Local lawmakers looking for bigger budgets

Posted at: 02/04/2013 5:56 PM
Updated at: 02/04/2013 6:17 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

New Mexico prosecutors are pleading with state lawmakers for more money to put accused criminals on trial and send the guilty ones to prison.

Lawmakers are sympathetic. They say everybody knows caseloads are heavy and trials increase every year, but they worry that long awaited "new money' in the state's cookie jar may just be a pile of cookie crumbs.

Exhibit A: the Nehemiah Griego family massacre case in Albuquerque. District Attorney Kari Brandenburg expects tons of psychological testimony, and says that already just one shrink's fees are expected to hit $40,000 to $60,000.

"That's more than our entire budget for experts, transcriptions, for a lot of different things," Brandenburg said. "That is an issue that is weighing on our minds."

She's not alone. District Attorneys and public defenders from all over the state packed in to the Senate Finance Committee chambers Monday, hoping to hear that their recession-shrunken budgets might get an injection of new money. But Sen. John Arthur Smith, a Deming Democrat who chairs the committee, warned that it's looking like a lot of that new money, mainly from natural gas production, is a no-show for this budget.

"The bottom line is that we are sitting here trying to land this budget aircraft in a blinding storm, not knowing where the airport is and the instruments are out," Smith said.

The bottom line: not much more money for the D.A.'s and the Defenders.

"We're not looking at any cuts," said Brandenburg. " It's wonderful not to be looking at any cuts because from 2008 to about 2011 we got cut 10 percent so we were working under 30 percent of what we needed to do the job."

Lawyers expect they'll have a new economic forecast next week, with new numbers on how much new money to expect for the next budget year. Right now the outlook is pretty pessimistic. They call it diminished expectations - something New Mexicans have grown used to in the great recession that seems to have no end in sight, at least for our state.