February 15, 2016

Senate passes lean budget, highlighted by cuts

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The Senate passed a version of the budget that included budget cuts across the board on Monday.

The Senate voted 39-1 on the budget that bears little resemblance to what many predicted months or even weeks earlier—or even from what passed the House just days ago.

Sen. John Arthur Smith presenting HB 99, the REAL ID legislation that passed the Senate in 2016.

Matthew Reichbach

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming.

Originally drafted by the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, HB 2 was changed dramatically by the Senate Finance Committee after Chairman John Arthur, D-Deming, Smith shed some light on what he called a “dire” circumstance with the state’s budget.

Smith told the body that some of the changes included reductions of $125 million in fiscal years 2017 and 2018. Smith said the committee came up with additional cuts and a provision that would allow Gov. Susana Martinez to add more cuts if need be.

“We did sanding. We did sweeping. We did cutting and we allowed additional language in the appropriation act to give the executive the authority to cut additional dollars,” Smith said.

Sanding refers to cutting the money throughout agencies in the budget at an equal amount. Sweeps take money from other funds and transfer them to the general fund to shore up weaknesses.

He said the cuts to the House version of the budget was simply because the other chamber was unaware of how bad the situation was.

“I don’t think what House did, it wasn’t intentional,” Smith said. “They didn’t know.”

Democrats and Republicans alike in the Senate thanked Smith and his staff for coming up with a budget that accounts for money shortfalls.

Sen. Steven Neville, R-Aztec, said the bill was not ideal, but that it solves the problems the state may be facing.

“If you’re looking for a reason to vote against this, there’s at least 42 of them in there,” Neville said.

Neville, who also sits on the Senate Finance Committee, said there was a lot of work done to make the bill possible and encouraged the body to vote for it.

Sen. Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said besides a balanced budget, New Mexico needs more revenue sources.

“You cannot starve yourself to fiscal health,” Ortiz y Pino said of missing revenues. “I hope the message is registering with the fourth floor.”

Martinez has vowed not to raise any taxes while in office.

Sen. Ron Griggs, R-Alamogordo, also praised the work of Smith and his staff, but alluded to more tax breaks as a solution to the state’s shortfall.

“We have to do something that make things better for the job creators,” Griggs said.

The only member to vote against the bill, Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, blamed the governor and House Republicans for not increasing revenues last year.

“I think we were left with a witches brew from the House and executive,” McSorley said.

The budget will head back to the House floor for concurrence. The legislative session ends at noon Thursday.