hikes cited in the Martinez ad were two bills from 1987: Senate Bills 652 and 653. The first one raised the state gasoline tax from 11 cents to 14 cents a gallon. The second suspended tax rebates on food and medicine for two years.

Both bills passed with bipartisan support and were signed by Republican Gov. Garrey Carruthers.

King, who was a freshman member of the New Mexico House of Representatives at the time, doesn't deny he voted for the bills. "We did that so state government could continue to operate," King said in a telephone interview Thursday.

He pointed out that in the early 1980s, a few years before he was elected to the House, when oil and gas revenues were high, the Legislature passed what was known as the "Big Mac" tax cuts. Personal income tax, gross receipts tax and property taxes all were slashed. Some of these taxes were raised again in 1983 after oil prices dropped.

By 1987, oil prices dropped again. "Every governor is responsible to present a balanced budget," King said, referring to Carruthers.

But was it the biggest tax hike in state history?

According to news accounts in 1987, the two bills were estimated to cost taxpayers $103 million. However, according to a 1994 document from the Department of Finance and Administration titled "Major Tax Changes 1987-1990," the state received $41.3 million from the increase in the gas tax and fees plus another $45 million from the suspension of the rebates, for a total of $86.3 million.

That's smaller than the $96.9 million in tax increases from the 1983 legislation, according to documents on file with the Legislative Council.

It's also smaller than tax increases to balance the state budget during the height of the recession in 2010, which totaled more than $186 million, according to a Legislative Finance Committee report that year.

As for voting to raise his own pay, King pointed out that New Mexico legislators don't get a salary, only per diem payments, which during most of King's years in the House were $75 a day. Two of the three votes cited by the Martinez campaign were for constitutional amendments to raise the per diem, which were put on the ballot for state voters to approve.

He voted for an amendment, which passed in 1996 with little opposition, that eliminated the dollar amount in the constitution and instead based the per diem on an Internal Revenue Service standard. That was approved by voters that year. The next year, King voted for the bill that put the change into state statute. That bill passed both chambers unanimously and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Gary Johnson.

King acknowledged that he did vote for a proposed constitutional amendment that would provide salaries for legislators. "I guess I'm guilty of that," he said.

As for voting to "sweeten his own taxpayer retirement," this also refers to a 1987 bill. The bill (HB 255) amended the law allowing legislators and the lieutenant governor to participate in a retirement plan. The changes allowed lawmakers of any age to get a pension after 15 years of service, or to retire at the age of 60 after 12 years of service, or at age 65 after five years of service.

King, who served 12 years in the Legislature, is not yet 60. "I never got any retirement benefits from my service in the House," he said.

Contact Steve Terrell at Read his political blog at


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Source: Santa Fe New Mexican, The (NM)

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