Lawmakers on the state House and Senate education committees on Wednesday decried the lack of funds proposed for some of their priorities for fiscal year 2021, indicating a deeper conflict is broiling over the largest share of the state’s budget as the Legislature and governor begin hashing out differences in their spending plans. During a joint hearing on public school funding proposed by both the Legislative Finance Committee and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, education committee members said their input over the past year has been ignored. The initiatives they cited as underfinanced or omitted completely ranged from cybersecurity to teacher recruitment and retention efforts to providing feminine hygiene products for teen girls. Rep. Linda Trujillo, a Santa Fe Democrat and former school board member who serves on the interim Legislative Education Study Committee, said she didn’t think the voices of educators, school administrators and higher education officials were “entirely reflected” in the competing budget proposals. “I feel like we have been left in the lurch,” added Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, a former teacher and chairwoman of the Legislative Education Study Committee.
The months leading up to legislative sessions are often marked by state agencies presenting progress reports to lawmakers. Crime in the Albuquerque area has been a frequent subject to come up when talking about spending. But those conversations are usually devoted to the road ahead and not to picking apart past budgets.
But in a letter sent last month, the state’s speaker of the House and a top financial leader in the House asked the Bernalillo County district attorney for an informal audit of millions of dollars appropriated to his office two years ago. In return, the district attorney offered a private meeting with a legislative panel to go over how money is being spent. The written exchanges hint at further budget scrutiny from lawmakers, and also a potential rift between some House and Senate Democrats.
On October 17, New Mexico Speaker of the House Brian Egolf and House Appropriations Chair and Legislative Finance Co-chair Patricia Lundstrom, both Democrats, co-authored a letter to 2nd Judicial District Attorney Raul Torrez about an upcoming interim meeting with the Legislative Finance Committee.
The oil boom continues to roll, and thanks in large part to the funds, the latest projection finds New Mexico will have nearly over $900 million in “new money” next year. That’s what the Legislative Finance Committee was told at a hearing Wednesday. The latest projections show that, buoyed by the oil and gas revenue, the state could see $907 million in excess of what it spent in this year’s budget, the second straight year with massive budget surpluses.
The increased revenues gives legislators more money to budget for increased spending in areas like education, healthcare and infrastructure and to add to reserves to guard against future economic slowdowns. Slowdowns could come because of the boom and bust nature of the oil and gas industry, which is over 40 percent of the state’s revenue. And there are some fears that the ongoing trade war with China and other international economic activities could lead to a global recession.
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and all fourteen of the state’s district attorneys are asking Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to veto a bill that would change laws governing probation and parole for criminal offenders. The prosecutors said in a letter Friday to the governor that the measure approved by the Legislature would jeopardize public safety. Supporters of the bill said that isn’t accurate. The letter is, at best, disingenuous, said House Judiciary Chairwoman Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, one of the bill’s four sponsors. “We are looking at a new day here and a lot of what is claimed in that letter, the exact opposite is true,” Chasey said Friday.
More than 35 states allow partnerships in which private entities can bid to help finance and build government-owned facilities. New Mexico is not yet one of those states. But it could be if a bill that the House of Representatives approved Friday by a vote of 64-0 makes it into law. House Bill 286, sponsored by five lawmakers from both political parties, would allow any government agency in the state to enter into a long-term agreement with a private entity to finance and build road and broadband infrastructure. In this case, Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, one of the bill’s sponsors, told lawmakers the initiative could help with much-needed road, bridge and internet service in counties and municipalities where capital funds are limited.
An advocate for one of the plaintiffs in the landmark court case mandating improvements in New Mexico’s public schools said Wednesday that state lawmakers are failing to comply. “The Legislature has dropped the ball on funding needed to move the state toward compliance with the court ruling,” said Preston Sanchez, an attorney for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, which represents one set of plaintiffs in the case. The Legislative Finance Committee has proposed spending an additional $416 million for public education in the coming year. Of that total, $113 million would be directed toward at-risk students who headlined the lawsuit. “It’s not enough,” Sanchez said.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham launched the New Mexico Legislature’s 2019 session Tuesday by calling on lawmakers to pour a half-billion dollars more into education, raise the minimum wage, pass gun control and expand the state’s tax incentives for the film industry. The new Democratic governor used her first State of the State address to double down on a series of liberal priorities she made the centerpiece of her campaign, arguing New Mexico should seize what she described as an opportune moment as it sees a windfall of oil revenue — and the ascent of new political leadership. Standing in front of the most diverse House of Representatives in statehistory, Lujan Grisham urged New Mexicans to “get excited, stay excited, get active and stay active.” “This moment is greater than the state of our budget, or any of the numbers that suggest we can now begin to make the transformative investments our schools, our economy and our communities have always deserved,” she said in a 50-minute address. “I believe this is an opportune moment, perhaps the greatest moment of opportunity in the history of this state, because we have the strength, and the vision, and the willpower to deliver together.”
Top lawmakers on Monday rolled out a proposed $7 billion state budget that would include a whopping $600 million for public works projects around New Mexico as the government’s coffers swell with a windfall of revenue from an oil and gas boom. The Legislative Finance Committee’s proposed budget would mark almost an 11 percent increase in spending by the state. That is less than what Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has proposed in her own version of the state budget, which would raise spending by about 13 percent. But as lawmakers prepared to convene Tuesday for a 60-day legislative session, leaders indicated they are not far off from an agreement with the new governor when it comes to some spending on the issue that is sure to dominate the agenda: education. Faced not only with a judge’s order to come up with ways of improving education for many of the state’s most vulnerable students but also with a bright financial outlook in the short-term, legislators echoed Lujan Grisham’s own call to greatly increase funding for New Mexico schools.
Analysts told lawmakers projections show New Mexico will have $1.1 billion in “new money” to spend compared to last year. But they also urged caution on how to spend that money, given the state’s reliance on volatile oil and gas revenues and the need to replace the money legislators used money from various state programs in recent years. Members of the Legislative Finance Committee, which hears regular budget updates throughout the year, were briefed on the numbers from their chief economist and members of outgoing Gov. Susana Martinez’s cabinet. The sky-high budget numbers were slightly lower than the August forecast, but still much higher than the state has seen since 2005, before the Great Recession of the late 2000s. The budget boom doesn’t necessarily mean that legislators will fund new recurring programs.
Committee chairwoman, and House Appropriations and Finance Committee chairwoman, Patty Lundstrom, outlined in the most-recent LFC newsletter where the money would likely go.
The Roundhouse, January 2011: Flanked by colorful bouquets, a pink and white corsage pinned to her dark blue suit, Gov. Susana Martinez invoked the blossoming of a new era for New Mexico in her first State of the State address. She was the nation’s first Latina governor, soon to be named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people. She had a plan for New Mexico and intended to execute it with a prosecutor’s precision. Her message: New Mexico was in a state of financial crisis. “No more shell games,” she announced to applause.