October 6, 2016

House passes ‘sweeps’ bill to address budget deficit

The seal of the state of New Mexico in the House

The House sent the one bill truly necessary during this year’s special session back to the Senate with some changes.

The bill would find unused money in reserves and “sweep” them to the general fund, to pay the rest of the deficit in an already-concluded budget year and to cut much of the current year’s deficit.

In all, it would add $316 million, the bulk of which comes from the tobacco settlement permanent fund, to fix the budget deficit.

In the bill, $131 million will go to the budget year that ended on June 30. Another $88 million from that would go toward the current fiscal year for this year’s budget gap.

Not only that, the original bill proposed $49.5 million from various accounts, $16.1 million in unspent appropriations for possible maintenance of effort requirements by the Public Education Department, $10 million from the public project revolving fund and $3 million from the local government planning fund.

An amendment by Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, added another $17.9 million in additional sweeps from various funds.

The amendment by Roch passed 39-26.

This would allow the Legislature to put $184.5 million toward the budget for the current year.

House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, asked Roch if these additional sweeps were found during the recent days, when Democrats criticized Republicans for not focusing on budget bills.

Roch said they were.

Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, wondered early Thursday morning if this was the first the legislators had heard of the new funds found by the Legislative Finance Committee and the Department of Finance and Administration.

“I’m having a real problem with this because since you had them yesterday, shouldn’t we at least have an idea that they were coming up?” Alcon asked.

Alcon ended up voting against both the amendment and the bill.