Democrats on the House Education Committee effectively killed an expansive charter school reform bill after two hours of testimony Wednesday, arguing that it was too complex and contained provisions that many charter school advocates oppose. “It’s more dead than less [dead],” Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor of the bill, said after the committee’s 7-6 vote along party lines to table House Bill 273. The bill would have called for “automatic closure” of low-performing charter schools. It also removed a cap on the number of charter schools that could open in any given year, gave high-performing charter schools the ability to streamline their renewal process and would have cut charter school funding by 25 percent over the course of several years. Ivey-Soto and fellow co-sponsor Rep. James Smith, R-Sandia Park, told the committee the measure would save money for the state and hold charter schools more accountable.
A State House committee voted to pass a bill that would halt the state from aiding in the construction of a wall between the United States and Mexico by stopping the sale or use of state land for such a wall. The bill passed the House State Government, Indian and Veterans Affairs Committee on a party-line vote, with all five Democrats voting in favor and all four Republicans voting against. Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, was one of the bill’s sponsors and said the wall would not prevent undocumented immigration. “If the purpose of this wall is to eliminate illegal immigration from Mexico, keep in mind that over 40 percent of those in this country illegally actually entered with a valid visa,” Martinez said. “So they arrived at an airport or arrived at a checkpoint with proper documentation and simply overstayed that documentation.”
Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, said that the legislation would also send a signal to Mexico, a key trade partner.
State legislators split along party lines Monday in advancing a proposed constitutional amendment that would use some of the $15 billion Land Grant Permanent Fund to help pay for early childhood education and other public education programs.
The House Education Committee voted 7-6 for a plan to fund pre-K programs with an extra 1 percent from the endowment. Democrats supported the measure and Republicans opposed it. “Fifteen-billion-plus dollars — that’s almost richer than Donald Trump,” said Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, in voicing her support for the measure. Groups such as New Mexico Voices for Children have urged lawmakers for years to use a larger share of the money that flows into the $15 billion investment account from oil, gas and mineral extraction on state lands. The proposal, if approved by lawmakers this year and then by voters in the 2018 general election, would supply $39 million for early childhood education and another $91 million for K-12 public schools in 2020.
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 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.
What Republicans called pork, Democrats called crucial funding for communities and public safety. What Democrats called an effort to modernize accounting practices, Republicans called a gimmick. Less than a week after Gov. Susana Martinez encouraged lawmakers to work together to solve the state’s projected $69 million budget deficit, the House of Representatives on Saturday waged a partisan fight on two bills to make New Mexico solvent. Democrats, who control the House 38-32, saw their bills approved in votes that went mostly along party lines. Similar legislation easily cleared the state Senate with bipartisan support.
The House sent the one bill truly necessary during this year’s special session back to the Senate with some changes. The bill would find unused money in reserves and “sweep” them to the general fund, to pay the rest of the deficit in an already-concluded budget year and to cut much of the current year’s deficit. In all, it would add $316 million, the bulk of which comes from the tobacco settlement permanent fund, to fix the budget deficit. In the bill, $131 million will go to the budget year that ended on June 30. Another $88 million from that would go toward the current fiscal year for this year’s budget gap.
The House voted to pass a large bill related to budget cuts Wednesday night, sending the amended bill back to the Senate, who are expected to be back in the Roundhouse Thursday. It took a full three hours of debate, largely on a large amendment put forward by Republicans. Republicans, however, paused the debate and went into caucus for three and a half hours (Democrats held a shorter caucus at the same time). The final bill passed on a 36-32 vote. The amendment passed on a 36-32 vote.
A House committee held off on any changes to a bill providing big cuts across most state agencies to give lawmakers and the public more time to review the deal. This came even as the panel, the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, approved a bill to shift capital outlay funds for infrastructure projects and another to sweep unused reserves to the general fund to shore up the state’s large budget deficit. While the amendment to deepen some cuts, and halt others, did not go forward it will likely be the structure for a version to be heard on the House floor, as early as Monday. The proposal on the bill to cut spending would have deepened cuts for many state agencies. The committee amended the Senate bill that provided spending cuts to cut most state agencies by 5.5 percent instead of the 5 percent in the original Senate version.
The issue of driver’s licenses and who in New Mexico should be able to have them is a long-running topic in the New Mexico Legislature. Indications say, an agreement should happen this year thanks to pressure from the federal government. However, it is only one such issue with a long and winding road towards passage. Many lawmakers in the Roundhouse agree that it is common for bills to see years of debates, years of committee assignments and years of failure before they make it to the fourth floor and the Governor can sign them into law. A number of current laws have spent years being fine-tuned and changed in order to gain more traction.