The House of Representatives passed the state’s $6.32 billion budget Saturday morning amid falling oil prices. The bill passed on a 38-31 vote, with two Democrats joining the Republican bloc in voting on the bill. “We did the best we could with the revenues that are there,” House Appropriations and Finance Committee Chair Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, said when presenting the bill. Larrañaga said Medicaid, education, public safety, corrections and early childhood funding marked the top priorities. “Almost all of the increases are in five particular areas in this budget,” he said.
A bill to allow retired cops to return to their police departments across the state passed its first House committee, a marked difference from last year when it died quickly. The measure passed the House Safety and Civil Affairs Committee on partisan lines, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats voting against. Sponsored by Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, this time the bill doesn’t hurt the Public Employees Retirement Association of New Mexico fund. Or at least that’s the promise the veteran legislator made. Albuquerque City Attorney Jessica Hernandez testified that former cops who decide to return to work won’t be able to add to their pensions, but would still have to contribute to the PERA fund.
New Mexico is once again the fourth-most dangerous state in the country, at least according to the latest yearly survey of violent crime by 24/7 Wall Street. The annual survey from the financial news website is based mainly from violent crime rates from the FBI 2014 Uniform Crime Report, which is the most comprehensive look at crime in the nation. It will be sure to fuel the effort from New Mexico Republican legislative leadership and Gov. Susana Martinez to pass “tough on crime” bills this upcoming legislative session. Republicans this session are supporting a tougher state “three strikes” law against violent repeat offenders, adding law enforcement officers as a protected class in the state’s Human Rights Act and increasing their pay. “The data clearly shows that violent crime in New Mexico is too high, and we need to do something about it,” State Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, said in a prepared statement from House Republicans.
Pre-filing of legislation ahead of the legislative session ended last Friday. In all, the House introduced over 200 bills, memorials and joint resolutions. We looked at the bills as of two weeks ago in both the House and Senate. Now, we take a final look at the House pre-filed legislation. A look at the Senate pre-filed legislation will come soon.
Revenue projections continue to fall thanks to oil prices remaining lower than previous projections, meaning that there could be some tough decisions in the upcoming legislative session. The new projections show that legislators will have $232 million in new funds for the upcoming legislative session, which is down by $61 million from the previous projections. The projections are for the Fiscal Year 2016 budget and came at a Legislative Finance Committee meeting on Monday. Even with the reduced amount, Senate Finance Committee chair John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, was skeptical of the projection. “We hope the revenues materialize, but it’s going to be extremely painful if they don’t,” Smith said.
Although “hope springs eternal,” state Sen. John Arthur Smith isn’t optimistic a special session will happen this year. “As of noon today, we’ve gotten no feedback from the executive branch,” Smith, D-Deming, and a key negotiator to any deal that would bring legislators back to Santa Fe to pass a capital outlay bill, told New Mexico Political Report Wednesday afternoon. Smith said if legislators can’t strike a deal before a creeping deadline of Monday, May 18, all bets are pretty much off. That’s because New Mexico’s next fiscal year starts July 1, and bond sales for state infrastructure projects need 30 days to advertise before then. If the legislature approves a new capital outlay late, Smith said the state will lose bond capacity on new projects outlined in a deal.
By Sandra Fish | New Mexico In Depth
Lobbyists and organizations feted New Mexico legislators and other officials with more than $519,000 worth of food, drink and gifts from Jan. 15 through the end of April. Of the 600 lobbyists registered with the Secretary of State’s office to represent more than 750 clients, only 116 spent money during the session. Those individual lobbyists spent $334,419 on events such as the 100th Bill Party, electric toothbrushes, teddy bears, gift certificates and, in one instance, ammunition for concealed carry training. And 14 companies spent $184,685.
“We need to produce a budget for the state of New Mexico. That’s one of our main jobs,” Speaker of the House Don Tripp, R-Socorro, said shortly before the House voted to send the state budget to the governor’s desk. The House concurred with the changes made to House Bills 2 and 4, which make up the state budget, unanimously. The budget passed 67-0. There was very little debate, only Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, noting that a lot of the changes added by the Senate were part of the failed Democratic floor amendment.
A bill that could privatize New Mexico’s critical public services, like water, has passed through two committees and passed the House late Wednesday night (HB 299, sponsored by Rep. Larry Larrañaga). Public-private partnerships, or P3s, range from a company designing and constructing a new school, to a government contracting with a company to operate and maintain a road or a water utility. Private companies are pushing hard to expand P3s in our state. HB 299 is one of the broadest, if not the broadest, pieces of P3 legislation in the country in terms of scope of authorized projects, breadth of governmental entities involved, lack of oversight (legislative and executive), lack of public transparency and financial risks. Sadly, it’s not surprising that after the state has handed huge tax breaks to corporations over the years and can no longer afford to keep up with infrastructure needs some lawmakers mistakenly think that we should let private corporations cash in on these needs by building or operating much-needed infrastructure.
The House Appropriations and Finance Committee tabled a proposed House rule that would have archived legislative webcasts. The committee did pass a proposal to webcast interim committee hearings, though stripped the provision that would archive those. The effort failed on a party-line vote with the Republican majority voting to table the legislation and the Democrats voting against tabling the proposed House Rule. Afterwards the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, said New Mexico is behind the times in not archiving webcasts. “It’s just not with the times keeping these meetings not archived,” Steinborn said.