May 24, 2017

Two budget bills now await governor’s signature

Matthew Reichbach

The House of Representatives passed three pieces of budget legislation Wednesday afternoon and evening with little debate.

The first restored funding to higher education and the state Legislature. Earlier this year, Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the entire budgets for both during the regular session, citing her opposition to tax increases.

Two Republicans—state Reps. Jason Harper of Rio Rancho and Rod Montoya of Farmington—voiced concerns for the spending bill. They both said they agreed on principle with the spending but not the revenue it is relying on, a separate bill that would introduce taxes on internet sales and some hospitals.

“The hope and anticipation is for the governor to approve the budget,” state Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, said.

Harper called this a “false hope,” citing Martinez’s public statements that she would not raise taxes unless they were part of a comprehensive tax overhaul.

Harper introduced that overhaul Wednesday, but House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, indicated the House would not take action on that bill since the text was not available in time. However, the bill is scheduled for a committee hearing Thursday.

Harper said Martinez would veto any tax increase the budget bill relies on, which would then put the state’s reserves at minus 1 percent, or roughly $70 million in the hole.

“If we agree on a spending plan and we don’t have the money to fund it, it’s a bad plan,” Harper said.

Montoya said he was worried that the Legislature came into special session without a budget agreement with the governor.

“I’m very uncomfortable without agreement to a tax package, to signing a budget that would be out of balance,” he said.

Still, eight Republicans joined Democrats in passing the legislation on a 46-20 vote. The Senate later passed the bill, which is now on the governor’s desk.

The House also passed the tax bill on a party-line 37-29 vote without debate.

During the night, the House then passed Senate Bill 1 on a 64 to zero vote. The bill borrows severance tax money that would normally go to infrastructure projects to instead balance the budget. Earlier in the day, several senators spoke about regretfully voting for the bill to appease the governor. The borrowing bill is now on the governor’s desk.