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.

Southwest water bill would shift funding from Gila River diversion

By a tight vote Tuesday morning, the Senate Conservation Committee passed a water bill—one that represents the latest attempt to control spending on a controversial diversion on the Gila River. Introduced by Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, Senate Bill 72, would channel federal money earmarked for the diversion toward other water projects in southwestern New Mexico. It would appropriate $50 million toward fully implementing a regional water project in Grant County, other shovel-ready water projects in the area, a groundwater study of the Mimbres Basin aquifer and water planning for the City of Deming. Morales told NM Political Report that he sees passage of the bill as a way to move tens of millions of dollars in federal money in a “responsible way.”

The New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (ISC) voted in 2014 to build the diversion, ten years after Congress authorized the state to trade 14,000 acre feet of water with a downstream user in Arizona. Already, New Mexico has spent more than $13 million of its federal subsidy on studies, engineering plans, and attorneys fees, although the state and the New Mexico Central Arizona Project (CAP) Entity still lack a firm plan or location for the diversion.

Still no solid plans for Gila River diversion, despite millions spent

With a big deadline bearing down in 2019, the New Mexico Central Arizona Project Entity, or CAP Entity, has yet to choose a plan or exact location for the Gila Diversion. That’s despite already spending more than $12 million of the state’s federal subsidy for the project. At the end of September, AECOM—the engineering firm hired to come up with designs for the CAP Entity to choose from—presented board members with possible design ideas based on the group’s cost and needs. The CAP Entity was then supposed to decide at its October 3 meeting on a plan. Instead, the group punted.

Does poorly educating students violate the NM constitution? A judge will decide

How New Mexico educates its children will be in the hands of a state judge soon as a landmark trial against the state Public Education Department wraps up. Over eight weeks, the trial has featured dozens of witnesses and numerous citations to academic studies and policy reports. But in the end, the trial before First Judicial District Judge Sarah Singleton in Santa Fe boiled down to dueling worldviews. The plaintiffs — the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) — cited education outcomes for low-income, Native American and English language learners as evidence that New Mexico does not meet its constitutional obligation to provide a sufficient education for all children. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission.

Legislature advances budget-balancing, tax measures

A House panel passed a bill to restore funding vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez for next year for higher education, courts and the state Legislature Wednesday afternoon. Meanwhile, tax packages that would increase taxes on things like internet sales and gasoline also moved forward. The budget vote came mostly on party lines save for state Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, who joined Democrats in supporting it. Maestas Barnes was also the lone Republican to vote for a failed override attempt of Martinez’s budget vetoes earlier in the day. In total, the bill appropriates roughly $765 million—$745 million for higher education and $19 million for legislative offices—for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

House tax reform measure faces steep hurdles in Senate

A wide-ranging tax bill that passed the House of Representatives in a unanimous vote ran into obstacles at a Senate hearing Wednesday and isn’t likely to advance in the 2017 Legislature. “Anything still has a chance of moving,” said Sen. Clemente Sanchez, D-Grants, chairman of the Senate Corporations and Transportation Committee, after a four-hour hearing on House Bill 412, sponsored by Rio Rancho Republican Rep. Jason Harper. But during the hearing, lawmakers were more skeptical as they heard concerns from lobbyists for doctors, hospitals, broadcasters, nonprofit organizations, schools, farmers, the dairy industry, hospice nurses and nursing homes about how the tax changes would affect their operations. Related: NM’s revenue still hasn’t recovered to pre-recession levels

Harper was not surprised. “We’ve jokingly called this bill the lobbyist full-employment act.

Budget, tax bill closer to reaching governor’s desk

The New Mexico Legislature came closer Saturday to sending Gov. Susana Martinez a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, as well as a $300 million tax package. The Senate passed House Bill 2, as well as HB 202, which could raise more than $300 million — depending on which new taxes and fees are signed and which are vetoed by Martinez, a Republican who repeatedly has vowed never to raise taxes. Both pieces of legislation will have to return to the House of Representatives for final passage because of amendments made in the session. “This budget and revenue package reflects the desire of the legislature to produce a plan that supports New Mexico families and makes practical long-term spending decisions necessary for the success of our state,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said in a news release. “By raising new recurring revenue,” Smith said, “we were able to prevent dramatic cuts and strengthen our support for critical state services like public education all while leaving an appropriate level of reserves necessary to reassure bond companies that we have financial stability needed to protect our credit rating.”

Senate Finance Committee prepares for vote on amended tax package to shore up reserves

Members of the Senate Finance Committee say they have reached an agreement on a package of taxes and fees that would help New Mexico resolve its projected budget deficit and shore up cash reserves to about 3 percent next year. The proposal amends several provisions of House Bill 202, including a tax that was opposed by doctors and hospitals. The Senate measure also would incorporate a gasoline and diesel tax increase that has already passed the Senate as a separate bill. By bringing all the elements together, Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, the finance chairman, hopes to stabilize the $6.1 billion general fund and guard against further credit downgrades. It also would buffer the state against expected federal cuts in education and health care.

Public school, college leaders warn lawmakers of effects from budget cuts

The superintendent of a small school district in Southern New Mexico told state lawmakers in no uncertain terms Tuesday how a 5 percent or 6 percent cut in his operating budget would affect his district. “Our teachers work very hard to put hope in front of those kids,” Ricky Williams, superintendent of Hagerman Municipal Schools, told members of the Senate Finance Committee. “With budget cuts, you take that hope away.” Williams was one of several district leaders and college presidents who put a human face on the realities of education funding cuts during a three-hour hearing at the state Capitol, which attracted about 150 people — many of them educators. Garrey Carruthers, president of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, told the committee that colleges and universities may have to hike tuition rates by up to 30 percent to offset budget reductions.