Budget deal passes, crime bills die as special session ends

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – After seven days in Santa Fe for a special session, state lawmakers leave with a deal plugging a nearly $600 million hole in the budget done and without approving any of the bills Governor Susana Martinez, R-NM, had pushed for aimed at cracking down on New Mexico’s most heinous criminals.

The special session necessary as a collapse in oil and gas prices and a sluggish state economy led to far fewer dollars coming into the state’s coffers than expected.

Under the compromise approved by the House late Wednesday and the Senate on Thursday, that budget hole is closed through a combination of scraping money from accounts throughout state government, pulling back money previously assigned to public works projects,using tobacco settlemt fund money, closing a number of tax loopholes and making big spending cuts.

Those spending cuts were the final piece of the puzzle in negotiations. The bill headed to the governor’s desk cuts most state agencies 5.5 percent. Others such as the state’s courts and K-12 education get a smaller cut. CYFD and the Department of Public Safety get no cut at all.

A big sticking point was how much to cut higher education.

The Senate wanted just a 5 percent cut after the state’s colleges and universities were already hit with a funding reduction of nearly 2.5 percent during the regular session. House Republicans initially proposed a 6 percent cut for all of higher education except for UNM, which would’ve gotten tagged with an 8 percent budget hit as payback for the Board of Regents decision to give outgoing school president Bob Frank a high paying job at the Health Sciences Center.

The final bill cuts all of higher education just 5 percent.

The deal to fix the problem a temporary one as projected revenues have continued on a downward trend and lawmakers expect to have another budget shortfall next year.

“Ask me later,” said Senate Finance Chair John Arthur Smith, D-Deming. “I’ll be wrasslin’ with that problem soon.”

“Unless something really happens to the oil market and business in New Mexico, which I’m hopeful it will, we’re gonna have a tough go,” said Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales.

Meanwhile, for all of the talk about a series of crime bills the Governor asked lawmakers to approve in the wake of a number of high profile crimes, those bills were killed.

They included an expansion of the state’s three strikes law, a proposal to increase penalties on child killers and a bill reinstating the death penalty, which was abolished in New Mexico in 2009.

The death penalty bill, already controversial, was taken up in the early morning hours of Thursday morning in front of a mostly empty chamber and voted on just before 6 a.m. The timing of the debate drew sharp criticism from both Democrats and Archbishop of Santa Fe John Wester.

“I personally find it offensive that now we’re trying to reinstate that death penalty that same death penalty in the dead of night, the dark of night,” Wester said. “I believe it is unethical for our legislature and state leaders to push through this bill rapidly and without due consideration. This I believe is an abuse of the legislative process for campaign jockeying.”

“We know 65% percent of New Mexicans support the initiative and it was time,” said Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, the bill’s sponsor. “We couldn’t wait any longer.”

That argument was a moot point as the Senate adjourned immediately after passing the budget deal and declined to hear any of the crime bills including the death penalty.

“I’m more than happy to address the crime problem in January, three months down the road,” said Sen. Smith. “Matter of fact I’m willing to address those problems on Nov. 9th, the day after the election, if she wants to call us back.”

You’ll always hear things… wait until January,” said Sen. Ingle. “That’s the story around here, we’ve all used that…. The thing about that is these are crime bills. They don’t wait, they don’t wait at all.”

In statements released to KRQE News 13, Gov. Martinez expressed disappointment at the Senate’s decision to adjourn without voting on those bills, calling it disrespectful to victims. On the budget, the governor said the bills headed to her desk left a lot to be desired but was a solution she could sign.

“I’m pleased that, at the end of the day, legislators chose not to raise taxes, strip our job creation programs, or peel back vital improvements to our tax code and business friendliness,” Gov. Martinez said. “Instead, we tightened our belts so that our families don’t have to.”

Lawmakers set aside more than $260,000 to pay for the seven day special session.

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