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Who Dat Lobbyist?

Back in Washington, the revolving door is alive and well when it comes to individuals leaving government service to lobby on behalf of the very industries they once regulated.  The same seems to hold true at the State Capitol in Santa Fe.

The agenda for last week’s meeting of the interim Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy Committee featured a presentation by James O’Neill, a former assistant secretary and tax policy director for the state Department of Taxation and Revenue.  The topic of his talk:  Personal Income Tax and Corporate Income Tax Proposals-Council on State Taxation Ranking.

In his talk, O’Neill pitched three revisions to Tax Administration Act and the Corporate Income Tax Act, arguing that these suggested “fixes would increase our score” on the COST scorecard and aid economic development.

The COST to which he referred is the Council on State Taxation, a Washington-based trade association made up of nearly 600 multistate corporations engaged in interstate and international business.  COST was formed in 1969 under the sponsorship of the Council of State Chambers of Commerce, an organization still closely linked to COST.

COST’s membership is a veritable who’s who of corporate America, including 7-Eleven Inc., Aetna, Altria (formerly Phillip Morris), Aztra Zeneca Pharmaceuticals, Bank of America, Best Buy, BP America Inc, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp., Comcast, Conoco Phillips, Domino’s Pizza, Home Depot, Intel, Morgan Stanley, Pfizer, Temper Pedic, Verizon, Wal-Mart, Waste Management Inc., Wendy’s — just to name a few.

Here’s a complete list.

With New Mexico’s lawmakers facing a severe budget crunch because of recession induced revenue shortfalls, it is only fair that they hear from a range of views on how to address the crisis.  Corporate interests apparently have some recommendations in this matter.

And by all accounts, James O’Neill has a sterling reputation as an expert in the field of state tax policy.  But for whom does he speak now?  The public interest?  Or the interests of out-of-state corporations?

It’s a good question in light of the raging policy debate over the generous tax loopholes that New Mexico maintains for out-of-state corporations earning profits in this state.

So when O’Neill sat down to begin his presentation last week, committee Chairman Ed Sandoval asked him the question, “who are you representing?”

“Myself,” he replied.

In all fairness, perhaps O’Neill was expressing his own personal views on tax policy, gleaned from his many years as a top revenue collector for the state.

Let it be noted, however, that according to the Secretary of State’s on-line lobbyist registration database, James O’Neill is currently listed as a lobbyist for the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce.

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