State lawmakers make last ditch effort to pass budget

Posted at: 02/18/2014 5:36 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Lawmakers call it a Hail Mary - a last ditch effort to pass a budget for state government, the public schools and the universities - before the clock runs out on the 30 day legislative session. The deadline is noon Thursday, so it's late in the game. Time to wind up, heave the bomb and hope for the best.

Legislative sessions always begin with pomp and ceremony and ambitious ideas about new laws that could get passed. In the final days the grim reality sets in. What is the one thing the lawmakers must absolutely do? Pass a budget!

This session, for the first time in memory, the House of Representatives failed to agree on a budget, leaving it up to the Senate to come up with a compromise. That assignment went to Sen. John Arthur Smith, the tight-fisted Democrat from Deming who chairs the Senate Finance Committee.

"We're running out of time," Smith said at noontime on Tuesday. "There's no other option. This is the only Hail Mary out there, and so as a result if this bill doesn't make it through, there's no other option except a special session."

"If it doesn't happen we're going to have to come back," said Rep. Paul Pacheco, a House Republican. "My guess is there would have to be a special session and we will have to hammer it out. I'm hopeful, though, that that is not what's going to occur. I'm hoping that we have a compromise."

At the core of the Senate compromise budget is more than $17 million for public school initiatives that Gov. Martinez wants. The deal sticks in the craw of many House Democrats because it gives more authority over that spending to the state Public Education Department than the local school districts. The compromise includes three percent pay raises for all state employees and public school teachers, with bigger raises for State Police officers, social workers, and brand new teachers just starting out.