Committees of the state House of Representatives on Sunday advanced several proposed budget fixes that were approved by the Senate.
The House Appropriations Committee gave positive recommendations to two Senate bills, sending both measures to the full House for debate.
One of these was Senate Bill 8, which would revert $89.8 million in unspent capital project money to the general fund.
The other legislation SB 9, was more controversial. It would cut $174.6 million, or about 2.8 percent, in appropriations made for the current budget year. Though the bill passed unanimously in the Senate, House Republicans have complained about the 1.5 percent cuts to the Children Youth & Families Department, Department of Public Safety and Department of Corrections.
Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, presented an amendment that would increase cuts to some agencies and lessen the cuts in others. But following objections from several Democrats on the committee — as well as spokesmen for the state judiciary and various colleges — the committee agreed to pass the bill with no amendment and allow the full House to consider possible changes.
Meanwhile, the House Ways and Means Committee voted to advance SB 6, which would change several tax laws. But the committee decided not to go along with one of the most controversial changes in that bill, reducing the gross receipts tax reimbursements for food and medical services that the state pays city and county governments. That would save the state $7 million.
The Senate approved nearly a dozen bills as part of a “solvency package” to fix budget deficits of nearly $600 million. Then, after midnight Friday, the Senate voted to go home. But if the House stays in session for three days, the Senate must return by Thursday. Any Senate bills the House amends would then to go back to the Senate.
Under Roch’s amendment to SB 9, most state agencies would be hit with 5.5 percent budget cuts instead of the 5 percent in the Senate bill that passed. The Department of Public Safety and the Children, Youth, and Families Department budgets would not be cut at all. But the Higher Education Department would be reduced by 6 percent and The University of New Mexico would reduced by 8 percent instead of the 5 percent in the original Senate bill.
Roch told the committee that the bigger cuts to UNM were caused in part by recent controversies, including outgoing President Bob Frank taking a $350,000 faculty position at the university’s Health Sciences Center, and recent revelations of expensive dinners for donors authorized by the university administration.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jason Harper, R-Rio Rancho, talking to reporters about SB 6, said reducing state gross receipts tax reimbursements would hurt many local governments.
For instance, it would cost Santa Fe city government nearly $700,000 next year and Santa Fe County $211,000. Those figures would increase each year.
SB 6 also would restrict the deduction to health care practitioners, and fix loopholes and limit eligibility requirements for the high-wage jobs tax credit. This would add about $26 million in revenues for the current budget year and $35 million for next year.
The amendment adopted by Harper’s committee would take $1.5 million out of the legislator’s retirement fund and earmark that money for child abuse investigations by the Children Youth and Families Department.
Some of the Senate budget bills have died in House Committees.
On Saturday night the House Education Committee effectively killed one Senate budget proposal. On a party-line vote, the committee tabled SB10, which would have moved $25 million from school district operational reserves to the state’s general fund.
“We shouldn’t try to balance the budget at the expense of schools, teachers, and students,” Roch said in a news release. “This bill punishes school districts that responsibly anticipated the current budget situation and built reserves to protect their ability to cover expenses and teacher salaries.”
Earlier Saturday, the Ways and Means Committee halted a Senate bill that would have delayed for two years the scheduled reductions in state corporate taxes.
A Senate bill that would transfer $220 million of reserves from a tobacco settlement fund to balance the budget from the last fiscal year got through the House committee process and is awaiting action on the House floor.