Republicans at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe were fuming Saturday morning after the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, adjourned during the early-morning hours after passing a number of measures that would tackle the state’s budget crisis.
The adjournment came just after midnight. Senate members had just passed a solvency package designed to address the state’s $589 million budget shortfall for the recent and current fiscal years caused by the oil and gas downturn.
The package would generate $417 million in savings for the current fiscal year, though it would leave the state with almost no cash reserves, cut budgets by 5 percent for most state agencies, and slash around $25 million in education reform, which would impact mentoring and tutoring.
The package also included a measure that would delay a scheduled corporate income tax rate cut. Gov. Susana Martinez’s camp says that bill would drive away businesses, though the delay would allow the state to collect tens of millions.
Senate members say the rest of the budget shortfall would then have to be addressed during the regular legislative session that starts in January.
After the package was passed, Senators went home with no plan to return.
The move indicated that the Democratic Senate was not interested in hearing or voting on any of the three crime bills moving through the House.
The first bill is an expansion of Baby Brianna’s Law. That measure mandates a life sentence for child abuse resulting in death, regardless of how old the child victim was.
When originally passed, life sentences could only be sought under the law if a child younger than 12 was killed deliberately. The amended measure passed through the House with bipartisan support Saturday.
The second bill is an expansion of the three-strikes law, which would give more repeat offenders life sentences. That bill made it through the House Judiciary Committee Friday night.
The three-strikes law expansion could be utilized under 16 crimes instead of four, which is on the books now.
The third bill would reinstate the death penalty in New Mexico. Members of the judiciary committee passed the bill, and it is still moving through the House.
Democrats have ridiculed Martinez for putting the crime bills on the call when the session was supposed to focus on the budget.
Sen. William Sharer, R-Farmington, called Senate Democrats dictators Saturday morning.
“The people of New Mexico expected us to do something in this special session. They expected us to solve a budget problem, but they also expected us to address some of the tragedies that have happened recently,” Sharer said.
Yet Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, told Action 7 News that he stands by the adjournment.
“We’re going to be in regular session three months down the road,” Smith said.
“It amazes me that the House thinks the most important thing is not the budget.”
The Senate adjourning could mean that the session could drag out until at least next Thursday.
In the meantime, $50,000 in tax dollars are spent each day lawmakers are at the Roundhouse trying to get Senators to return.
The governor’s office addressed the stalemate saying, “Their proposal isn’t serious, and their unwillingness to negotiate and compromise is arrogant. It raises taxes and it undermines some of the very same efforts that helped attract Facebook to the state, for example.”
It continues saying, “This just goes to show that Senate Democrats are more willing to shut down the government than work together on the pressing challenges we face.”