It is now with virtual certainty that a special legislative session will be called to order sometime next month. This session is necessary because of the dramatic reduction in State revenues as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the dramatic decline in prices and activity in the oil and gas industry. Estimates range from a shortfall of some $1.8 billion up to $2.4 billion.
It has been suggested in various internet blogs that the outcome of this session will be pre-ordained and that the length of the session will necessarily be very brief, this due to the risks associated with the virus. It would appear that my colleagues on the Democrat side of the aisle will have all of the decisions made before I and my Republican colleagues ever get called to Santa Fe. I see this as a distinct possibility given their large majorities in both legislative chambers.
I will be asked to rubber stamp spending decisions made behind closed doors with no input and limited or no debate on the merits of the plans. My constituents will have no voice. The people of New Mexico deserve better service than this.
A significant portion of the current dilemma is a result of our increasing spending over the last two budget years by over 20%. Just two short years ago, the State budget came to just $6.3 billion total. We are currently proposing to spend $7.6 billion. That number rises to nearly $8 billion if one-time or non-recurring items are included. Almost every Republican member of the House recognized that this level of increase was unsustainable… and voted against. The oil and gas commodity business is very simply too volatile not to put back in reserve funds for the hard times we know are always around the corner. This past budget spent all of the oil and gas money and then spent almost $300 million out of reserves to meet spending targets.
Here is what I am proposing. Let’s get the entire legislature and support staff virus tested. If you are cleared, you get to go to Santa Fe for the session. Let’s have a robust debate on the spending proposals on the floors of the House and Senate. Let’s have each agency justify its budget request. Let’s have those industries with favored tax treatment justify their tax expenditures. And let’s take as much time as we need to vet all of this fully in the light of day. A reform of the process is long overdue. There won’t ever be a better time to start.
Larry R. Scott, of Hobbs, is the New Mexico State Representative for House District 62.