SANTA FE, N.M (KRQE) – Day four of the special session focused on who will feel the pain most from budget cuts made necessary by a nearly $600 million hole in the state’s finances.
House Republicans laid out their changes to a fix approved by the Senate over the weekend in a news conference Monday morning.
While both proposals make significant cuts to state government, they differ in some key areas.
“There are some things in the Senate plan that we are just unable to do,” said House Majority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque. “We have something that as I said is very close to theirs with some changes, insignificant in the dollar amounts but very significant in the policy applications.”
The House version reduces the proposed Senate cut to K-12 education and undoes the Senate’s small proposed cuts to the Department of Public Safety and the Children, Youth and Families Department. It also scraps a freeze of a corporate tax reduction approved by the Senate.
“They are holding harmless big corporations,” said House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe. “They’re insisting that big corporations get another tax cut.”
To make up the gap it increases the budget hit to the rest of state government from the 5-percent in the Senate plan to 5.5 percent for many agencies.
The House changes would slam the state’s colleges and universities harder, with most getting a 6-percent cut but the University of New Mexico getting singled out for an 8-percent cut. Rep. Gentry said the increased cut would be targeted at administrative funding, payback for the Board of Regents’ decision to give outgoing UNM President Bob Frank a $350,000 a year job at the Health Sciences Center.
“I am much more concerned with the teacher making $42,000 a year than preserving some outgoing president’s golden parachute,” Gentry said.
Democrats slammed the proposal, saying hitting colleges harder will hurt students.
“To govern for punishment it is an outrage,” said Egolf. “To hit the entire university at an 8 percent level because of one decision, it defies understanding.”
UNM stayed above the fray in a statement released to KRQE News 13:
There are a lot of scenarios being considered as the lawmakers try to figure out the best approach to handling the budget shortage. As the flagship institution with the only health science center in the state, UNM officials are closely monitoring the developments and are fully engaged in providing information to assist legislators in making informed decisions. UNM respects the legislative process and administrators are thankful this conversation is happening early in the budget year to allow the university more time to make necessary adjustments.
That House plan also includes a $20 million reduction in the state’s film tax credit and scraps a part of the Senate plan to tax internet sales from retailers like Amazon.
On Monday, Democrats and Republicans continued to tangle over use of time and priorities this special session. Democrats are accusing House Republicans of wasting time and extending the special session by focusing on politically-motivated crime bills at the expense of putting their full attention on the budget crisis.
“This session is dragging out,” Egolf said. “It’s dragging out because of an abject failure of House Republican leadership.”
Republicans are accusing Democrats of ignoring a growing problem with crime in the state and letting crooks continue to get off the hook.
“When I talk with my family, my neighbors and my friends in our district, they’re scared,” said Rep. Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho. “They want us to represent them to fix our budget problems and fix our crime problems. This isn’t a political stunt.”
The Senate has been adjourned since passing its budget plan over the weekend. It would need to come back to respond to the House’s changes in order to send a bill to the governor’s desk.