ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration and Democratic state lawmakers exchanged more blame Thursday for inaction as New Mexico grapples with a growing budget deficit.
Martinez promised earlier this summer to call a special legislative session so lawmakers could address a nearly quarter-billion-dollar shortfall from the last fiscal year and an estimated $458 million hole for the fiscal year that started in July.
She wanted lawmakers to agree at least on the building blocks of a possible solution so the session will be quick and efficient and thus cost taxpayers less.
No agreements have been reached, and some state officials say time is running out.
Martinez says she has already asked departments under her control to cut back but that Democratic lawmakers haven’t shared that message with other independent state agencies or offered their own plan for shoring up the state’s finances.
Democrats criticized Martinez, saying her executive requests won’t go far enough to make up for revenues that have failed to materialize because of weak oil and natural gas prices and the ripple effect they have had on local economies from Artesia and Hobbs to Bloomfield. They have called on Martinez to present more specific proposals.
Martinez spokesman Mike Lonergan accused Senate Democrats of playing politics in an election year when all legislative seats are on the ballot. “Senate Democrats have refused to show leadership and are putting their political campaign needs ahead of the needs of New Mexicans,” Lonergan said.
Rep. John Arthur Smith of Deming, chairman of the Legislative Finance Committee, a key panel that helps craft the state budget each year, dismissed that claim. He said Thursday that everything needs to be on the table regardless of campaign promises.
“It’s not that I want new revenues by any means. I want revenue stability,” Smith said. “This roller coaster we’ve been on doesn’t lend itself to that.”
Smith suggested the longer it takes for the state to plug the budget hole and adjust for the shortfalls this year and in the future, the worse things will get. He said lawmakers now have about eight months to make the necessary adjustments, rather than an entire year.
The governor’s office wants lawmakers to address both the 2016 and 2017 fiscal year deficits once a special session is called, Lonergan said.
The budget crisis has prompted some groups to call for raising taxes on liquor and cigarettes. They say a $1-per-pack tax and 25 cents per drink could raise close to $200 million annually.
However, the governor’s office is digging in its heels when it comes to any proposed tax increases. “She believes we can solve our budget challenges by making tough decisions and tightening state government’s belt. Taking the easy way out by raising taxes is nothing more than the Washington way, and that’s a route she isn’t going to take,” Lonergan said of the governor.