State House Republicans unveiled a spending plan for the upcoming special legislative session that would transfer $12.5 million from the state Legislative Retirement Fund to the general fund to solve the New Mexico’s budget shortfall. Martinez announced the special session will begin Wednesday, May 24. GOP House leaders announced the plan publicly in a press release Tuesday, touting it as a solution to fix the state’s budget issues without raising taxes. “This plan covers New Mexico’s budget needs for the upcoming fiscal year and increases funding for cancer care as well as support for students working to obtain a college degree,” state Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, said in a statement. “I urge my colleagues in the Legislature to adopt these proposals so we can resolve this budget impasse fairly and for the benefit of all New Mexicans.”
But the ranking lawmaker in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee questioned whether the Legislature could legally transfer money already invested the retirement fund.
The New Mexico House of Representatives passed a spending plan late Wednesday that boosts funding for classrooms and the courts, while cutting money for colleges and universities and leaving most other agencies with no new money. A companion bill also headed to the Senate, House Bill 202, would raise more revenue for future years by boosting fees and taxes. The $250 million a year in new ongoing revenue is needed to avoid more spending cuts and to replenish cash reserves, said sponsor Carl Trujillo, D- Santa Fe. “We are bleeding, we need to stop that bleeding,” Trujillo said as he held up a graph showing the state’s diminished reserves. The House approved the revenue measure first, because the proposed budget needs some $157 million in additional money to meet the constitutional requirement for a balanced budget.
A state Senate committee Monday night approved $1.6 million in funding for the courts, enough to pay for jury trials through June 30, the end of the fiscal year. Still, it was unclear whether the legislation represented a temporary or a permanent step back from the brink of a breakdown for the judicial system. The committee action was another pull in a political tug-of-war between the Democratic-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez over funding for the courts. The game is being played out against a backdrop of a state budget crunch across all of government. In recent weeks, Martinez has twice vetoed money to avoid a halt to jury trials and potential dismissal of criminal charges against defendants.
The highly touted New Mexico True advertising campaign that spotlights the state’s culture, people and natural resources will not expand to new markets due to state budget constraints. State tourism chief Rebecca Latham told lawmakers Thursday her agency spends more than ever to promote the state, but that has come by reducing employees and consolidating services. New Mexico True promotes the state on airport billboards, print and social media in Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Denver, San Diego, Chicago and most recently Austin. The next logical market is San Francisco, but Latham said the state does not have to money to grow into that market in the coming year. “We still firmly believe San Francisco is the next great market,” she said.
What Republicans called pork, Democrats called crucial funding for communities and public safety. What Democrats called an effort to modernize accounting practices, Republicans called a gimmick. Less than a week after Gov. Susana Martinez encouraged lawmakers to work together to solve the state’s projected $69 million budget deficit, the House of Representatives on Saturday waged a partisan fight on two bills to make New Mexico solvent. Democrats, who control the House 38-32, saw their bills approved in votes that went mostly along party lines. Similar legislation easily cleared the state Senate with bipartisan support.
ByBruce Krasnow and Andrew Oxford | The New Mexican |
As New Mexico lawmakers work to rebalance government spending for the current fiscal year and prepare to craft a spending package for fiscal year 2018, state House members have agreed to cut their own funding. In a unanimous vote Thursday evening, the House decided to shave about 2.5 percent from the Legislature’s budget and revert some of its own reserve funds. The move follows lawmakers’ decision during a special session last fall to cut 3 percent of legislative spending. The bill will save about $1 million overall, leaving a budget of about $8.7 million for the 60-day session. The original bill called for a legislative budget of about $24.4 million, funding not just the session but also year-round legislative staff and committees that meet in the months between sessions.
A bill aimed at bringing back the death penalty in New Mexico passed the House Appropriations and Finance committee along party lines after five hours of scrutiny from skeptical Democratic lawmakers. Missing on Monday evening, when compared to a previous committee hearing on the subject,was the emotional and tearful testimony from families of victims of criminals. The House Appropriations and Committee’s contentious tone started from the very beginning when Chairman Larry Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, encouraged panel members to only speak about the fiscal aspects of the bill. Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, called the request “inappropriate.”
“I’m going to call this for what it is,” Steinborn said. “A farce.”
The committee amended the bill to change controversial language, including removing the word “retarded” from the bill.
A House committee held off on any changes to a bill providing big cuts across most state agencies to give lawmakers and the public more time to review the deal. This came even as the panel, the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, approved a bill to shift capital outlay funds for infrastructure projects and another to sweep unused reserves to the general fund to shore up the state’s large budget deficit. While the amendment to deepen some cuts, and halt others, did not go forward it will likely be the structure for a version to be heard on the House floor, as early as Monday. The proposal on the bill to cut spending would have deepened cuts for many state agencies. The committee amended the Senate bill that provided spending cuts to cut most state agencies by 5.5 percent instead of the 5 percent in the original Senate version.
Two House committees passed four Senate bills, three with no changes, but the one bill that must pass this year to balance the books on the budget for the year that ended three months ago passed with a change. If the bill passes in the amended form, the Senate would need to resolve the differences created by the House Appropriations and Finance Committee before it heads to the governor. In a bill that moves over $200 million from various funds, largely the tobacco settlement permanent fund, the change moved $1 million more from a legislative account. “I don’t want to say it’s a political movida, but it sounds to me like it’s a political movida,” Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, said before the committee approved the changes. “If we don’t make an effort to increase our reserves, our bond rating is in danger of being down-rated,” committee chair Larry Larranaga, R-Albuquerque, said.
Two press conferences on Wednesday at the midpoint of the session showed deep divides between leadership in the House and Senate haven’t gone away. A top state senator said all the House GOP tough on crime bills passed could cost between $3 million and $5 million if they become law. But John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, added that he doesn’t yet have an empirical number and his estimates were based on talks with judges and court officials. “We do know there is a cost,” Smith said in a Senate Democratic press conference Wednesday morning. Smith, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, mentioned a DWI reform bill that passed both chambers and became law years ago that was promised not to cost any extra money.