Full House approves $6.3 billion budget bill

A statue outside the Roundhouse in Santa Fe.

Heath Haussamen / NMPolitics.net

The budget, which increases state spending over current levels by 1.3 percent, or $81 million, now moves to the Democrat-controlled Senate.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Saturday voted largely along party lines to pass a $6.3 billion budget that requires the state government to deplete various reserve funds to pay for increases in Medicaid, education, the Corrections Department, state police and social workers — while most other services remain flat.

The budget, which increases state spending over current levels by 1.3 percent, or $81 million, now moves to the Democrat-controlled Senate. It does not raise any taxes but rather relies on reserve funds, such as tobacco settlement money, to pay for state government operations, worrying some lawmakers that, with low commodity prices, they’ll face another shortfall next year without any extra money from the reserves they’re proposing to raid this time around.

After members voted 38-31 to pass the bill, House Democrats, in a news release, called the package a “Republican bridge to nowhere budget.” Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, called it a “Tea Party” and “doomsday” budget “that proposes to build more prisons while cutting the local DWI fund.”

House Republicans said in a release that the “fiscally responsible” budget “funds critical public safety initiatives to protect New Mexicans and enhance early childhood programs.” Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Albuquerque, said members worked hard to secure “necessary” priorities that will protect New Mexican families.

The package includes a $31 million increase to public schools and $12 million to cover the costs of a rising prison population. Most of that will go toward inmate health care costs and salaries for more prison guards. It also includes a $5 million spending increase to the the Department of Public Safety for police officers.

Higher education would face a spending cut.

Much of the new money, $38.5 million, goes into Medicaid as the federal government begins stepping down the amount it has contributed to program, which provides health insurance coverage for low-income people, since an expansion in 2013.

Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, introduced an amendment to put an additional $20 million into Medicaid, which would be paid for by stalling a phase-in of corporate tax cuts that lawmakers passed in 2013.

Lundstrom said the amendment also would require the four managed care organizations that the state pays to oversee Medicaid cash cut their administrative costs “instead of imposing decreased rates to hospitals, doctors, and increasing premiums and co-pays to participants.”

Rep. Conrad James, R-Albuquerque, who chaired a health and human services subcommittee that helped hammer out the Medicaid budget behind closed doors, said the budget already asks for administrative reductions, so the amendment was not necessary.

Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, said the proposed budget would not pay for “mental health and sexual assault services,” such a crisis line.

“That bat’s too heavy for me to swing,” she said. “I cannot support a proposal that will leave these very critical needs out.”

But Larrañaga countered that the budget increases funding for the Behavioral Health Services Division by about $1 million.

Lundstrom’s proposed amendment, which ultimately failed, also called for an additional $1 million for the Higher Education Department to provide grants to rural community colleges and a $500,000 increase to the Children, Youth and Families Department.

Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, House minority leader, introduced another amendment to the budget bill that would have required more oversight of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s contingency fund that paid for her December holiday party.

Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, the House majority leader, said Egolf’s amendment should also call for more oversight of certain spending for public regulation commissioners as well as legislators.

Lawmakers briefly debated the amendment before Egolf withdrew it.

Justin Horwath can be reached at (505) 986-3017 or [email protected].

This BBSNews article was syndicated from NMPolitics.net, and written by Heath Haussamen. Read the original article here.