SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – After a long day of behind the scenes talks and waiting on day six of a special session, a deal appears to have been struck on solving the state’s nearly $600 million budget crisis.
Late Wednesday night, a compromise over how much to cut the state’s colleges and universities appeared to resolve the last sticking point in a bill to cut state government almost across the board.
Under a newly amended SB 9, most agencies will receive a funding reduction of 5.5 percent. CYFD and the Department of Public Safety will see no cut as part of that. Courts across the state are getting a 3 percent cut. K-12 Education receives a funding reduction, but not as steep of one as was previously on the table.
The fight over higher education came from competing proposals. The Senate plan, approved very early Saturday morning, trimmed colleges and universities by 5 percent. House Republicans had asked for 6 percent, with a higher 8 percent cutback for UNM in response to how the Board of Regents is handling President Bob Frank’s exit.
Wednesday afternoon, House Republicans floated a 5.5 percent across the board higher education cut on the floor, but was rebuffed by leadership in both parties in the Senate. Funding for higher education was already trimmed by lawmakers 2.4 percent from the prior year during the regular session earlier this year. Those cuts will likely lead to higher tuition costs for many students.
House majority leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, indicated on the floor that both chambers had settled on the 5 percent cut approved by the Senate.
“The Senate is in agreement with what we’re doing and from our conversation with them there there is no disagreement with this bill as it exists now,” said Gentry.
As of 10:15 p.m. Wednesday, SB 9 was approved 36-32 but that vote means it does not have the emergency clause and does not go into effect immediately should the Governor sign it.
SB 9 is one piece of a larger puzzle. The rest of the money needed is set to come from pulling back funding previously allocated to public works projects around the state, making tobacco settlement fund money available to be spent in the budget, sweeping loose money from various state government accounts and closing some loopholes.
A Republican plan to reduce the state’s film tax credit appears unlikely to move forward. Democratic plans to freeze a corporate tax cut approved in 2013 and tax internet sales also appear dead. One such idea to bring in revenue by legalizing and taxing marijuana was not discussed in the House, which frustrated the bill’s sponsor Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces.
“We’re obviously more scared of cannabis than we are scared of cutting teachers,” said McCamley.
Because of those disagreements over revenue, the budget package likely to end up on the desk of Governor Susana Martinez, R-New Mexico, will leave the state with very little in the way of reserves.
If state revenue forecasts continue to trend downward, lawmakers will likely be asked to find even more money in either new revenue or cuts come January during the 60 day regular session.
The Senate is scheduled to come back into session Thursday. It had adjourned over the weekend after passing its budget plan, putting pressure on the House to work quickly on its budget bill.
House Republicans and the Governor accused Senate Democrats of adjourning in an effort to duck a series of crime initiatives put on the agenda by the Governor, including reinstating the death penalty. In turn Senate Democrats have accused the Governor and Republicans of not taking the budget crisis seriously and using those crime bills to score political points with voters.