Governor faces tough decisions on worsening budget crunch

By Dan Boyd / Capitol Bureau Chief

Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez returned to New Mexico late last week from the Republican National Convention to a jolt of cold water – renewed bipartisan alarm over the state’s budget situation and calls for a special session from the Senate’s most respected budget voice.

Martinez, who has touted her administration’s budget-balancing acumen in the past, will face tough decisions in the coming months over how to address the current budget crunch in the midst of an election year.

She has not announced a plan for plugging projected budget shortfalls for both the current and just-completed budget years that could together exceed $600 million, but a spokesman said last week that Martinez is open to meeting with lawmakers and plans to tread carefully.

There was no update Monday from the Governor’s Office about a possible special session, but some lawmakers said there’s no sense in delaying budgetary decisions for too long.

“We’ve got to get ahead of the eight ball,” said Sen. Steven Neville, an Aztec Republican. “Our priority, whether we get re-elected or not, is to run the state the way it’s supposed to be run.

He said he largely agrees with Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, who recently described New Mexico’s finances as “in crisis” and urged Gov. Martinez to call a special session as soon as August.

Smith also said last week that the state is facing a $150 million-plus deficit for the budget year that ended June 30, along with a potential shortfall in the new budget year of up to $500 million. The budget crunch is largely due to falling oil and natural gas prices, which have had a ripple effect and meant lower-than-expected tax revenues in several sectors.

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