COMMENTARY: New Mexico is facing a budget crisis of historic proportions, one that must be dealt with now, not later. The state budget crisis requires responsible cuts and reliable revenue sources.
For reasons that are difficult to fathom, the governor and her Republican allies in the House of Representatives have been downplaying the seriousness of the budget crisis. Both the governor and the Legislature have an obligation to fix the problem, not to pretend it doesn’t exist.
Now is the time for Democrats and Republicans to come together to solve this problem.
It takes a special session to fix the budget, and most legislators of both parties are waiting anxiously for the governor to convene one. That constitutional power lies with her alone. The severity of the state’s shortfall has been known for several months yet no date has been announced.
The root of the problem is that the governor’s administration overspent by more than $1 billion during the past two fiscal years. Clear indications that revenues would fall were ignored. Partly due to low oil and gas prices globally, it appears state tax revenue will be $431 million less than was budgeted for this year alone. We also learned recently that the state actually spent $220 million more than it took in for the fiscal year that just ended on June 30.
Efforts over the past few years to create more jobs that pay good wages in New Mexico have been ineffective. After all, good-paying jobs lead to more state and local revenues. During both the Martinez and the Richardson administrations, huge tax breaks were handed out to big, out-of-state corporations and the highest income earners. Those tax cuts didn’t create any jobs, as was promised, and we can no longer afford them. Now the state is not collecting enough money to cover our important expenses like public education, health care, and public safety.
What our state needs urgently is a responsible plan to address both our short- and long-term budget challenges. We can no longer delay. To fix the immediate problems, the governor must call a special session of the Legislature now. Then, we must make responsible spending cuts that do not exacerbate our problems, nor harm essential government services. Recent news that the district attorney in Roswell has announced staff cuts because of the state’s inability to help with pay could be our future if this crisis is not solved now.
To deal with our long-term priorities in the future, we need fiscally reliable budgets that are based on dependable revenue streams that will remain steady from year to year and not be dependent on global oil and gas fluctuations. If we do not do it, eventually the price will be major cuts to public services and huge layoffs down the road. Strategies that do not work should also be eliminated.
Senate Democrats want a brief special session to address one issue: the urgent budget crisis that faces our state. It was alarming to see the governor now floating the idea of adding other items, such as reinstating the death penalty, to a special session agenda. Surely, that can only be meant to distract attention from the economic crisis created under her watch. To be contemplating any policy items other than fixing the budget shortfall is irresponsible.
While brevity is a virtue during special sessions of the Legislature, the public has a right to transparency as these important decisions that may affect their lives are made. Senate Democrats want the debate over solutions to these serious budget challenges to be done in public, and with full debate – not behind closed doors.
As the state’s top executive, it is really up to Gov. Martinez to propose a plan to address the state’s budget crisis. That’s what governors do. What’s your plan, governor? And when is the special session?
Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, is the New Mexico Senate majority whip.