Governor signs property tax break for low income seniors

The Associated Press

SANTA FE — More New Mexicans can qualify for a property tax break under legislation signed into law by Gov. Bill Richardson.

The measures expands eligibility for a property tax valuation freeze provided to lower income New Mexicans age 65 and older.

Currently, those with a modified gross income of $18,000 — $21,600, after an inflation adjustment — have the tax values of their homes frozen. Under the new law, the qualifying income will increase to $32,000 in 2009 and that will be adjusted to account for inflation each year.

The legislation also will make disabled New Mexicans eligible for the tax limitation if they meet the income standards.

According to the Taxation and Revenue Department, about 7,500 taxpayers benefited from the valuation freeze and that should increase by at least 2,500 under the new law.

Also signed Thursday by Richardson were bills to:

— Provide for a financial audit of all seven regional housing authorities. Lawmakers approved $200,000 last year for an accounting of assets acquired by the housing organizations and any leftover money will go to help cover the audit costs. The Albuquerque-based Region III Housing Authority defaulted on $5 million in bonds it sold to the State Investment Council. A review by the council found that the agency had misused housing money to fund salaries and benefits, make loans and buy vehicles.

— Extend the deadline for companies to qualify for a state tax credit for creating high-wage jobs. Currently, the tax break is given for qualifying jobs created by July 2009. The new law will extend that to July 2015. The credit is given for jobs paying at least $40,000 a year if they’re in a community with a population of 40,000 or more; $28,000 if the job is elsewhere.

— Increase penalties for truckers failing to comply with the state’s weight distance tax. Currently there’s a $100 fine. Under the new law, a first violation would carry a $300 penalty. There would be a $500 fine for a second violation within 10 years and $1,000 for a third violation. The tax is based on how far a truck travels across the state and how much it weighs. Money from the tax helps pay for construction and maintenance of highways. The state faces a transportation financing shortfall and the state’s Motor Transportation Division estimates the new penalties could generate $1 million next year. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Sue Wilson Beffort, R-Albuquerque, contends more taxes will be collected because the higher penalties will cause greater compliance by truckers.

The property tax limitation is SB116; the housing authority audit bill is SB8; the high-wage tax bill is SB174; the weight distance tax penalty bill is SB438.