Return to the Roundhouse Bittersweet for NM Lawmakers

By: June 1, 2017 12:55 pmViews: 57

SANTA FE, N.M. – The New Mexico Legislature returns from the holiday weekend with both signatures and vetoes from Gov. Susana Martinez on budgetary bills they’ve been working on in a special session since last Wednesday.

The continuing standoff with Martinez is over her refusal to raise taxes, although she signed to fund higher education and other state operational costs late Friday.

She came dangerously close to a government shutdown and created problems for the state’s educational institutions about how to adjust tuition, according to Sunalei Stewart, the chief of staff at the New Mexico Auditor’s Office.

“Those were the two areas that the governor eliminated completely from the budget, which was problematic and created all sorts of uncertainty with regard to universities and colleges throughout New Mexico,” he says.

Although she removed those blocks, what remains is a lack of state reserves, which Stewart says is a dangerous position to be in. Unexpected revenue changes among other things could quickly result in problems for the state, without having those funds to fall back on.

The Office of the State Auditor is also highlighting who received the greatest tax relief in New Mexico in 2016. While lawmakers’ bipartisan budget was snubbed by the governor over tax increases to fund such priorities as health care and education, it turns out the largest share of missed revenue comes from tax breaks to the extractive industry, at 27 percent.

Regardless of who gets taxed – or not – next year, the state does finally have a balanced budget. But Stewart says it is far from ideal.

“One thing is making sure that the budget is balanced and you’re not spending more money than you’re bringing in,” he adds. “The second part is ensuring that you have some money so if there are contingencies or revenue drops more than expected, reserves play an important part in that regard.”

Stewart says failure to fund the reserve also will affect the state’s bond rating. Today, lawmakers could either try overriding the governor’s vetoes on tax increases and reserve funding, or just vote to adjourn the special session.

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