October 1, 2016

Senate passes budget bills, adjourns

Matthew Reichbach

The Senate, saying their business was done for the legislative session, passed a number of bills to fix the budget deficit this year and the recently-completed fiscal year that ended on June 30, adjourned sine die.

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, presenting a bill on the Senate floor during the 2016 special session.

Matthew Reichbach / nmpol.com

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, presenting a bill on the Senate floor during the 2016 special session.

This means the Senators can go home. The state constitution provides that the House would need to stay in session for three days—not including Sundays—to force Senators to come back.

The House Appropriations and Finance Committee passed a feed bill that would fund the Legislature during the special session for three days; the Senate passed their own version.

Budget fix

As for the actual budget, the Senate passed eleven bills, including the bill to fund the special session.

Most of the bills were sponsored by Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, usually with a member of the other party. Smith is the chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

If all the bills became law, they are projected to generate a little more than $415 million. The projected shortfall is nearly $460 million. This means legislators would have to patch the remaining budget deficit in the legislative session that starts in January.

One of the biggest bills was to show what state entities would see cuts.

And, in fact, there are many agencies in the state that will see budget cuts of five percent of their total funding. And many areas that escape those largest cuts will still see smaller reductions.

A handful of areas, like the protective services of CYFD and the entire Veterans’ Services Department, will see no reductions in spending.

But other areas that usually are safe from drops in spending will see cuts. This includes a 1.5 percent cut to Behavioral Health Services, and a 2.5 percent cut to the Human Services Department (outside of Medicaid spending, including Medicaid behavioral services, which escapes any cuts).

And education itself sees some cuts, including $37.8 million to the State Equalization Guarantee, $25 million to “below-the-line” funding at PED and $33 million in cuts to categorical appropriations.

In all, the 2.8 percent reduction in spending will save the state $174.6 million.

In all, public education saw a 3.5 percent cut.

Higher education saw a five percent cut.

Sine die

When asked why they adjourned without hearing any crime bills, Sanchez told reporters, “Our responsibility was for the budget.”

Sanchez also noted the Senate has done their work and went home without addressing all the priorities of governors before, including Gov. Richardson. In 2007, the Senate adjourned twice.

Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, indirectly mentioned the crime bills when speaking to the Senate shortly before adjourning.

“There are issues I think the public wanted us to consider this session,” he said.

Still, Ingle praised the Senate for working together.

“And that is the most important thing,” he said.

As for what’s next, Sanchez said he’ll be headed home.

“I’ll be knocking doors in the morning,” the Senate Majority Leader said.

Senators, while walking out, joked they would be seeing each other in a few days.

Gov. Susana Martinez’s staff did not seem pleased with the Senate’s actions, judging by Twitter.

Other bills

The Senate also passed seven pieces of legislation that earlier passed the Senate Finance Committee. These were also all related to helping bridge the budget deficit that the state faces.

One, a bill that moved tobacco settlement funds to the general fund to fix the deficit, would close the books on the previous year’s budget, which ended June 30.

The most controversial of these, or at least the one which had the most debate, was on delaying the corporate income tax cuts that were passed in the dying moments of the 2013 session.

The bill would delay the tax cuts for two years.

The arguments against this echoed those in the Finance Committee.

“I do think this does send somewhat of a message,” Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said, of the state’s attitude toward businesses.

Sen. Clemente Sanchez said he didn’t think the bill would do much to help the budget.

“The corporate tax is going to be minimal,” he said. “I think it’s a feel-good bill. It’s a feel-good bill in an election year and I understand that.”

Senators who supported the bill acknowledged it was difficult, but said it was necessary.

“There’s just no good solution here,” Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, said. “Everybody is going to have to hurt.”

The bill eventually passed on a very narrow 21-20 vote.

All of the bills that passed now need the House to pass them and the governor to sign them to become law. Meanwhile, unless the House stays in session until they force the Senate to come back, any House bills will be dead.