House panel advances record $8.47 billion budget bill

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.

House passes bill to appropriate $504 million in federal relief funds

An amended version of a spending bill passed both the full House and the House Appropriations and Finance Committee Friday which, if passed by the state Senate and signed by the governor, will appropriate $504 million of the $1.1 billion provided by the American Rescue Plan Act into state relief funds, state Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces said. The bill ultimately passed the House on a 65-1 vote, including changes made in a committee. Small, a co-sponsor of HB 2, introduced the amendment to the HAFC meeting Friday morning. He said the $504 million is slightly less than half of the total funds the state is transferring into a contingency account of the general fund. The $504 million would be expected to be made available to the agencies and is intended, based on federal guidelines, to provide relief due to losses incurred from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Changes coming to appropriations bill after Senate Finance Committee hearing

During a two-hour Senate Finance Committee hearing on HB 2, the committee learned of issues with the bill that will likely require change to the legislation. Department of Game and Fish Director, Michael Sloane, told the committee during the hearing that the department did not request the $5 million appropriated in the bill for property acquisition. He said the department is not currently considering any property acquisition projects. This led to concern among some committee members who brought up Bar L Ranch in Sandoval County, that the money was appropriated for that purchase but Sloane said any talk about the state purchasing that land was premature. Senate Finance Chair George Muñoz, D-Gallup, clarified how the appropriation happened by saying that the Legislative Finance Committee had reached out to the department but, he said, didn’t hear back.

Senate committee hears discussion on $35 million of relief act money

The state Senate Finance Committee heard from two departments that will receive one-time funds of $35 million total if HB 2 passes. The state Senate Finance Committee did not take action on HB 2, as the bill still sits in the  House Appropriations and Finance Committee which originally intended to meet Wednesday to vote on the bill. But state Rep. and HAFC Chair Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, said during the House floor meeting Wednesday that HAFC would not meet that day. Lundstrom said on Tuesday that HB 2 needed some language cleanup, and appeared to be willing to consider a new appropriation to help the state’s chile farmers with the red chile harvest. HB 2 appropriates the federal American Rescue Plan Act money of $1.1 billion into a contingency fund of the state’s general fund.

Committee discusses how to spend some of the $1.1 billion in federal aid

The House Appropriations and Finance Committee held a three-hour hearing on allocating some of the $1.1 billion in federal pandemic relief aid but will wait until Wednesday to vote on the bill. HB 2, a general appropriations bill, will enable the legislature to begin spending some of the federal American Rescue Plan Act money. The 2021 Legislature already allocated the federal relief funds, but Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham line item vetoed that portion of the spending bill last spring. A group of state senators from both parties sued Lujan Grisham arguing that she did not have the authority to spend the money without the Legislature’s input and won their case in state Supreme Court this past fall. Related: NM high court: Legislature, not governor, has authority over federal COVID-19 funds

Once it passes and is signed by the governor, the federal money will transfer to a contingency fund within the general fund.

State budget headed House floor after unanimous passage in House Appropriations and Finance Committee

New Mexicans should expect smoother roads and state government employees can look forward to a 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment in the upcoming fiscal year under a $7.39 billion spending plan the House Appropriations and Finance Committee unanimously approved Monday. The proposed budget, which represents a 4.6 percent increase over the current fiscal year, includes $300 million for state and local roads. The proposal also calls for $64 million in spending for a cost-of-living adjustment for all state government, public school and higher education employees. “This is the cleanest bill I’ve seen in the last 20 years,” said Rep. Patty Lundstrom, a Gallup Democrat who chairs the committee. “There’s no love handles on this bill.”

Committees start talks on budget fix, with lots of debate to come

State workers would see a drop in their pay raises for fiscal year 2021 and spending for most agencies would be cut significantly under the draft budget overhaul lawmakers began debating Wednesday. Whittling a record $7.6 billion budget to $7.34 billion — and filling wide spending gaps with cash reserves, pandemic-related aid from the federal government and other measures — is no small task for the New Mexico Legislature as it convenes Thursday for a special session to address a steep decline in projected revenues. Members of the state House and Senate finance committees met Wednesday to review the plan, which would slash higher education spending by 6 percent — the biggest cut for any single agency — and reduce the 4 percent pay raises for state workers, approved earlier this year, to 1.5 percent for those who earn less than $40,000 a year and 0.5 percent for higher earners. Funding for the new Early Childhood Education and Care Department, set to take over all services for young children July 1, would be cut by $3.3 million; the spaceport would lose $600,000; and $17 million would be slashed from the Medicaid program. Lawmakers, however, hope to shift money from the Tobacco Settlement Permanent Fund to fill the Medicaid gap.

State budget takes center stage, advancing to full House

A House committee on Monday advanced a $7.6 billion budget plan for next fiscal year, giving Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham much of the education funding she had asked for yet choosing not to back her marquee free-tuition plan. The House Appropriations and Finance Committee approved House Bill 2 with an increase of $529 million, or 7.5 percent, from the current year’s budget. The bill passed by a vote of 11-5 along party lines, with Republicans decrying the spending level as too high. The bill is expected to be taken up by the full House later this week. 

The House panel found a middle ground between the fiscal year 2021 spending plan proposed by Lujan Grisham and that recommended by a key legislative panel. The governor had called for a $7.68 billion spending plan, while the the Legislative Finance Committee recommended $7.55 billion. 

“It’s been a very good working relationship,” said Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, chairwoman of the committee, speaking of the Governor’s Office.

Spending plan to increase pay for New Mexico’s teachers

A key House budget panel met Saturday to review a spending plan that offers higher K-12 teacher pay raises and more money for early childhood services than suggested by the Legislative Finance Committee. The House Appropriations and Finance Committee reviewed a spending proposal that includes about $61 million more than recommended by the LFC, coming close to midway between Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s and the LFC’s competing budget plans, which featured a $132 million overall difference. A document provided by the Legislative Finance Committee on Saturday shows that House Bill 2 will include $35 million more for public education and $4.7 million more for higher education than the LFC budget. It does not include money for the governor’s Opportunity Scholarship, which would cover public university education for New Mexico residents. State Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, chair of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee, said funding for the scholarship could still be offered in an amendment to House Bill 2 on Monday, when the committee plans to vote on the budget bill.

Addressing human trafficking, reproductive justice bills on tap

The 2020 legislative session kicked off with a traveling billboard driving around the Capitol building reminding citizens and lawmakers of the 2019 attempt to repeal New Mexico’s decades old abortion ban. But so far, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has not signaled that she wants the legislature to take another shot at trying to repeal the old ban during the 30-day session. There were, however, several other pre-filed bills and one issue that has not been filed yet as a bill that pertains to reproductive justice which Lujan Grisham put on her call for the session. Increasing penalties for human trafficking

No legislator has filed a bill on increased criminal penalties for human trafficking, but Lujan Grisham signaled she wants a bill on the issue when she announced her priorities ahead of the session. Governor’s Office Press Secretary Nora Meyers Sackett said a bill will be introduced soon.