After an eleventh-hour dispute between the House and Senate, New Mexico’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 — the largest on record — is back on track. A conference committee made up of three members from each chamber brokered a compromise over spending disagreements during a Wednesday morning meeting that lasted less than 10 minutes. By the afternoon, the deal won bipartisan support in both chambers, advancing the nearly $8.5 billion spending plan to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The budget agreement was critical as the session rolls to a conclusion, but as of late Wednesday night, several key issues — crime, tax cuts and expanding voting access — remained unfinished, with both the House and Senate debating bills past midnight. Lawmakers have expressed concerns about tackling such an aggressive agenda in a short session meant to focus on legislation dealing with budget and tax issues, though the governor has the authority to place any item on the agenda.
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 Senate Finance Committee put its stamp of approval Sunday on an amended $8.4 billion spending plan for the state of New Mexico that includes additional funding for criminal justice initiatives, road projects and a school of public health. The overall budget proposal, which the committee advanced to the full Senate in a unanimous vote, increases spending by nearly 14 percent, or roughly $1 billion, over the current fiscal year ending in June. The proposed level of spending represents an all-time high for the state.
“Everybody in New Mexico seems to have gotten something,” Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, who chairs the committee, said Saturday after a series of amendments were presented to the committee. “We put a lot of money in economic development, and it had better be fruitful as we move forward or New Mexico is going to be looking at cuts again,” he said. “We ride the rollercoaster of oil and gas, and as long you want to continue that, we better plan carefully.”
A record-high $8.47 billion budget that would boost state government spending in New Mexico by nearly 14 percent in the upcoming fiscal year passed the House on a 56-13 vote Thursday after a three-hour debate that largely focused on whether the unprecedented level of spending is sustainable. The proposed budget, which includes funding to give teachers, judges and other state workers raises, as well as what one lawmaker called “transformative investments” statewide, now heads to the Senate for consideration. Though the spending plan received bipartisan support, the 13 lawmakers who voted against the budget bill are all Republicans. Members of the GOP raised concerns about the spending increase of about $1 billion and introduced a substitute proposal that would have increased spending by about half of what’s proposed in the budget bill, or 7 percent. The Democrat-controlled chamber rejected the substitute.
Lawmakers have described the budget-making process in state government as a nightmare when times are lean. But with projections of record revenues, due in part to expected growth in taxes, rebounding oil and gas markets and federal pandemic relief, one legislator likened New Mexico’s proposed spending plan for fiscal year 2023 as a dream come true. On Tuesday, a key legislative panel put its stamp of approval on that plan — a record high $8.47 billion budget that would increase state spending by 13.8 percent, or roughly $1 billion, over the current fiscal year.
The House Appropriations and Finance Committee voted 15-3 to advance a substitute of House Bill 2, which includes average 7 percent salary increases for teachers and state employees and $25 million for evidence-based criminal justice reform initiatives, including stipends to hire new police officers. The proposal also leaves about $400 million for tax-related initiatives. “For the 10 years that I’ve been on this committee, my level of frustration goes up and down based on the amount of revenue … we have to distribute,” said Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque.