Lawmakers approve $9.57 billion budget over a windy weekend
On a windy Saturday in Santa Fe, lawmakers inside the Roundhouse discussed and passed bills on how to spend a historic $9.57 billion budget.
The Senate Finance Committee approved a committee substitute bill by a 9-2 vote that lays out funding allocations from the nearly $10 billion pot.
After an hour-and-a-half of debate on Sunday night, the Senate voted 25-16 to approve the budget. Because the Senate Finance Committee made changes to the bill on Saturday, it must go back to the House for concurrence.
There are substantial increases for many state agencies included in House Bill 2, the General Appropriations Act of 2023. Adrian Avila, Senate Finance Committee analyst, said the $9.57 billion allocation is a 14% increase from the last fiscal year.
Avila went over new financial changes in the budget that increase what state agencies had in FY23:
- $489 million more for natural resource agencies (8-15% increases)
- $302 million more for public education (8% increase)
- $246 million more for Medicaid (21% increase)
- $187 million for higher education (18% increase)
- $135 million more for Early Childhood Education and Care Department (69% increase)
- $4.2 million more for tourism (20% increase)
- $1.97 million more for economic development (11% increase)
He said there would also be $164 million for behavioral health services across the Health and Human Services Department, CYFD, and the Early Childhood Education and Care Department, and $100 million for law enforcement programs.
Another $1.132 billion would go toward special appropriations, he added.
Sen. George Muñoz (D-Gallup), chair of the committee, said it’s up to the state agencies that requested all these funding increases to figure out what to do if a recession comes around.
“You wanted the money. You do the cutting,” Muñoz said. “If you’ve got to cut 30% out of your budget, you’re going to do it. I’m not going to do it for you.”
Also, Sen. William Sharer (R-Farmington) said oil and gas revenues, which is the main reason for the state’s record surplus, will dip in the future.
Some of the department requests go beyond what the governor’s office and legislative staff recommend. For example, the $489 million split between natural resource agencies includes a 21% jump in funds for the Environment Department, more than what the executive and Legislative Finance Committee suggested in their budget proposals.
Sen. William Burt (R-Alamogordo) said he’s concerned that there’s not enough of a reserve in the bill. There would be about $2.87 billion in reserve savings, which is about 30% of the budget.
Some senators also questioned why education agencies would get so much more funds.
Sen. Pat Woods (D-Broadview) said he didn’t understand why higher education is allocated such a substantial increase. Charles Salee, deputy director for the Legislative Finance Committee, said enrollment is expected to keep increasing, meaning institutions will have to pay more to operate.
Burt said the early childhood portion of the budget is also tying up a lot of funds. “Early childhood still boggles my mind the amount of money that they have,” he said.
Avila said funding for pre-K and child care could sharply increase, and the distribution from the Early Childhood Care and Education Program Fund would go up by $150 million — though that’s contingent on House Bill 191.
Avila said there would also be a 6% average increase for public school, higher education and state employees. The budget also aims to fill other needed positions that lack workers, like nurses, crime lab techs, caseworkers, judges and district attorneys.
A lack of transparency and understanding
While lawmakers discussed the changes in the legislation, no copy of the updated bill itself was available for public review online or in person ahead of the committee that met at 9 a.m. on Saturday.
The amended version of the bill has not been posted on the New Mexico Legislature website at time of publication Monday morning. Source New Mexico requested a copy of the new budget on Saturday from the bill’s sponsors and a legislative analyst but did not receive a copy of the amended version. The 261 page bill is now available for public review.
By Saturday afternoon, a new fiscal impact report explaining changes in the bill with new budget lines was posted on the website.
Sen. Jeff Steinborn (D-Las Cruces) said the committee members should’ve had more time to process all this new information, and Sharer, who voted for the bill in committee, said he would reconsider his support on the floor when he had more time to review the changes.
He voted with Republican colleagues against the bill on Sunday.
Steinborn added, all these documents that committee members had should be posted online for public review, just like any other bill.
“The public should see the same documents. They should be online, just like any bill that we vote on, we put online. But we don’t do that with a $9 billion budget?” he said. “I’m mystified, and we need to just collectively do that.”
Muñoz said the budget language changes that Senate Finance went over on Saturday were never read out in committee in the past, even before he took over as chair.
“You can complain to the press. You can complain to whoever you want to complain to,” he said. “But the openness and the changes since I’ve been the chair is very clear to the public.”
Meanwhile, the sponsor of House Bill 505, which sets aside $1.2 billion for capital outlay projects, lauded his budget process for being clear.
“It was transparent, it was open, and it was full of communication,” sponsor Rep. Derrick Lente (D-Sandia Pueblo) said.
Several lawmakers thanked Lente for leading the charge on the capital outlay process.
The legislation passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 41-26 on Saturday and heads to the Senate for debate.
While there was generally bipartisan support voiced for the bill in the House, an appropriation for $10 million for a reproductive health clinic in Doña Ana County split some votes along party lines.
Rep. John Block’s (R-Alamogordo) amendment to remove that section was tabled.