The bill now heads to the governor’s desk, where she will have 20 days to decide whther to sign or veto the bill. If she does veto the bill, a special session is almost assured.
The vote on the budget was on a near party-line vote, with all Republicans voting against and all Democrats except Rep. Sandra Jeff, D-Shiprock, voting for the bill.
The main issue Republicans had with the bill was a slice of a sliver of the $5.88 billion budget — about $5 million of funding for education. The total K-12 education budget is around $2.5 billion.
Republicans wanted merit pay for teachers included, something that Democrats oppose. The version that the House passed, with all Republican votes, included $3 million for merit pay.
The language and funding was changed in the Senate; the Senate version allows $2 million in stipends for teachers moving from top-graded schools to bottom-graded schools.
In statements following the passage of the Senate version, Republicans pointed out other changes they disagreed with, but the floor debate focused almost primarily on the education components.
“In its current form, this is not something that our caucus can support,” Minority Whip Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, said early in the debate. “And I have a feeling we will vote unanimously not to concur.”
Gentry was correct.
Rep. Lucky Varela, D-Santa Fe, said that the budget was not perfect for one side or the other.
“There’s something for everyone,” Varela said. “Maybe not as much as we may have wanted.”
Varela also said that if the state does not adopt a budget, the government would be shut down. This would be a long way off, as the fiscal year does not start until July 1.
Minority Leader Don Bratton, R-Hobbs, said he thought that there should be a conference committee between the House and Senate to hammer out the details. Bratton was also critical of the Senate’s role.
“I think the message that I received from dealing with the executive is that they anticipated as the budget went across that it would get better not worse,” Bratton said. “There is some degree of disappointment that the hard work and heavy lifting that was done on our side in the House, a lot of it was overwhelmed in the Senate.”
Democrats repeatedly pointed out that every Republican Senator voted for this version of the budget.
“The Republicans here say they cannot vote for this,” Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, said. “Yet all of the Republican Senators thought that this was the right budget.”
Jeff said she did not believe the bill did enough for Native Americans in the state as a reason why she opposed the budget.
The House Republican caucus blasted the vote on the budget and blamed Democrats for a potential special session:
“It appears that the House Democrats have taken a page out of the federal Democrat playbook and have stonewalled legitimate and commonsense compromise on the budget,” said Minority Whip Representative Nate Gentry. “We only have three days left in this session, but if Democrats had voted differently we could have sorted out the important issues on education, economic development and public safety before the end of the session. Now, the possibility of a special session looms heavily overhead. A special session would be an unnecessary and costly burden to New Mexico taxpayers.”