Meet the ‘state’s banker’ who helps shape funding for child well-being

The car tire blew. The 1948 Ford sedan rolled off the highway from Columbus, throwing the 16-year-old driver nearly to his death. For eight years, he lay comatose in the Deming house where Sen. John Arthur Smith — today, arguably the most powerful man in the New Mexico Legislature — grew up. James “Jimmy” Franklin Smith was a star athlete and John Arthur’s big brother. The accident on March 30, 1952, shattered his cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that’s responsible for thinking and language.

Last-minute shuffles cement state budget deal

It took moving a few million dollars here and putting a few million dollars there, but New Mexico had a budget by the end of Wednesday. A $6.3 billion spending plan is on its way to Gov. Susana Martinez after the Senate and House of Representatives brokered a compromise on slightly different budgets approved by both chambers. The compromise won bipartisan support in the House and Senate, a marked departure from recent years when financial shortfalls led to spending cuts and intensely political clashes over state spending. Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Gov. Susana Martinez signaled that she would be receptive to the budget. That is different from last year, when she vetoed much of the annual spending plan, at one point threatened a government shutdown and ultimately forced a special session.

No budget deal yet between House, Senate

The Legislature’s two chambers are at odds over a proposed $6.3 billion state budget. Unlike recent years when financial problems prompted rounds of cuts, partisan fights and depleted reserves, the disagreements that emerged Tuesday came down to comparatively minor questions about funding roads. The Senate overwhelmingly approved a spending plan on Tuesday that provides bigger pay raises for state police than a version of the budget passed by the House of Representatives. The Senate version of the budget, approved 40-2 by members of that chamber, also provides millions of dollars in additional funding for the district attorney in Albuquerque and returns some of the money cut from school districts last year. But the Senate also scaled back the amount of money the House had approved for roads.

No vote on early childhood education funding this year in Senate Finance

The proposal to expand early childhood education across New Mexico died quietly Tuesday at the state Capitol, scotched because a vote on the initiative will not be taken in the state Senate Finance Committee. Sen. John Arthur Smith, the Democrat from Deming who chairs the committee, said in an interview that he had decided not to give a hearing to the proposed constitutional amendment before the legislative session ends at noon Thursday. “It doesn’t have the votes,” Smith said of the measure, House Joint Resolution 1. Asked if he had polled his 12-member committee, Smith said he expected that at least he and the five Republican members probably would vote down the initiative. That would leave the measure no better than a 6-6 tie, meaning it could not advance to the full 42-member Senate.

Senate committee caves to governor’s demand for more police pay, DA funds

A Senate committee bent Saturday to calls by Gov. Susana Martinez for more funding for state police pay and the District Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque, as well as calls from some fellow lawmakers to restore at least some of the funding cut from school districts last year. In announcing its version of the budget passed by the state House of Representatives late last month, the Senate Finance Committee seemed intent on maintaining the tenuous peace that has set in at the Roundhouse in the wake of the partisan clashes of the last few years. The budget would amount to about $6.3 billion and, according to the Senate Finance Committee, leave reserves around 10 percent. It would amount to about a 4 percent increase in spending over the current fiscal year. The House passed its version of the spending plan by a vote of 65-3 on Jan.

Amendment to tap endowment for early ed funding moves closer to ballot

Democratic state legislators who want to expand early childhood education by spending a portion of New Mexico’s $16 billion land grant endowment won another round Friday, bringing their proposal to a pivotal point. The Senate Education Committee voted 5-3 on party lines to advance the proposed constitutional amendment, formally called House Joint Resolution 1. Republicans on the committee opposed the measure, saying spending more of the endowment now would hurt future generations. One Republican lawmaker also pointed to the market’s recent volatility and said the fund has lost hundreds of millions of dollars during the decline. Under the proposed amendment, another 1 percent would be taken from the state’s Land Grant Permanent Fund.

Funding issues put pre-K providers at odds while young children miss out on early education

ANTHONY — A tall chain-link fence splits the preschool campus behind Anthony Elementary in southern New Mexico: federally funded classrooms on one side, state-funded classrooms on the other. The fence serves as a literal and symbolic divide segregating two sets of classrooms outfitted with the same child-size tables, chairs and toys; two sets of highly trained teachers; two separate playgrounds — and a bitter competition for 4-year-old children. As New Mexico has expanded early education for toddlers over the past decade, the state has created a system that bars providers from mixing state and federal funds in the same classroom. It’s a policy – not a law – that effectively separates kids into rival programs, often divided by income. Head Start serves the lowest income families in New Mexico; the state programs serve families from a range of income levels.

Lawmaker says public schools need more funding

If state Sen. Bill Soules had his way, New Mexico would invest an extra $375 million in public schools right now. Where the cash-strapped state would find that money is another matter altogether. Soules, a Las Cruces Democrat, has once again introduced legislation calling for the state to follow the recommendation of a decadeold study and funnel hundreds of millions of dollars more into its public education system — one that generally ranks at or near the bottom in most national reports. But Soules’ bill doesn’t have a chance in the upcoming legislative session. And he knows it.

Cautious optimism as state’s budget situation improves

New Mexico finally received some good news on the budget after two years of sharp downward trends. Of course, recovering from those losses will still take time. This morning, two cabinet-level secretaries and the Legislature’s top economist presented revenue estimates to the Legislative Finance Committee that project the state will have $199 million in new funds for the budget next year. Presenters warned they were only cautiously optimistic on the budget surplus because of a number of potential risks that the state has little to no control over. The news is better than what the committee heard in August, and the revenue is expected to come from larger-than-previously-expected growth revenues from personal income taxes, corporate income taxes and money received from the oil and gas industry.

GOP tax bill could put giant hole in NM’s budget

The tax bill Congress is considering could blow up New Mexico’s budget—as early as next year. New Mexico Senate Finance Committee chair John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, and House Appropriations and Finance Committee chair Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, sounded the alarm with a letter to members of the congressional delegation and Gov. Susana Martinez. The two wrote the state could lose nearly $600 million in federal funding in the coming year, including over $430 million in federal mineral leasing payments. This is money the federal government pays to states for oil and gas drilling and coal mining on federal lands within their borders. “Loss of FML revenues, which primarily fund public education in New Mexico, would have a devastating impact on the state’s budget and would wipe out the reserves our state has struggled to rebuild,” the two legislators wrote.