New Mexico legislators start their 60-day session Tuesday with plenty of unfinished business, including closing a projected budget deficit of about $67 million. But any hope that the passing of a rancorous election year and the ongoing budget crisis would inspire bipartisan compromise already seems to have evaporated. Instead, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and top lawmakers have staked out positions that almost guarantee a clash over taxes and spending. In addition, more budget cuts are likely, no matter the outcome. Martinez proposed easing the projected deficit by requiring public employees to pay for a bigger share toward their pensions.
During September’s special legislative session, lawmakers agreed on fixes that added about $23 million in revenue. That was a start, but not nearly enough to solve the state’s budget crisis. On Wednesday, state legislators received little good news about the state’s revenue stream during a committee meeting. Even with that help, New Mexico’s bean counters dropped their revenue projections for the current fiscal year from previous estimates by more than $130 million. The state’s current fiscal year began in July and ends next June.
The latest update on the state’s budget situation was filled with negative news, including a large reduction from previous budget projections released in August. The current year’s budget is projected to be $69 million in the hole. For the fiscal year starting July 1, 2017, state budget experts project $300 million less money to spend than the budget in the current fiscal year—which itself saw massive cuts during the special session, with 5.5 percent cuts to most agencies. The update, presented by experts from the Department of Finance and Administration and the Taxation and Revenue Department Monday morning to the Legislative Finance Council, comes a month and a half before legislators go back to work during a regular legislative session to deal with next year’s state budget. During a special session in September and October, the Legislature plugged a $600 million budget deficit that encompassed last year’s budget and the current budget through a combination of tapping into reserves and making cuts.
Three state agencies expressed a lack of confidence Thursday in the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance’s (OSI) ability to collect millions of dollars back taxes owed to the state from health insurance companies. State Auditor Tim Keller, Department of Finance and Administration State Budget Division Director A.J. Forte and Legislative Finance Committee Deputy Director Charles Sallee all expressed doubts in OSI’s plans to collect an estimated $193 million that it failed to collect from premium health insurance taxes from 2010 through 2015. The comments came at an interim Legislative Finance Committee hearing. “I think it’s very notable there are three oversight agencies looking at this,” Forte told state lawmakers. “There are too many inconsistencies for me to feel comfortable in this process.”
The controversy began when Keller’s office revealed the uncollected revenue in a special audit earlier this year.
The House sent the one bill truly necessary during this year’s special session back to the Senate with some changes. The bill would find unused money in reserves and “sweep” them to the general fund, to pay the rest of the deficit in an already-concluded budget year and to cut much of the current year’s deficit. In all, it would add $316 million, the bulk of which comes from the tobacco settlement permanent fund, to fix the budget deficit. In the bill, $131 million will go to the budget year that ended on June 30. Another $88 million from that would go toward the current fiscal year for this year’s budget gap.
Legislators on opposing sides of the aisle are using remarkably similar arguments on two bills that would delay tax breaks and subsidies to businesses to help balance New Mexico’s projected $460 million shortfall between last year and this year. One would delay incoming corporate tax cuts for two years, saving the state an estimated $13.8 million this fiscal year, according to the Legislative Finance Committee,
The other bill would generate $20 million by cutting New Mexico’s film industry subsidy by that much this year. While both bills bear similarities in delaying tax breaks and subsidies for businesses, they’re being both supported and opposed on nearly opposite partisan lines. Democratic leadership in the Roundhouse argued that businesses must participate in the “shared sacrifice” of cuts to solve the state’s budget crisis when supporting the corporate tax cut delays that the Senate passed last weekend. House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, emphasized this point when criticizing proposed cuts to services in the Republican budget plan Monday morning in his office.
The state failed to collect nearly $200 million in taxes from health insurance companies during a recent five-year period, according to a report released Tuesday by State Auditor Tim Keller. The state Office of the Superintendent of Insurance (OSI) should have collected more than $193 million between April 2010 and April 2015, according to the report. OSI’s purpose is to collect premium taxes from insurers who do business in New Mexico. In the report, Keller noted that the $193 million total is based on a sample representing 26 percent of all premium taxes collected during the time period. In other words, OSI may have failed to collect more than that estimate.
RED RIVER — The state is facing a big hole when it comes to the state budget, lawmakers were told at the latest meeting of the interim Legislative Finance Committee. The projected $325 million deficit for the current year’s budget comes in part because state revenue projections from January were off by more than half a billion dollars. A larger-than-expected downturn in the oil and gas industry made a big part of the decline. This year, the state House of Representatives passed a budget based on the January projections, but the state Senate drastically slashed that budget before sending it back to the House. But even the big cuts in the final budget for this year leave a lot to be done.
Gov. Susana Martinez will call the Legislature into a special session, likely next month, to deal with the state’s massive budget problems.
The Associated Press reported the news Thursday, the first time the governor put any sort of time frame on the session. She told the wire service the special session would likely take place next month. Martinez and others say they prefer a short special session—likely one that takes just hours—to save on the costs. This means the discussions on how to deal with the budget deficit will largely take place behind the scenes, without public input or transparency. At issue is that New Mexico’s revenue plummeted along with the prices of oil and gas, which New Mexico depends on to balance the budget.
Legislators were told by the Legislative Finance Committee director Monday that the budget situation is still dire. “We’re on fumes,” LFC Director David Abbey told the Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy Interim Committee. The legislators will have to deal with revenue that is down ten percent from last year, Abbey said. The state predicted a five percent drop in revenue. Abbey said a special session may be needed to address any shortfall.