House Republicans say Dems overspending with budget

With a week left to this year’s 30-day legislative session, House Republicans in a Thursday news conference again complained their Democratic counterparts are spending too much, claiming if a “messed up” budget proposal isn’t trimmed, the state may come up short by as much as $200 million. 

Leaders on the Democratic side immediately countered, calling Republican claims  “ridiculous,” “absurd” and “wrong.”

Welcome to the Roundhouse, day 23.

During a Thursday morning news conference, Rep. Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, and Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, pointed to a Legislative Finance Committee financial update this week that indicated projected revenues would fall short of the proposed expenditures by $200 million.

“It’s just another example of the crazy spending going on in your Capitol,” Townsend said.

Republicans have recommended a 4.3 percent increase to the 2021 fiscal year budget, far smaller than the 7.5 percent increase passed in the House more than a week ago. 

The planned expenditures in the proposed budget, said Rep. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs, “are a concern. A legitimate concern.”

The financial dustup isn’t just over House Bill 2, the main budget bill. It also involves capital expenditures not included in that budget and bills that have made their way from the House to the Senate with appropriations not included in HB 2.

All in all, that adds up to about $8.1 billion, Republicans claim, citing the Legislative Finance Committee report.

Meanwhile, House Democrats said they passed a responsible state budget — now being dissected by Senate leaders — and that they have no plan to dig into the reserves.

Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, said the budget passed was “well thought out.”

He said for eight years under former Gov. Susana Martinez “we cut to the bone. We are rebuilding government. The notion that we are overspending is absurd.”

Martinez said much of the emphasis on education spending — nearly half the proposed budget — is a response to the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit, which charged that New Mexico was not doing enough for its at-risk students when it came to education. 

A state District Court judge agreed in 2018 and ruled the state must find a way to provide more resources for those students, including Native American children, English-language learners and special-needs students.

Proposing additional funding for early childhood education initiatives, Martinez said, also is vital at a time when funding for those programs may be “volatile.” Many studies say such programs better prepare children for Kindergarten by teaching them social and literacy skills, among other outcomes.

Rep. Patricia Lundstorm, D-Gallup, chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, said the House budget is a responsible one with ample reserves on hand for emergencies. 

She said people “tend to confuse what happens in the budget bill and other spending outside of it” — one reason there may be concern about overspending in HB 2.

Republicans in the House, she said, “don’t know what they’re talking about” when it comes to suggesting there’s overspending at play. 

The conflict over funding is just part of a continual battle of political ideology between the two parties in the House. Democrats in that chamber outnumber Republicans 46-24.