March 16, 2015

Budget clears Senate, back to House for final approval

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With crude prices plummeting Monday to a six-year low, state senators approved a $6.2 billion state budget with fingers crossed that the cost of oil will at least stay steady enough to preserve funding plans until the next fiscal year.

Money flyingSen. John Arthur Smith, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said steep drops in oil and natural gas prices meant a $35 million reduction in total revenue available for appropriations.

“We’re moving ahead precariously,” said the Democrat from Deming, adding that “we’re hoping that this next year will be a better year, but we’re very concerned.”

The Senate’s budget for the most part closely tracks the House version. The Senate version has an added $12.9 million to result in a small 1.3 percent increase across all state government programs.

That $12.9 million was divvied up for additional investments for the public schools’ K-3 Plus interventions and increases for the Developmental Disability waiver and Family, Infant and Toddler Programs. It also includes a salary boost for nurses and allied professions and a restoration of funds cut in previous years for public broadcasting and higher education athletic programs.

The Senate also added $2.5 million in non-recurring spending to the state’s fund for the Local Economic Development Act. The cabinet-level Economic Development Department had requested $50 million for the program, which allows local governments to create public-private partnerships for economic development projects.

Lawmakers almost uniformly praised the spending plan as a carefully crafted set of compromises that kept the most essential priorities at the forefront; only three senators voted against the budget.

One of them, Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, said he specifically objected to a $1.8 million apportionment to finish the county courthouse in Mora. That funding, along with the $2.5 million the Senate approved for behavioral health programs, is contingent on the passage of new Indian gaming compacts still under consideration.

“Mora banned all [oil and natural gas] exploration within their county, which hurts our state budget every year, and we’re going to reward them by giving more money?” said Brandt. “No, thank you.” Although there are no oil or gas wells active in Mora, the county commission banned drilling in a 2013 ordinance which a judge overturned in January.

The Senate’s budget amendments now return back to the House for final approval.

The original version of this article was updated to include additional information about the Mora County fracking ban.

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