Consensus revenue estimates were unveiled this afternoon, confirming what everyone feared – there is no new money.
Legislators are counting on $30 million new dollars for the coming fiscal year, which is down $202 million from their last estimate last month. Unfortunately, the state needs at least $100 million just for Medicaid and special education maintenance of effort. So before they are even out of the budget gate, legislators find themselves falling behind and fading fast.
Also troublesome is the fact that current year projected revenues have been revised downward by $144.8 million. With half a year left, agencies will have to conserve and reserves will have to be tapped. Some predict reserves will go down to 5 – 6 percent, which is not considered a comfortable cushion.
The new numbers were released just as higher education was prepared to present to House Appropriations and Finance. New Mexico Tech President Dan Lopez, representing the four year institutions, said he felt like a “dead man walking.” He suggested to lawmakers that it would make more sense, given the short time frame, for them to shave budgets across the board rather than attempt deeper targeted cuts. He noted it makes no sense to cripple critical programs.
Eastern New Mexico University President Steve Gamble figured “walking out with the same amount of money we had walking in” would be considered a victory. But others say a flat budget means they’re already in a hole.
HAFC Chair Larry Larranaga (R-Albuquerque) said his committee will aim for the least disruption possible for the institutions. Rep. Lucky Varela (D-Santa Fe) hopes the Governor will be more flexible in looking for more money. He also warns the state had better get a handle on revenues: “You can’t keep milking the cow and not feed it.”
This morning, Varela’s HB 89, which provides for pay increases to state employees, including a 1 percent raise for higher ed faculty and staff, got a unanimous Do Pass recommendation in House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs. Of course, they knew the bill would eventually end up in HAFC where the real budget decisions are made.