by Andrew Oxford, Santa Fe New Mexican
January 12, 2017
The chairman of the New Mexico Legislature’s budget-writing committee said Wednesday that, unlike the governor, he will not push to close the state’s current deficit by requiring public employees pay a greater share of their salaries into their pension accounts nor drain about $125 million in cash reserves from local school districts.
The comment by Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, came as the Legislative Finance Committee unveiled its proposals for covering a projected revenue shortfall in the current fiscal year and for further squeezing of already tight finances for the budget year that starts July 1.
Legislative leaders propose a $6.05 billion budget for 2017-18 that would trim the spending of state agencies by an average of 0.4 percent and count on lawmakers to either raise taxes or find additional cuts to balance New Mexico’s books when they gather Tuesday in Santa Fe for a 60-day session.
The proposal met swift criticism from the office of Gov. Susana Martinez, who reiterated her longstanding opposition to raising taxes when she unveiled her own budget proposal earlier this week, signaling that bipartisan compromise with the Democrat-controlled Legislature may not come easily.
Legislators will not be tasked with just passing a budget for the fiscal year that begins in July when they gather next week at the Capitol. They also will have to resolve an ongoing deficit while trying to build up the state’s nearly depleted reserves.
Smith rejected several proposals the governor offered earlier this week to fill the current fiscal hole. Perhaps most controversially, Martinez called for legislators to cut the state’s contribution to two pension plans, which would slice take-home pay for tens of thousands of public employees.
The senator said the pension formula “won’t be touched.”
Whittling away at the compensation for public employees, he argued, would make it harder for the state to recruit qualified staff.
“We’ve got phenomenal rates of vacancies