House District 43 candidates Lisa Shin, far left, and Chris Chandler, far right, chat with Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ryn Herrman Thursday morning prior to the monthly Chamber breakfast at UNM-LA. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Democratic candidate for House District 43 Chris Chandler and Republican candidate Lisa Shin participated in a forum Thursday morning during the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce monthly breakfast meeting at the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos.
The two woman answered questions regarding their positions on the role of state and local government in supporting economic development and diversification as well as the role of institutions of higher education in meeting the need for education and workforce development before the subject of gross receipts tax and the Los Alamos National Laboratory was raised by Shin in response to a question about improving the economic climate for businesses in Los Alamos County.
After telling the group that tax reform is critical and that easing the tax burden would help attract more business to the state, Shin said SB-17, which would have allowed nonprofits running national laboratories in New Mexico to be liable for gross receipts, would have had a negative effect on the community and our state.
“It would have impacted job creation…. We want to be competitive as a state. Legislation like SB17 where we’re imposing taxes on our laboratory sends the wrong message. She said we want to create an environment from the legislature that draws more business to our state and is more favorable to businesses and corporations. She will be focused on a regulatory and tax environment that attracts businesses here, drive them away.
In response, Chandler said that with respect to SB17, the County has met with the director designee of the Lab Dr. Thom Mason, and that he does not share Shin’s views on taxes . She said the contractor, Triad National Security, LLC, is more than willing to pay assuming that the Department of Energy allows them to do so.
“It’s because Lab management recognizes that in order to attract top notch scientists, etc., we need to have a town that’s strong, has amenities, has housing that can support the workforce,” Chandler said. “When I came here 20 years ago the town was unattractive, had few amenities and yet they were paying the same property taxes they are paying now. We could not offer children in this town the kinds of activities they wanted. The Pond did not look nearly as attractive as it does now. When you come into town now, you see a town that is beautiful. It shows that the community cares about it and respects itself. It is maintained in a much better way than we had before and as a result people want to live here, people love living here and Lab employees love living here. I think it is very short-sighted to suggest that we should turn down $20 million GRT or $17 million however you slice it simply to – I’m not really sure what it accomplishes.”
Ironically, the next question to both candidates was that if Triad’s taxable ends up being not for profit, would they support a bill similar to SB-17 “which had broad bi-partisan support but was eventually vetoed by the Governor”.
Chandler said the short answer is “yes, obviously”.
“I worked very hard with my colleagues on Council and with our contacts at the state Legislature to ensure that that bill passed. When you look at it from a broader state perspective, what they see is a functioning corporation and that’s what the Laboratory is. It’s a scientific institution, no doubt about that, but it’s a very large, complex, functioning corporation that others not on the hill see as not carrying its weight in terms of tax revenue to the state. And they have begun to question why it is that an entity that has a $2.5 billion budget is not carrying some of its responsibility to share in providing for the children of the state,” she said. “Forty plus percent of the educational budget is from the general budget at the state level. And to see an institution that can afford to pay, has been paying for the last several years, not pay now when we are at a critical moment in terms of funding and supporting public education and other things such as economic diversification is not well-received off the hill.”
Chandler said it’s unfortunate that the Governor took it upon herself to veto the bill otherwise there “we would not be in this conundrum of not knowing where we stand in terms of revenues that the County needs to come in and the state needs to come in”.
Shin responded that one thing that has to be realized is that DOE is looking at cutting funding at all the National Laboratories across the nation.
“So why would they stay in New Mexico versus another state if there is another state that has better legislation, more favorable conditions in terms of legislation and that’s where they would want to move their operation. At the Legislature we would do anything we can to keep the operation in New Mexico”, she said.
Shin said as a legislative analyst at the Legislature, Chandler should have proposed an amendment to SB-17 to make it fair and equitable.
“You cannot tax one set of non-profits without taxing all of the non-profits in the same way,” she said.
Shin said the Governor was right to veto the bill, that it was flawed, inequitable and would have further complicated the tax code. She said she thought there were other ways of looking at it, that perhaps the Lab managers could pay a fee to the Public Education Department for the cost of doing business here and that she didn’t think SB-17 was the right approach.
“We need to do everything we can for the National Lab to keep the costs low,” she said.
The Chamber candidates forum was the first of several opportunities for voters to hear from those running for office in advance of early voting which begins Oct. 6.
Among those events are:
- Saturday, Sept. 22 from 9 a.m. – American Legion Post 90, 1325 Trinity Drive
- Monday, Sept. 24 at 6 p.m. – VFW Post 8874, 1793 Deacon St.
- Thursday, Sept. 27 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. – League of Women Voters, Building 2, UNM-LA, 4000 University Drive
- Wednesday, Oct. 3 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. – League of Women Voters, Building 2, UNM-LA, 4000 University Drive