October 6, 2016

Senate accepts House budget changes, ends special session

After a marathon all-nighter in the House that mostly involved debate to reinstate the death penalty, the state Senate moved briskly Thursday morning to adopt the House changes to budget fixes and adjourn.

The move brought an end to a chaotic special legislative session, which began last Friday.

Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, lamented that the Senate did not hear crime bills passed by the House. Yet he spoke highly of the House’s budget compromise with the Senate, which scaled back proposed higher education cuts that singled out the University of New Mexico.

“There seemed to be a little bit of overemphasis on popping UNM a little too hard,” Ingle told reporters after the session. “The folks that are dissatisfied with UNM can talk to the board of regents and those folks can settle things there and make decisions that are probably better than we can here on the floor of the Senate.”

The House originally proposed cutting UNM by 8 percent and other state universities by 6 percent. The final agreement will cut state universities budgets by 5 percent across the board.

Most areas in state government will see a 5.5 percent cut.

State Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, made similar comments shortly after adjournment.

“We wanted to make sure that UNM was treated like all other higher education facilities in the state,” Smith said.

Smith also took aim at the House Republican leadership for taking so long to come up with an agreement on budget solvency bills. He noted that the House and Senate came into the session with no budget agreement, “and the governor had demanded before she called us into special session that we would have an agreement so we could move forward.”

He called Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration “delinquent” for not taking budget issues seriously until recently, noting that he first brought them up in February.

“This is a failed administration when it comes to job creation and fiscal management,” Smith said of Gov. Susana Martinez.

Smith argued that with a budget agreement in place, the special session would have only taken two days and saved taxpayers the cost of dragging it out this long.

House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, D-Albuquerque, however defended the session as “time well spent.” In a prepared statement emailed to media outlets, Gentry argued the House took a “deliberative approach” that identified cuts in law enforcement spending from the Senate that he said needed to be restored.

“While this package isn’t perfect, it’s fair. Now isn’t the time for brinksmanship, and I’m pleased we were able to get the job done,” Gentry said.

The Senate adjourned without voting on three House bills to increase penalties for certain violent crimes.

“I wish that we could have at least looked at a couple of those bills that were on that call because they really needed to be passed,” Ingle told reporters.

Smith, for his part, said he’d be “more than happy to address the crime problem in Jan, three months down the road,” referring to the next general legislative session.

“Matter of fact, I’m willing to address those problems on Nov. 9, the day after the election, if she wants to call us back,” Smith said, referring to Martinez.