SANTA FE, N.M. — Republican majority leaders in the New Mexico House of Representatives pushed forward Monday with a budget solvency plan designed to preserve funding for public safety and childhood development programs, deepen cuts to higher education and sideline any tax increases.
The Republican measures came in the midst of a special legislative session to confront a major budget shortfall tied to a sustained downturn in the oil and natural gas sectors and the corresponding revenue New Mexico depends on to fund government operations.
The Democrat-controlled Senate passed a package of deficit-reducing measures Friday that included sweeping together idle cash accounts, suspending corporate tax reductions and slashing agency budgets by $175 million.
Republicans who control the House, along with GOP Gov. Susana Martinez, are pushing their own agency cuts but remain steadfastly opposed to new taxes. The two sides remain far apart, suggesting the session could drag late into the week.
Democrats criticized proposed cuts to public health spending and higher education budgets as draconian, and have blasted Republicans for upholding gradual reductions to corporate income taxes.
Martinez and allies in the Legislature are also using the special session to push for stiffer penalties for violent crimes — including the reinstatement of the death penalty — partly in response to the recent killings of two police officers and the sexual assault, killing and dismemberment in August of 10-year-old Victoria Martens in Albuquerque.
Here is a look at the various items the House is debating.
—Lawmakers from both parties support fixing loopholes and restricting eligibility for a tax rebate for businesses put in place to create high-wage jobs. A Senate bill would have capped the credits at $24 million, but House Republicans abandoned that provision to ensure large employers can reap complete benefits.
—House Democrats urged Republicans to move forward with a proposal to apply the state’s gross receipts tax to internet sales by out-of-state companies like Amazon, whose customers in New Mexico forgo sales-style taxes of 5 percent or more. Rep. Jason Harper, the Republican chairman of the House ways and means committee, agrees that the reforms are need to level the playing field between local brick-and-mortar retailers and national competitors but wants more time to refine legislation.
—The House’s stripped down tax reform package would restrict deductions to health care providers from use by hospitals, but gets rid of a proposal to reduce state gross receipts tax reimbursements to local governments.
—The Senate approved cuts to agency budgets by an average of nearly 3 percent before adjourning on Saturday to await a response from the House. Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, who described the scale of the cuts as a “bombshell.” Some House Republicans favor greater reductions.
—House Republicans have proposed steeper overall cuts to state agencies that would spare the Departments of Public Safety and Children, Youth and Family. Majority leader Nate Gentry says that plan shifts funding reductions toward administrative expenses for higher education, while sidelining Senate plans to tap cash reserves at public school districts.
—Democratic lawmakers say public university and community college students could end up paying higher tuition or fees to make up for cuts to state general fund spending, and are criticizing Republicans for rejecting a freeze on corporate income tax reductions.
CAPITAL SPENDING AND TRANSFERS
—The House on Monday approved a Senate plan to shore up the state general fund with $90 million culled mostly from stalled construction projects first funded in 2014 or earlier.
—The Legislature is widely expected to tap $219 million in savings from tobacco settlement fund that might otherwise be spent on smoking cessation and public health programs.