House, Senate resolve budget disputes; nearly $8.5B plan moves to governor

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.

House votes no on state budget amendments adopted by Senate

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.

Controversial hydrogen hub bill heads to House floor

A controversial bill that would help make New Mexico a center of hydrogen production as an energy source is on its way to the House floor for consideration. Members of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee voted 7-3 to approve House Bill 228, which would create a framework for a hydrogen industry and allow businesses and organizations to apply for public and private money to develop hydrogen production projects. “We’re trying to take advantage of a new industry, try to grow economics-based jobs,” said Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, who co-sponsored the bill. “We’ve got a perfect location.” She cited the recently abandoned Escalante Power Plant in Prewitt, which would likely become the first hydrogen facility in the state if the bill becomes law.

House approves ‘transformative’ $8.47B budget

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.

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.”

With session clock ticking down, much work remains for New Mexico legislators

To some degree, the two contrasting actions that played out late Friday morning spoke volumes about this year’s 60-day legislative session. In the House of Representatives, members prepared to debate a contentious bill that would repeal a decades-old law making it a felony to perform an abortion. Around the same time, in her Santa Fe home, Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, looked at a huge pile of mail from constituents and pondered what lawmakers in her chamber still need to do with fewer than 30 days remaining in session. Later that day, as Rodriguez joined her colleagues on the Senate floor, the House voted to approve the abortion repeal measure, sending it to the governor’s desk. One down, hundreds to go.

Higher education cuts could jeopardize research funding, freeze hiring

Proposed cuts to higher education spending in New Mexico could jeopardize some research funding for state universities and lead to a hiring freeze at Santa Fe Community College, advocates say. Universities and colleges in New Mexico are denouncing proposed cuts to higher education spending as lawmakers trim budgets across state government to fill a $2.4 billion budget hole wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic and a devastated oil and gas market. A draft House bill seeking to blend recommendations from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and an influential budget committee would slash roughly 6 percent from research and public service projects at universities and 4 percent for broader university and public college funding from the state. That would represent the steepest reductions for any state-funded department or agency eyeing potential cuts as lawmakers address the budget shortfall. The Legislature is still debating the proposed cuts.

Last-minute shuffles cement state budget deal

It took moving a few million dollars here and putting a few million dollars there, but New Mexico had a budget by the end of Wednesday. A $6.3 billion spending plan is on its way to Gov. Susana Martinez after the Senate and House of Representatives brokered a compromise on slightly different budgets approved by both chambers. The compromise won bipartisan support in the House and Senate, a marked departure from recent years when financial shortfalls led to spending cuts and intensely political clashes over state spending. Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Gov. Susana Martinez signaled that she would be receptive to the budget. That is different from last year, when she vetoed much of the annual spending plan, at one point threatened a government shutdown and ultimately forced a special session.

No budget deal yet between House, Senate

The Legislature’s two chambers are at odds over a proposed $6.3 billion state budget. Unlike recent years when financial problems prompted rounds of cuts, partisan fights and depleted reserves, the disagreements that emerged Tuesday came down to comparatively minor questions about funding roads. The Senate overwhelmingly approved a spending plan on Tuesday that provides bigger pay raises for state police than a version of the budget passed by the House of Representatives. The Senate version of the budget, approved 40-2 by members of that chamber, also provides millions of dollars in additional funding for the district attorney in Albuquerque and returns some of the money cut from school districts last year. But the Senate also scaled back the amount of money the House had approved for roads.

Large chunk of Carlsbad—and tax dollars—may get swallowed by sinkhole

A sinkhole is threatening to swallow part of Carlsbad. In the meantime, it is poised to consume tens of millions of tax dollars. The state House of Representatives voted 70-0 on Monday to send a bill to Gov. Susana Martinez that would take part of the taxes on car sales to pay for the remediation of a brine well that is at risk of collapsing. “This is an absolutely critical bill for averting a disaster in [the] southern part of the state,” said Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad. The 350-foot-wide, 750-foot-long cavern sits beneath two major highways, a railroad, a mobile home park, an irrigation canal and businesses, she said.