SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The New Mexico Senate made their special session a short one, adjourning a little past midnight Saturday after passing a series of bills aimed at solving the state’s budget crisis and before the House could send a series of crime bills to be considered.
The vote to adjourn sine die comes following a long day in Santa Fe where lawmakers in the Senate approved a budget solvency package aimed at closing a nearly $600 million shortfall between FY 16 and FY 17. The legislation approved does a number of things including:
- Cut state government across the board by 5 percent, with some agencies such as CYFD, the Veterans’ Services Department, Public Education Department and the judiciary branch seeing smaller cuts or no cuts at all.
- Move tobacco settlement fund money back into the general fund budget
- Take money previously assigned to some capital outlay project and bring it back into the budget
- Bring some cash balances being held as reserves by school districts into the general fund budget
- Eliminating or closing some tax loopholes
- Freeze some business tax cuts set to go into effect while capping and changing others
- More quickly reduce “hold harmless” payments to local governments
While the bulk of those bills received bipartisan votes, SB 5 received considerable debate. That bill would temporarily freeze a corporate tax cut approved by lawmakers in 2013. It narrowly passed on a 21-20 vote. In committee, Tax and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla expressed opposition to the bill.
“It has not been an easy job because revenues are still trending down but we’re trying to bandaid as best we can,” said Senate Finance Chair John Arthur Smith, D-Deming. “We think at this point our package is very very close to the House package.”
Earlier in the day, House Democrats voiced concerns over possible deep cuts while House Republicans expressed resistance to any tax hikes to solve the budget problem.
“We can make do by cutting and trimming state government,” said House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque. “There’s not a need to raise taxes and there’s certainly some loopholes to close in the tax code to come up with new money.”
The House was also busy Friday night into Saturday morning, mostly with a series of crime bills being heard in committee. Those include a proposed reinstatement of the death penalty, strengthening of the state’s three strikes law and increasing penalties for those who kill children.
Democrats had called those proposals a distraction from the budget crisis meant to sway voters less than six weeks from the November election. Some who came to Santa Fe to speak on those bills, including victims of crime, disputed that.
“Right now we’re pleading with our legislators to take a vote, make a stand for our victims instead of the criminals,” said Nicole Chavez-Lucero, mother of murder victim Jaydon Chavez-Silver. “We are going to look and see how they’re voting before we get to vote on our legislators so that’s important to us.”
All three of those bills moved out of a House committee, but with the Senate adjourned sine die, they will not make it to the governor’s desk.
It wasn’t just budget bills the Senate passed before adjourning though. They also approved a bill removing limits on the number of marijuana plants that medical pot producers can have and another laying the groundwork for industrial hemp research in the state. A marijuana legalization bill has been introduced in the House but isn’t likely to make significant progress this session.
The special session is expected to cost approximately $50,000 a day. The House is scheduled to resume at 10 a.m. Saturday.