We’re halfway through the 2017 Legislative Session and the budget is still unresolved. Typically the Feed Bill (funds for the legislative session and interim committees) takes only a few days to pass, but as of February 6th, no mutual agreements have been reached. What New Mexico desperately needs now, more than ever, is visionary leaders who propose creative solutions and take bold, definitive actions, to not only dig us out of this hole, but move our economy forward.
The solvency package to address the $69 million deficit in the fiscal year 2017 state budget still has not been finalized. The Governor signed the solvency package, but vetoed certain line items (above-the-line items are mandatory inclusions, such as education, and below-the-line items are seen as additional or expendable expenditures) so the bill had to go back to the House and Senate. The House passed an amended version of the bill that is now back in the Senate. The solvency package includes cuts to public education, which are troubling, but fortunately not as severe as initially proposed.
Even as lawmakers grapple with this year’s budget, next year’s budget holds even greater challenges. The estimated deficit for the fiscal year July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018 is at least $300 million, and could be as high as $600 million. Lawmakers are looking for ways to reduce expenses and eliminate unnecessary spending. While there is some agreement on what these cuts should be, many areas being targeted are contentious, which leads to the battle over the budget.
Left out of the budget for next year is $1.2 million in state funding to add to a federal food stamp program for seniors and disabled people on fixed income. The state program currently supplements the minimum federal assistance of $16/month to bring it up to $25-$30/month. The proposal will cut the state funding, leaving seniors and disabled people who receive the minimum, with just $16 worth of food stamps each month. For more details, see the information prepared by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.