A tale of two states.

By Dylan R.N. Crabb


In recent weeks, two states figured a budget for their upcoming fiscal years: New Mexico and California.  These two state budgets paint a stark difference between the internal management of these two states.

At the start of New Mexico’s 2017 legislative session, the state was facing a budget deficit of nearly a hundred million dollars and nearly double that for the following fiscal year.  The deficit was the focus of legislative efforts as New Mexico’s constitution requires a balanced budget every year and a bipartisan plan was ultimately drafted and sent to Governor Susana Martinez’s office to be signed into law.  This plan included a 10-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax as well as spending cuts to school districts and economic developments initiatives.  However; the governor did not like the tax increase (she pledged to voters in 2010 and 2014 that she would not raise taxes) so she used her power in the form of the line-item veto to veto the budgets for the state’s higher education as well as several services that fall under higher education spending like some hospitals and agricultural services.  Then, the New Mexico Legislative Council voted in favor of filing suit against the governor in the New Mexico Supreme Court over those vetoes.  The legislature convened in a special session last month and agreed upon a budget that uses money from short-term severance tax bonds totaling $81 million to replenish the general fund and long-term severance tax bonds totaling $71 million to replenish school funds.  The budget battles were a mess.

New Mexico Senator Carlos Cisneros, a Democrat from Questa explained to the New Mexico Political Report that money from bonds is better spent on one-time infrastructure projects because they gain in value and can be paid back more easily.

In contrast, California’s legislature approved a $183.2 billion state budget, most of which will go towards public education and healthcare while adding to reserve funds across the state.  This apparent surplus was made possible by a $2-per-pack tobacco tax passed last year that raised over a billion dollars in revenue of which legislators were not sure what to do.

“This is a budget for all Californians,” said Senate Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles. “It protects our state’s fiscal stability while also making historic investments in education and our state’s infrastructure, both which are critical to keep our economy moving and growing.”

So, while New Mexican legislators are squabbling over how to fix a state-wide budget deficit in the millions without raising any taxes as our governor dictates, our fellow Americans over in California are enjoying a surplus from a sin tax as well as productive, bipartisan debate over how to spend that surplus on necessary public services.  While Governor Martinez insists on more spending cuts to public and higher education, Governor Jerry Brown is approving more spending to public and higher education.  While Governor Martinez dogmatically keeps tax increases of debate tables as legislators scramble to find new revenue sources, Governor Jerry Brown approves tax increases on non-essential services like the tobacco and cannabis industries in order to better fund essential services like education and healthcare.

Is it even a question why New Mexico continues to languish at the bottom of the national charts for employment and education while California enjoys spots on international lists of the strongest economies?