February 19, 2016

How lawmakers crafted budget for dire economic situation

While much of the legislation that came from the House in the the 30-day seemed to focus on crime and tougher penalties, lawmakers did, in fact, pass a budget—albeit one that did not make anyone completely happy.

The House passed their version of a budget amid news of falling oil prices on a 38-31, nearly party-line vote. The $6.32 billion plan relied on sweeping more that $70 million from other state accounts such as the tobacco settlement fund and the local DWI grant fund into the state general fund.

Most House Democrats voted against the bill, citing cuts to areas they said needed more money and increases to areas such as the corrections department.

That budget was largely scrapped as the economic situation grew worse.

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, at a press conference. Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, looks on.

Andy Lyman

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, at a press conference. Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, looks on.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, told reporters that the bad budget situation was worse than previously thought. He said that the state was actually $359 million in the red and that the legislature and Gov. Susana Martinez would need to make more sacrifices.

Things still got worse.

Smith later told reporters that $30 million in new money that the state was expecting was not there. Smith said the situation was the worst that he had seen—potentially the worst situation since the 1980s. Smith and the Finance Committee eventually heavily amended the House budget, which amounted to almost a completely new bill. The new version of the budget saw cuts across almost all state agencies for the current fiscal year and future years.

The Senate as a whole ultimately voted in favor of the new budget with some criticism from Senate Democrats. Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque said the House and the Governor left the Senate with “a witches brew” due to a lack of revenue increases from the previous year.

Some Democrats criticized the corporate tax cuts that became law last year and start going into effect this year.

The House concurred with the changes to the budget with less than 24 hours left of the session. House Democrats debated the changes in full force, mentioning the lack of revenue. Republicans criticized the minority for stalling. Ultimately, the House passed the budget with only 10 dissenting votes. The sweeps bill, which the budget depended on, also passed with a similar vote.

Now Governor Martinez has a matter of days to sign the budget, although she can also line item veto, or accept parts of the budget.