Commentary: Senate Democrats today called on Governor Susana Martinez to convene the New Mexico Legislature in an emergency special session to fix the quickly expanding budget deficit that has resulted from plummeting state revenues. A new report last week revealed that the State spent between $150 – $200 million more than it had budgeted in the fiscal year that just ended, and the year ahead looks even worse. Senate Democrats also vowed to oppose any proposal to cut public school classroom funds or higher education for universities or colleges in the course of addressing the budget crisis.
“The longer the Governor delays in calling back the Legislature to deal with this pressing crisis, the worse it is going to be for children, families and communities across New Mexico. It is irresponsible to think that we can continue to kick the can down the road. We are already spending money we do not have,” said Democratic Senate Majority Floor Leader, Senator Michael S. Sanchez (D-29-Bernalillo and Valencia).
In response to Senate Democrats’ call last week for convening a special session of the State Legislature, House Republicans denied that the state is slipping into financial crisis, and rejected urgent action. According to a recent article, Republican legislative leaders and the administration have advised taking a deep breath:
‘“We need to be looking at it,” but once final numbers are in for the year just ended,’ likely at the end of August or early September. – Rep. Larry Larrañaga (R-Albuquerque), House Appropriations and Finance Committee Chairman [Albuquerque Journal, July 21st, 2016]
“The longer we wait, the bigger the hole we will have to fill. It appears the Administration and House Republicans are encouraging delay in dealing with the situation. Waiting until August or September will not change the fact that revenue has continued to decline. There isn’t any evidence to suggest that trend suddenly changed in June,” said Democratic Senate Whip, Michael Padilla (D-Bernalillo-14).
In recent days, however, diverse support for a special session of the Legislature to deal with the budget crisis has grown. New Mexico’s Republican State Land Commissioner, Aubrey Dunn; State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg; Republican State Senator, Steve Neville, and the Albuquerque Journal editorial pageshave all indicated that a meeting of the Legislature must occur sooner rather than later.
The state Constitution prohibits deficit spending and many believe both cuts and an increase in revenue will be required to resolve the current financial crisis. Senate Democrats remain committed to taking the necessary steps to balancing the budget but oppose any cuts to education.
“We will not support any cuts to K-12 or higher education,” Sen. Sanchez said. “We refuse to balance the budget on the backs of children and families who want their kids to be educated through high school and college. We ask House Republicans and the Governor to join us in that commitment.”
Falling tax revenues have put the State budget in crisis. Swift action by both the Executive and the Legislature is needed to avoid deficit spending for the continued operation of schools, prisons, public health care, public safety and other essential State services in the current 2017 Fiscal Year, which could see a shortfall of between $300 – $500 million.