The New Mexico State Legislature must finish business by noon on Thursday and there is still a good deal of work left to do.
The Senate passed a budget bill yesterday I believe at $5.275 billion, (the Albuquerque Journal reported it at $5.5 billion) which would be within reasonably responsible limits, as opposed to the House budget of $5.6 billion, which is about $500 million more than our revenues are likely to be. Speaking of which, the LFC is projecting that revenues this year (FY2010) will come in $50 million shy of what was budgeted in the special session last October. So some extra trimming may have to be done on spending between now and June 30, just four and a half months away.
I spoke to Senate Finance Chair John A. Smith early this morning, trying to clarify a few details, and I used the word "responsible" in connection with the FY2011 Senate budget bill. He replied, "I'm beginning to wonder what being responsible is anymore," referring to the consistent pattern in the past two years of under-estimating the severity of the economic crisis in New Mexico. Every few weeks revenue projections are trimmed down, indicating that the economic downturn in New Mexico keeps getting worse than previously predicted. What appeared to be a responsible budget target of $5.2 billion now looks like it may have to be trimmed in order to remain within the constitutional duty to balance the budget each year.
But in a replay of the old game of "shoot the messenger," Smith continues to be vilified and demonized by some of the longest-necked ostriches in the legislature, whose heads have remained firmly in the sand for more than two years now.
Yes, many legislators, especially in the House, are still in deep denial. A bill to do away with the $82 million giveaway to Hollywood was tabled the first week in the House Labor and Human Resources Committee by a vote of 5-2. No debate, shush up, this is a program that is "near and dear" to the governor, so cut spending somewhere else or raise taxes during an economic crisis to pay for it. New Mexico smokers alone are being asked by a bill in the Senate to pay $1 more per pack to raise generate somewhere between $11 million and $30 million to help pave the way for Hollywood producers, who get a kickback of 25% (basically with no questions asked, just tell us what you spent, we trust you) of their New Mexico expenditures while filming here, and who generate about 14 cents in added business for every dollar spent on them.
Speaking of which, for the first six months of the fiscal year, which began June 30, Hollywood gobbled up $46 million of your taxpayer money for honoring us with their presence. At this rate taxpayers will pay $92 million to Hollywood this year instead of the $82 million spent last year, and who knows how much next year. It's almost as if the State Investment Council, which oversees the program, like Las Vegas hotels, is passing out 25% discount coupons to Hollywood producers to come to New Mexico; unlike Las Vegas, which makes a healthy profit for every coupon used, in New Mexico taxpayers lose 85 cents for every dollar spent of their hard-earned money. Just whose interests do you think are being served by this $92 million welfare check?
But capital outlay money for a park in the crime-ridden areas of Anthony, or infrastructure development in the South Mesilla Valley, or effective EMS service in Mesquite, or any of the other basic non-luxury items we talked about at that meeting with legislators in Mesquite last December? Oh, no, we have a serious fiscal crisis on our hands, didn't you know?