After the state House of Representatives sent a pair of budget-fix bills to Gov. Susana Martinez on Monday, House Speaker Don Tripp called a recess until Wednesday, leaving three major bills in a Senate-passed “solvency package” still awaiting action in a rare election-year special session.
The Senate over the weekend passed nearly a dozen pieces of legislation aimed at plugging an estimated at $600 million gap between spending and revenues in both the current and previous fiscal years. After passing those bills, the Democrat-controlled Senate adjourned after midnight Saturday. Senators are expected to return Thursday to work out out differences between their bills and amended versions adopted by the Republican-controlled House.
The one major bill passed by the House was Senate Bill 8, which sweeps up nearly $90 million that had been earmarked for brick-and-mortar projects that remain inactive. Assuming the governor signs the bill, which cleared the House on a 50-13 vote, it will transfer the money into the state general fund.
The other bill the House passed on Monday was SB 4, which would authorize the Legislature to use $25 million in severance tax bonds – rather than general fund money — to pay for instructional material and school transportation costs. The vote was 61-0.
But still awaiting action are three big-ticket measures:
- SB 2, which would transfer $220 million from a tobacco settlement fund to balance the budget from the fiscal year that ended June 30.
- SB 9, which would cut $174.6 million, or about 2.8 percent, in appropriations made for the current budget year. Though the bill won unanimous, bipartisan approval in the Senate, House Republicans have complained about 1.5 percent spending cuts for the Children, Youth and Families Department, Department of Public Safety and Corrections Department. House Republicans want to amend this bill to increase cuts for some agencies while making smaller cuts for others.
- SB 6, which deals with taxes. A version that passed the House Ways and Means Committee would restrict a gross-receipts tax deduction to health care practitioners and not hospitals. It also fix various loopholes and limit eligibility for the state’s high-wage jobs tax credit. The amended version would add about $5.6 million of revenue in the current budget year and more than $27 million in the following year’s budget.
However, Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces, proposes an amendment to the tax bill that would delay scheduled corporate tax cuts by two years. The Senate last week passed a bill that would delay those taxes cuts, but the House Ways and Means Committee effectively killed it Saturday on a party-line vote.
Under McCamley’s amendment, revenue raised by delaying the corporate tax cuts would be earmarked for police, services for sexual assault survivors and for processing a backlog of sex-assault evidence kits.
The House had begun discussing the tax bill on the floor Monday. House Republicans voted down an amendment by Rep. Carl Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, that would impose a gross receipts tax on Internet purchases through websites such as Amazon.com. Trujillo argued that not having such a tax hurt businesses in the state. The House Ways and Means Committee had removed that provision from the bill.
Discussion of the bill stopped before McCamley’s amendment could be considered. Because of technical errors in the printed version of McCamley’s amendment, Tripp, R-Socorro, asked that the bill be “rolled over” until a correct version of the amendment could be printed. Tripp then called a recess before McCamley’s amendment could be discussed. Both Republicans and Democrats went to their respective caucuses. When they returned, the House began discussing a different bill.
Asked why McCamley’s bill wasn’t taken up again after the recess, House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, told The New Mexican he believes there might be enough votes to pass it, and some Republicans in tight re-election races might not want to go on record cutting budgets for police, social services and other spending.
As for SB 9, Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, during a House committee meeting Sunday introduced an amendment that would increase cuts to some agencies and lessen the cuts in others. Under that amendment, most state agencies would be hit with 5.5 percent budget cuts, as opposed to the 5 percent called for in the Senate-passed bill. Under that amendment, the Department of Public Safety and Children, Youth and Families Department budgets would not be cut at all.
But the Higher Education Department budget would be reduced by 6 percent and The University of New Mexico budget would reduced by 8 percent instead of the 5 percent called for in the original Senate bill.