Lawmakers wrapped up a special session this week and passed measures to address a budget deficit of about $600 million. KUNM’s Elaine Baumgartel got some of the details from Matt Reichbach, editor of NMPoliticalReport.com.
KUNM: Lawmakers did a couple of things to address the budget shortfall. Let’s first talk about where they found money to plug this hole.
Reichbach: They found money anywhere they could. Anywhere they didn’t take money from last time, they took money from this time, the bulk of which was the tobacco settlement permanent fund, which is basically money from the tobacco companies for all the settlements for making things that are really bad for you.
KUNM: What about some of these capital outlay projects, that there was money sitting around?
Reichbach: The money they took from the capital outlay projects was projects that were from 2013 and 2014 that hadn’t started yet, that they didn’t have the go ahead from the state agency, or whatever, that they needed to actually get the shovels in the ground.
KUNM: That’s like a ‘snooze you lose’ kind of situation for those districts?
Reichbach: It’s for everything. In Albuquerque, there’s hundreds of thousands of dollars. I know in Valencia County, Michael Sanchez, the Senate Majority Leader, was saying that he lost a lot of projects. A lot of it falls on these poorer communities that don’t have the staff to make sure that all these get done. The state agencies, all those projects were already started, so they were safe pretty much. But stuff for colonias, stuff for tribal [communities], nothing was easy this session for legislators.
KUNM: What about this ‘sweeps’ package, the idea that there was money sitting in a bunch of different state accounts, and the state is basically going to sweep all that up into the hole that is the budget deficit to try to fill it up. Talk about those.
Reichbach: It’s just all these little commissions and things that you’ve never heard of, or some that you have heard of. They’re like, ‘ok, there’s $1 million here, we’re going to go ahead and take that from your reserves and hope that you guys don’t need it for next year. Because we’re not going to be able to give you more money next year and you can’t run at a deficit’ because nothing in the state can run at a deficit, that’s just in the state constitution. Next year’s not going to be any better than this year.
KUNM: What about these cuts, who’s facing the deepest cuts based on this package that was passed?
Reichbach: Pretty much every state agency is getting a 5.5 percent cut, which is huge. And this is on top of cuts that a lot of these [agencies] were facing from the regular session. So, some of these agencies are 7 or 8 percent down [from] where they were a year ago. There was a proposal that UNM would see an 8 percent cut, but I think cooler heads prevailed. And all of higher education is only getting a 5 percent cut. Meanwhile, the Children Youth and Families Department and the Department of Public Safety which runs state police, those were held harmless. They are exempt from cuts. They got zero percent cuts. And there were a few agencies that were in between. The judicial branch got a 3 percent cut, which is going to be bad for them because they were already down to the bone. The legislative branch got a 3 percent cut also. Everybody’s down to the bone.
KUNM: What about public education?
Reichbach: Public education, they got a 1.5 percent cut to the state equalization guarantee, which is basically the money they distribute to all the districts. They also got some other ‘below the line’ funding cuts. You know it’s bad when they’re cutting education because they hate doing that.
KUNM: Governor Susana Martinez, when she called the special session, she wanted lawmakers to consider a series of crime measures and to reinstate the death penalty. Let’s review the status of those, where did those go?
Reichbach: Those all passed the House and they never got a hearing in the Senate and they’re dead.