February 17, 2016

House sends $6.2 billion budget to governor’s desk

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The Legislature sent a final $6.2 billion budget to the governor’s desk with less than 24 hours left in the legislative session.

Bag o CashThe budget is the main reason for the Legislature to meet each year and is really the only “must-pass” piece of legislation.

The House voted 57-10 to concur with changes made by the Senate that cut large amounts from the budget. The governor will now get the budget and will be able to sign or veto, including line-item vetoes.

The cuts came in large part because of plummeting oil and natural gas prices. Just months ago, the Legislature was planning on having over $200 million in new money.

Democratic House members took their time debating both the budget and the supporting sweeps bill that were sent back by the Senate.

Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, defended the both bills but most Democratic members used the debate period to criticize both the budget and the House Republicans legislative priorities.

Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, was just one of a handful of members who criticized the majority for focusing on crime bills instead of working to improve the economy.

“I believe we spent way too much time on matters that, I believe, were more of a political nature and not of a problem solving nature,” Martinez said.

Debate was briefly halted when House Majority Leader Nate Gentry interrupted Martinez and asked that the debate stay focused on concurrence and not what occurred in the previous 28 days.

“To delay this intentionally is contrary to the House rules,” Gentry said of debate from Democrats.

After two hours of debate, mostly from Democrats, the House voted 57-10 to concur with changes to the state budget made by the Senate earlier this week.

Transfers

An important part of making the budget balanced was a bill to “sweep” or transfer money from various state funds to the state’s general fund.

That legislation is somewhat controversial, but would move nearly $300 million in all to the general fund from these various funds.

The Senate changed the bill from the original form that passed the House and the House then voted to concur on a 52-13 vote.

The changes made in the Senate Finance Committee, and approved by the full Senate, would add $55 million to the transfers from funds to make a total from those types of funds of $129.5 million.

“Not one of these accounts have been completely swept,” Sen. Bill Burt, R-Alamogordo explained.

The sweeps also transferred funds from the Tobacco Settlement Permanent Fund and the Tax Stabilization Reserve.

If reserves drop below five percent, Burt explained, economic development funds could also be touched.

Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, praised the work on crafting the sweeps.

“This is probably the hardest thing anybody has to do up here,” Ingle said, recalling doing the same thing in the 1980s during another bust of oil revenues.

The Senate then sent it back to the House.

Democrats criticized the sweeps, generally saying it was a temporary fix for a bigger problem. Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, argued that the sweeps were coming from funds paid by those from a lower socioeconomic status.

We all know who pays into these funds and that’s consumers, small business people and poor people,” Maestas said. “Corporations don’t pay into these funds.”

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