February 16, 2022

House votes no on state budget amendments adopted by Senate

As the clock on the legislative session continued winding down to the noon Thursday deadline, a battle over New Mexico’s proposed $8.48 billion budget blew up.

The House of Representatives on Tuesday voted against a motion to concur with amendments adopted by the Senate.

“I urge the body to vote no” on concurrence, said Rep. Patty Lundstrom, chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, before the House voted overwhelmingly against the Senate’s changes to House Bill 2.

The spending plan, the highest on record, is poised to go to a conference committee made up of three members from each chamber with a goal of working out differences before the end of the session. It was unclear late Tuesday when the committee would meet.

The procedure is not unusual. Officials said this is the third time in the last six regular legislative sessions the two chambers have gone to a conference committee over disagreements in the state budget.

Amendments approved by the Senate on Monday would increase the spending plan proposed by the House by nearly $142 million in nonrecurring expenses and $11.1 million in ongoing costs.

Lundstrom raised a number of concerns about the changes, including lack of funding for rural health care, which she said “is not anywhere” in the budget.

“There’s some other issues that we just feel that we need to have some time to work out,” she said.

When asked for more specifics, Lundstrom said she also wanted to support the Public-Private Partnership Act approved by the House. The bill is designed to facilitate transportation and broadband projects through public-private partnerships.

“We’d like to see some funding put into that, possibly even looking at establishing a program within the New Mexico Finance Authority — not specifically for hydrogen, everybody, so hold onto your shorts,” she said, generating laughter.

She was referring to her efforts to pass to a Hydrogen Hub Act to create the framework for a new industry producing hydrogen as an energy source. Her high-profile hydrogen bills have been blocked.

“There was a couple of other things,” Lundstrom said, “but I just think it’s important when we’re looking at development … that we do have that tool available to us throughout New Mexico.”

Members of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee highlighted other differences between the version of the budget they approved and the one passed by senators. The Senate, for example, reduced funding for soil and water conservation districts by $5 million. The Senate version also subtracted $10 million in federal relief funds for lottery scholarships and took less from reserves.

“They did take some decreases, but they added things and did stay within their framework, but I just think there’s some other things that we need to work on,” Lundstrom said.

Rep. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, said the changes were significant enough to warrant a meeting between representatives of the two chambers.

“I think there’s enough items there, and there’s more actually that we can talk about, but there’s enough items that give me some pause based on on how we formulated the budget in HFC, how we voted out on this side,” Lane said. “I think it’s worth going to committee.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.