Even the woman in charge of higher education in New Mexico didn’t have input on the governor’s veto of the entire higher education budget. Higher Education Department Secretary Barbara Damron said Gov. Susana Martinez did not consult with her before making the vetoes, according to the Albuquerque Journal. Damron made the remarks in a speech to the Economic Forum of Albuquerque this week. The governor vetoed the entire higher education budget, saying it was necessary to balance the budget, which became unbalanced when she vetoed a package that would have raised some taxes and fees. Martinez said the higher education budget could be solved in a special session.
A progressive group is advocating for legislators to override Gov. Susana Martinez’s vetoes of portions of the budget and an entire tax package. The odds of veto overrides are slim. The bills passed the Senate with wide, bipartisan support but passed more narrowly on party lines in the House. New Mexico Voices for Children urged supporters to contact their legislators to override the vetoes, citing the zeroing-out of the entire higher education budget. “New Mexico’s legislators delivered a balanced budget that funds critical services like education, health care, and public safety, and they came up with a responsible way to pay for it,” the email says.
Gov. Susana Martinez continued her criticism of the state Legislature in a brief press conference Monday in Las Cruces. Martinez appeared with Rep. Rick Little, R-Chaparral, and praised his work during the legislative session while at the same time criticizing the Legislature as a whole and the Senate specifically. Martinez echoed her previous criticisms of legislation that would have raised some taxes. “Raising taxes to bail out big government while punishing the families of New Mexico is not the right answer. Or raising taxes on small businesses is not the right answer,” Martinez said.
Gov. Susana Martinez signed three bills Tuesday to balance the state’s budget, taking about $46 million from the reserves of public schools. But she vetoed cuts to an economic development program and various accounts in New Mexico government. The bills could raise $190 million for the state’s general fund, closing a deficit that was projected to total about $80 million. The measures also will replenish government reserves, though not nearly to the extent of plans proposed in early January by legislative staff and the governor’s own administration. The package will leave the state’s cash reserves at 1.8 percent, rather than nearly 3 percent as previously proposed.
State lawmakers on Wednesday passed the last pieces of a plan to balance New Mexico’s budget for the current fiscal year and rebuild the state’s drained cash reserves, coming to compromises on cuts to education funding and an economic development program. Unclear is whether Republican Gov. Susana Martinez will veto any pieces of the solvency package for fiscal year 2017. She has vowed to protect funding for classroom instruction and the state’s “closing fund” intended to draw prospective investors to the state, but a proposal she preferred would have taken far more money from school districts’ reserve funds than the plan approved by lawmakers. Martinez has three days to act on the bills, and a spokesman said the Governor’s Office will need to closely scrutinize parts of the proposal, echoing the criticisms of House Republicans. “For example, lawmakers chose to protect their personal legislative retirement accounts, while at the same time tried to squeeze money out of other areas of government,” Mike Lonergan said in an email late Wednesday.
While state lawmakers continue to slash budgets, unemployment remains high, and more uncertainty than ever surrounds federal government policies, economists said Tuesday that New Mexico’s economy has stabilized and will see an uptick in growth in the coming year. In testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, economists from the state’s two largest universities said higher energy prices are helping boost growth, and that means higher employment and income levels throughout New Mexico by 2018. Jeff Mitchell, director of the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, said that when he spoke to lawmakers a year ago, the price for a barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude had slumped to $26.60. That benchmark as of Tuesday had climbed to almost $53. “I remember sitting here a year ago and we watched it go to $26.60,” Mitchell said.
While lawmakers say measures to patch an unconstitutional budget hole are the 2017 Legislature’s first priority, disagreements over a solvency package Tuesday kept most of the plan from moving forward to the governor. Four bills together would roll back some capital construction projects, sweep money from cash balances, including dollars earmarked for education reforms and economic development, and tap into reserve funds squirreled away by school districts and charter schools. “No one’s happy about having to cut the public schools in the middle of the year,” said Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque. The exact amount of money that lawmakers scrape together will depend on the final version, but the legislation would beef up state government’s $6 billion general operating fund by adding some $260 million. If signed by Gov. Susana Martinez, as expected, the solvency plan would close a $70 million deficit for the fiscal year that ends June 30.
A new poll finds that a majority of registered voters in New Mexico support raising taxes to make up for the state’s budget shortfalls. According to the poll, commissioned by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, registered voters do not support reducing public education funds in order to fix the state’s budget. The Center’s Executive Director Edward Tabet-Cubero said in a statement New Mexico lawmakers should take note of the poll results. “This survey demonstrates strong public opinion that the solution to this crisis should not come in the form of more cuts,” Tabet-Cubero said. The poll was conducted by Research and Polling in Albuquerque.
The state House of Representatives agreed Monday evening to soften the financial blow to New Mexico’s public schools. With little discussion, House members voted to scale back cuts for districts and charter schools from a total of $50 million to about $38 million during the next five months. The cuts would be a big part of balancing the state’s budget. Proposed by Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, the change ensures that each district or charter still has cash reserves of at least 4 percent of its budget. Those beneath 4 percent in reserves would not face cuts.
Very little legislating typically occurs during the first week of New Mexico’s 60-day legislative session. Instead, the first days are more commonly dedicated to speeches, organizational meetings of various committees and perhaps a few proclamations recognizing prominent New Mexicans or the successes of high school sports teams.
But with the state in a budget crisis, this year’s session has started with a sprint, especially in the Senate. “We’re moving rather rapidly,” Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said after his body approved four bills on the session’s second day to balance New Mexico’s budget in the face of a projected $69 million deficit. Those measures have moved to the House of Representatives for further consideration. Not until legislators balance this year’s budget can they begin work in earnest on a budget for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.