February 6, 2016

‘Sweeps’ or ‘raids’; bill to close budget gap passes

The word of the day on Saturday was ‘sweeps’ when it came to balancing the state budget.

The House of Representatives voted 46-23 in favor of the bill that would ‘sweep,’ or transfer, money from other state accounts to pay for the state budget.

The vote came shortly after the chamber passed the $6.3 billion state budget.

Rep. Jimmie Hall, R-Albuquerque, described his bill as necessary to balance the budget, and said that the transfers were done in a prudent way.

Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, called it, “”probably the toughest bill that there will ever be in the session.”

As with the budget, Democrats who spoke on the bill were largely against the use of “sweeping” or “raiding” from the other state funds, like the DWI grant fund and the delinquent property tax fund.

Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, said the opposition by Democrats was hypocritical, since when Democrats were in the majority in the House, they used the same process in 2009.

She also said that this was different, since Hall’s bill did not fully deplete funds as they did in 2009.

“We made some hard decisions,” Youngblood said. “We came back, we looked at those accounts. We had buy-in from departments. We had testimony that our credit ratings weren’t going to suffer.”

Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, did not like that Youngblood called Democrats who opposed the bill hypocrites for the past effort and said that the two situations were not the same.

“When we came in, it was a national economic crisis,” Egolf said of the previous situation. “All 50 states were facing fiscal catastrophe.”

He also said that there was a “light at the end of the tunnel” with a federal stimulus package as well as increased Medicaid matching from the federal government.

Other Democrats objected to particular funds.

Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas says the $3.5 million from DWI funds were troubling since they “address it on the front-end” instead of spending “on the back-end” in prison time.

Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, has long been opposed using money from the Tobacco Settlement Permanent Fund to shore up other areas of need.

She gave a short history of the Legislature taking money from the fund.

“I’m very disappointed that we continue to raid, essentially, something that’s a goose that lays the golden egg,” Chasey said.

Republicans saw the bill as necessary, if not ideal.

Rep. James Strickler, R-Farmington, looked back to previous budgets that saw large funding increases.

“Oil and gas revenues were just rolling in and we were just spending like crazy,” Strickler said, adding that it was spending like this that led to Hall’s bill becoming necessary.

“I wish we didn’t have to do this, but it’s necessary,” Strickler said.

The bill now heads to the Senate.