Published: 1:00 pm, Thu. Aug. 25th, 2016Updated: 4:39 pm
The full extent of New Mexico’s budget crisis came into sharp focus Wednesday as state economists described an 8-percent plunge in revenues during the fiscal year that ended in June and warned state lawmakers of a looming budget deficit during the current year.
The mid-year snapshot of state finances set the stage for a special session of the Legislature planned in September to address budget shortfalls, as Republican Gov. Susana Martinez pushes state agencies under her control to trim spending by 5 percent.
State budget experts announced on Wednesday an estimated $523 million one-year decline in recurring revenues to New Mexico’s general fund, the consequence of a sustained slump in oil and natural gas markets that has held back the state economy and related tax receipts.
That left the state with a negative balance of $130 million for readily accessible operating reserves, though the state secretary of finance and administration said cash flows are still sufficient to fund operations. Lawmakers are considering whether to bolster those reserves by tapping a $225 million fund created under a settlement with major tobacco companies.
Revenue projections for the current fiscal year show a $326 million general fund budget deficit if changes are not made. The state expects to collect $5.7 billion in recurring revenues during the current budget year to help meet its original $6.2 billion spending commitment.
Economists from the Legislature and three executive-branch agencies provided the calculations on state finances to members of the Legislative Finance Committee that draft the annual state budget, at a meeting in the mountain resort of Red River.
Several legislators including Democratic Sen. John Arthur Smith, chairman of Legislative Finance Committee, said the state’s budget crisis could be more painful than that of the 2008 recession because New Mexico cannot rely this time on an infusion of federal stimulus funding. Sen. George Munoz, D-Gallup, pointed out that estimates for revenue reductions over a three-year period add up to more than $1 billion that will not be available.
Gov. Martinez steadfastly opposes any tax increases and appears unlikely to consider suggestions that the state halt a gradual reduction of corporate income tax rates. On Wednesday, lawmakers questioned two cabinet secretaries about other ways to limit spending cuts and raise revenues by closing tax loopholes or doing away with state-backed incentives and credits.
Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla and Finance and Administration Secretary Duffy Rodriguez advised against any reductions to funding for economic development incentives, saying it would hurt efforts to diversify the private economy and reduce the state’s dependence on the oil industry.
Lawmakers openly fretted that the projected budget shortfalls may affect the state’s credit rating and raise borrowing costs. New Mexico is one of several states dealing with general fund revenue declines linked to falling oil and natural gas prices. Where some states have tapped rainy day funds or raised taxes, New Mexico so far has drawn down operating reserves, swept cash from idle accounts and given agencies more latitude to shift funding among programs.
David Abbey, staff director for the Legislative Finance Committee, provided lawmakers with a long list of potential budget remedies that included a second round of scouring state accounts for idle funds and pulling in money from agencies that generate their own operating funds. Lawmakers also are considering ways to bolster the general fund with money from stalled capital projects.
It was unclear how much the state would save under the governor’s directive for agency spending cuts. Staff analysts for the Legislature estimated a $25 million to $50 million reduction, while Rodriguez said executive agencies still are outlining cuts, with exemptions for health and safety programs.
“You don’t want to do anything to child protective services, for example,” she said.
The decline in state revenues extended far beyond severance taxes linked directly to oil and natural gas production to gross receipts taxes on sales and services, corporate income taxes and compensating taxes from out-of-state businesses.