The forecast of “new money” appears to be motivating our lawmakers and governor to fall into an old habit of thinking about today but not tomorrow.
After three years of revenue shortfalls, it appears that a slight economic rebound in New Mexico is likely to lead state government into some extra money. Some $254 million in additional revenue is projected for the state budget, and lawmakers are already proposing ways to spend it.
For the upcoming 30-day legislative session — which begins next Tuesday in Santa Fe — the Legislative Finance Committee has proposed a 4.6 percent overall budget increase. That’s a $250 million increase, which leaves a whopping $4 million in expected new revenues to sock away for the next round of economic hard times.
Meanwhile, Gov. Susana Martinez has proposed a few tax cuts to benefit businesses and veterans and a lot more spending for public schools, higher education and Medicaid, for a total increase of $194 million. That would leave about $56 million in reserve. We’d like to see more.
When Bill Richardson was governor, there were years in which the state was flush with money, so Richardson and state lawmakers spent it like there was no tomorrow. But when tomorrow arrived, when the economy took a nose-dive and oil and gas industry tax revenues came in short, the state budget hit crisis levels. We would hate to see that happening again.
Economic indicators suggest the nation and the state has pulled out of the Great Recession and are about to overcome the stagnation that followed. But the economy is far from stable, so another slump could be just around the corner. New Mexico’s leaders need to keep that in mind as they enter the coming session. We hope they will keep the purse strings drawn tight, so the state can build up its reserves for a rainy day.
While the governor considers her agenda for the 30-day session, we hope she remembers to place on the call the issue of banning fireworks during severe droughts. You’ll recall that state and local governments had no such power for an all-out fireworks ban last summer while a major drought turned the countryside into a tinderbox. That needs to be corrected — before another summer of wildfires.